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Recently, the “Inside the Executive Suite” executive newsletter from Armada Executive Intelligence turned its attention to strategic thinking exercises and possibilities for breakthrough thinking. Their story was based on a review of two new books on the topic of insights. The books and the article were intriguing, and the folks at Armada Executive Intelligence gave us permission to re-run the piece here.

Strategic Thinking Exercises – 5 Breakthrough Thinking Possibilities

(via Armada Executive Intelligence)

How do you personally generate successful breakthrough thinking?

Do your methods compare favorably to approaches of the great thinkers of history? Additionally, are there proven lessons you can apply in specific types of situations?

Thinker

The last two questions are addressed in new books featured in last weekend’s Wall Street Journal Review section. William B. Irvine’s, “Aha! The Moments of Insight that Shape Our World,” and “The Eureka Factor” by cognitive neuroscientists, John Kounios and Mark Beeman, both address insights – the result of people achieving deep, accurate understanding of an issue facing them.

Irvine’s book presents case studies on the thinking approaches of history’s greatest thinkers. The Kounios and Beeman book examines, as much as is possible, the scientific basis for developing insights.

Irvine’s book highlights varied, successful insight patterns. In science and mathematics, doing something unrelated to the current task is common before generating breakthrough thinking. He credits religious insights as emerging from actual experience; with moral issues, insights vary in appearing after extended reflection or through sudden revelation. When new thinking depends on creative thinking, they tend to emerge after establishing a solid foundation of work leading to insights that emerge later.

What Works to Generate Breakthrough Thinking?

Figuring out how your situation ties to which type of insight pattern may seem confusing. That’s why we advocate for what Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling said: “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

You can extend this concept to developing insights. It’s helpful to employ a full repertoire of thinking techniques to produce many potential insights to fuel breakthrough thinking.

We’ve seen, tried, and returned to various approaches to trigger breakthrough insights. Here are several possibilities when you have to consistently introduce new insights in an organizational setting.

1. Sorting Out What You Know

From all the available potential facts and conclusions, sort them based on ones you KNOW to be true versus others you THINK to be true or HOPE to be true. This exercise helps identify how strong your foundation is for generating new insights.

Are most of your points of information and conclusions already proven to be true? Do you need to develop proof points (if you only THINK much of the information is true) or conduct additional, novel research or analysis (if you simply HOPE the ideas are true)?

Based on what you find, there are natural questions to firm up your fact base:

  • For information and conclusions known to be true: What new insights are suggested by what we already know?
  • For what you only think to be true, ask: What will it take to prove each of these as true or false?
  • For those you hope to be true ask: What stands in the way of vetting this information? If it were true, what new insights might it help uncover?

You can use your answers to take the appropriate steps to solidify your fact base so it is more robust.

2. Assembling the Insight Puzzle

Generating insights in a business setting is akin to assembling puzzle pieces. Extending that comparison creates an actual puzzle-solving exercise.

We worked with a consultant who would print every major known fact supporting a potential strategy and on a separate piece of paper. Each business strategist received a set of facts to combine, rearrange, and “play” with as a child would play with building blocks. Some arrangements of the facts might be simple and others more complex. The overall goal was for each individual to separately identify interesting combinations to look for new potential insights.

While there are advantages to printing out and physically arranging the facts, there are many options to work with the facts in a collaborative online environment.

Regardless of how you do it, after the initial work, strategists compare their insights, looking for similarities, differences, and new ways the individual work can generate additional insights.

3. Different Perspectives on the Insights Puzzle

We also find value in consciously looking at facts from different perspectives to trigger new insights. You can accomplish this with creative thinking exercises.

Breakthrough-Pinnacle

For generating insights, one approach to looking at your information from alternative perspectives is by consciously using various “modifiers” to probe your fact base in multiple ways. This list of modifiers below is one we typically use. Simply insert the modifier into this question: What if we looked at this information (or situation) in a more ______ way?

  • Focused
  • Simplified
  • Integrated
  • Broad
  • Diversified
  • Sophisticated
  • Extreme
  • Contrary
  • Long-term
  • Immediate

Using these types of modifiers will point you in multiple productive directions as you attempt to develop new insights.

4. Invite More People to Look at the Puzzle

Each step to this point involved you or your immediate team. You can expand potential insights by inviting a broader, more diverse group to consider the available information. Including new minds creates an opportunity to identify additional insights, especially ones a group more familiar with a status quo understanding of the situation might struggle to imagine.

5. Get Away Briefly…or Longer

If your insight-generating efforts are unproductive, step away for a short period of time. You may even find it beneficial to stay away longer.

Taking a break agrees with the idea that your previous efforts to generate insights may simply have been foundation-setting that needs time for less structured and casual thinking. A pause can be beneficial in fully exploiting your foundation as a platform for new insights.

Is there a road to breakthrough thinking that works best for you?

The key to generating breakthrough thinking in our experience is that they sometimes come through using tested methods and sometimes through completely new approaches. That requires flexibility on your part. – Armada Executive Intelligence

 

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Looking for Ways to Develop a Successful
Innovation Strategy to Grow Your Business?
Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!





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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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There is so much content swimming around out there on seemingly every topic where you might ever want to learn more. With the pressure many people feel to stay current on new information, you would hope you are getting the most from the time you invest in reading all this content.

How do you maximize the value from your precious reading time?

Doc-and-light

10 Strategic Thinking Questions to Maximize Business Reading

I was fortunate to learn early from an expert in secondary research how to mine content for insights, clues, and big ideas. Here are ten strategic thinking questions that make sure you get the most from your reading:

  • What agrees with what I think/know?
  • What disagrees with what I think/know? Am I misguided or lacking information on this topic?
  • What experts are mentioned? Do these experts have other worthwhile content to review?
  • What are the big themes in the article?
  • How do the big themes relate to big themes emerging from other content?
  • What questions would we I to learn more or recreate the learnings presented here?
  • How does anything in this content shed new light on what I think/know?
  • How does anything in this content make me rethink what I thought I knew?

You may not ask all these strategic thinking questions about everything you read. When you are looking for new ideas, however, come back to this list. These strategic thinking questions will serve you well.  – Mike Brown

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Looking for Brand Innovation to Grow Your Business? Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!


Download Your Free  Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking eBook

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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There is no one right way to gather information when you’re working with multiple parties. That’s why it’s beneficial to think upfront about what ways might work best for you.

Ask the Same Questions Over and Over

One natural way to gather information from separate, multiple groups is asking the same strategic thinking questions repeatedly so you can aggregate or compare answers from among all participants. This is the basis of quantitative survey research. You can employ the same strategy in more qualitative settings too, such as in focus groups or when evaluating between separate groups or individuals (think of a job interview or a vendor review process).

This same approach underpins much of our strategy work.

For example, it’s what happens when you answer the same questions annually about an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Asking the same strategic thinking questions of multiple people each year provides a basis for making effective comparisons.

We employ this approach for strategic thinking questions across many situations.

Identify What Answers You Need and Ask Different Strategic Thinking Questions

There is another valuable technique for using strategic thinking questions, however, that many organizations overlook. We use it actively, however.

Strategic-Questions

We inventory upfront what information we need to learn or insights we need to develop to move a strategy forward. With this inventory of strategic thinking ANSWERS, we can make decisions on whether the asking same strategic thinking questions repeatedly will deliver what we need OR if asking varied questions will work more effectively and efficiently.

This questioning strategy to information and insight planning provides various benefits:

  • If a key piece of information comes up earlier than expected during our process, we can capture it than and have it available when we need it later.
  • Asking strategic thinking detour questions allows people to share new insights and answers that won’t emerge from the standard questions.
  • Varying the strategic thinking questions we use provides greater flexibility and is less monotonous for participants.

Neither of these two approaches replaces the other one. Used together, however, the two approaches open up many more opportunities for stronger information gathering and developing new insights. – Mike Brown

10 Keys to Engaging Employees and Creating Improved Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Senior executives are looking for employees who are strong collaborators and communicators while being creative and flexible. In short they need strategic thinkers who can develop strategy and turn it into results.

This new Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons for senior executives to increase strategic collaboration, employee engagement, and grow revenues for their organizations.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage more employees in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE   Results!!!  Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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It’s natural for engineers and operations people to be at odds with marketers over innovation strategy.

The engineering and operations view of the world typically focuses on internal perspectives and ensuring processes conform to standards, are efficient, and cost as little as possible. Success from this perspective is just enough performance relative to the costs incurred.

Marketers typically take a drastically different view.

As natural customer advocates, marketers are more likely to push for an innovation strategy that dramatically differentiates a brand’s customer experience. A marketer will focus on what will be different, attractive to the market, and sell strongly. After that’s solved, they figure out the rest. So instead of the threshold orientation operators advocate, marketers are looking to maximize and create significant advantages in the brand experience.

Spending many years in a B2B transportation and logistics company, I was usually standing in the middle of the street at the intersection of “do just enough” and “do everything possible.”

Trying to better our odds of innovation success and secure the help of the operations team, we used an approach one consultant originally called, “Operationally Smart Marketing.” At the concept’s heart is the idea that pushing for a more robust innovation strategy in an operationally-oriented environment requires being intimately familiar with the roadblocks operations might raise in order to innovate around them.

Closed-Road-Or-Not

This approach can appear counter to a customer-first, outside-in innovation strategy. From experience, however, this strategy is more productive than falling on the sword for innovations that WOULD maximize customer value IF they were ever implemented, but that you can NEVER get implemented.

An “Operationally Smart Marketing” Innovation Strategy

As a marketer, what are your starting points for operationally smart marketing?

Try asking and answering these strategic thinking questions:

  • What drives profitability in the business?
  • How do important operational factors play into whether there is a bigger or smaller opportunity for a bold innovation strategy?
  • Are there certain parts of the business that provide disproportionately greater innovation opportunities?
  • What factors make for disproportionately outstanding efficiency and operational performance? Can they be aligned to increase customer value?
  • What are the critical success factors for the best quality performance your organization can deliver?
  • Are there things customers might be incented to do to enhance performance AND improve the customer experience?
  • Is there anything we didn’t ask about?

This last question is particularly important. I came across many cases where operations people would answer only the question asked without ever volunteering ideas to expand possibilities or introduce greater operational variations. That’s why you should always ask point blank about what else might be possible you didn’t anticipate.

Knowing the relevant constraints and possibilities from the operations side can be vital to turning the strategy approaches we discuss in our Outside-in Innovation eBook (which you can download below) into success within a strong operational environment.  – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

 

Looking for Outside-In Innovation to Grow Your Business? Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise Outside-In Innovation ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive growth!


Download Your Free  Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking eBook

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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If you are in charge of developing innovation strategy, you have to answer the question, “What are our next big innovation opportunities?”

Being responsible for developing innovation strategy also means reaching out beyond your innovation team to employees, customers, and other stakeholders to gather valuable input.

When your outreach consists of asking stakeholders what your next big innovation opportunities are, however, you are missing the mark.

Delegating the Wrong Question to the Right People

Quesiton-Mark-Puzzle

Photo by: Leung Cho Pan

When answering the question about big innovation opportunities, your answer will likely come after significant exploration, ideation, concept development, prioritization, and prototyping. With that work out of the way, you are ready to speculate about the future opportunities.

Thinking you can delegate to others your job of developing innovation strategy and answering the important question you must address will not work. You cannot expect others to answer in one-step the question you might work months to address.

Yet, companies try to do just that.

Innovation Strategy that Has a Chance to Work

Talking with someone inside a big company recently, what they have tried to ask various stakeholders what they think the next innovation should be. First, it was through an employee “idea box.” When that did not work, it was through talking to customers, asking them what the company should innovate. That was not successful either.

No surprise in either case.

When taking the right step to reach out to employees and customers, do not expect them to develop your strategy. Instead, solicit input and help them articulate insights they have to help shape the innovation strategy.

  • Employees know about challenges and lost opportunities with customers. They know about problems with processes that restrict delivering value.
  • Customers know why they don’ use your product more. They know the problems or challenges they have with your product and what they wish you did more of or better.

Talk to your stakeholders about topics they can address. Give them information and the strategic thinking structures they can use to better articulate their thoughts.

Then, get back to the work you should be doing to turn that information, along with the other work you are doing, into answers about what your next big innovation opportunities are.

If you’d like to learn very productive ways to explore and identify your innovation opportunities, we invite you to download our FREE “Outside-In Innovation” edition of the Strategic Thinking Facebook. It’s waiting for you below, and will jump start answering the innovation questions you need to answer!

Download Your Free

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Would you like to gain greater advantage from the expertise and experience of your employees as you craft your organization’s strategy?

If that’s a goal for your senior leadership team, today is the day to download our latest FREE mini-book, “Results!!! – Creating Strategic Impact throughout Your Organization.”

Executives worldwide are downloading the new Brainzooming strategy mini-book to gain insights into cultivating strategic thinking, developing strategic alignment, and fully engaging their employees in strategy.

Today, we want to ensure all our readers are aware of the value they can unlock by downloading “Results!!!”

25 Reasons You Need the “Results” Free mini-Book

Better-Business-Results

Here are twenty-five reasons you should download the free “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact throughout Your Organization” mini-book RIGHT NOW.

It offers senior executives:

  1. A way to approach “developing strategy very differently,” versus handing everyone cumbersome strategic planning templates to complete. (Page 1)
  2. Strategy development techniques that will work even in organizations without innovation-friendly cultures. (Page 2)
  3. Action steps for each of the ten lessons so you can begin implementing them right away. (Throughout)
  4. Techniques to demystify strategy and strategic planning. (Page 5)
  5. An approach to effectively align strategy the organization’s daily activities. (Page 7)
  6. A simple set of questions to use in focusing their teams on strategic issues that make a big impact on the business. (Page 8)
  7. The granddaddy of all strategy questions to create more innovative strategies, greater focus on priorities, and stronger growth leadership. (Page 9)
  8. A credible, realistic way to increase engagement through expanding employee involvement in the front end of innovation. (Page 11)
  9. Ways to better prepare employees to anticipate and respond to customer opportunities that don’t fit neatly into policies and procedures.  (Page 13)
  10. A case for how broader participation in strategy benefits (rather than slows) implementation.  (Page 12)
  11. Action steps focused on pushing the boundaries of how senior executives include emerging leaders in strategic planning discussions.  (Page 12)
  12. A proven way to identify which senior leaders and management team members match three vital strategic perspectives for creating strategic impact. (Page 14)
  13. Insight into the three types of voices to include in developing strong strategies and implementation plans. (Page 15)
  14. A four-question diagnostic to identify the right mix of “structure and space” enabling non-strategists to contribute to innovative growth strategies. (Pages 18)
  15. Ideas for a game plan encouraging reluctant and apprehensive employees to engage in strategic planning conversations. (Page 19)
  16. An equation to identify how many total ideas are needed to reach the number of high-impact ideas you are seeking. (Page 20)
  17. Five secrets to more efficiently generate on-target, strategic ideas. (Page 22)
  18. Ways a strategic detour completely changes the innovation impact of strategic conversations. (Page 23)
  19. Techniques to break the, “We’ve been there, tried that, and know better” attitude of experienced management teams. (Page 24)
  20. Seven questions to make strategy understandable for all employees (Page 26)
  21. A three-point checklist for gauging a strategy’s clarity and simplicity. (Page 27)
  22. Examples of how strategic conversations among employees trump strategic plans delivered in notebooks. (Page 28)
  23. Three ways to directly connect strategy planning conversations to how the resulting strategies will be implemented. (Page 29)
  24. The inside scoop on a no-cost daily resource to cultivate a fresh perspective on innovative strategy.
  25. The Results!!! mini-book is FREE!!!

Those are the first twenty-five reasons you should download Results!!!

If you‘re a senior executive seeking dramatically different results for later this year and early 2016, today’s the day! Download Results!!! Right now!!!

10 Lessons for Engaging Your Employees to Create Stronger Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Senior executives are looking for employees who are strong collaborators and communicators while being creative and flexible. In short they need strategic thinkers who can develop strategy and turn it into results.

This new Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons for senior executives to increase strategic collaboration, employee engagement, and grow revenues for their organizations.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage more employees in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE   Results!!!  Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Almost daily, people are looking at the Brainzooming blog for ideas for cool product names.

Since time has passed since we shared an updated list of creative thinking questions for creating cool product names, here are twenty-one additional questions.

These creative thinking questions are representative of those we use with clients to explore ideas for cool product names. Using questions such as these creates an efficient and very productive naming process. During a recent naming exercise for a client, we generated seven hundred naming ideas and four hundred naming possibilities using questions comparable to this during a two hour online collaboration session.

Yes, you read that right. 700 naming possibilities and 400 specific name ideas in 2 hours!!!

Idea-Bulb

21 Creative Thinking Questions for Cool Product Names

Ask these questions and imagine as many possibilities as you can for each question. The mega-list of names that results from that exercise will provide the basis for forming a variety of actual name possibilities.

  1. Is there a fictional person’s name associated with the product?
  2. Is there a real person’s name associated with the product?
  3. What animal represents the product?
  4. What are descriptive names for the geographic area from which the product originates?
  5. What are descriptive names for the geographic area that the product is associated with?
  6. What are nicknames for people who will use the product?
  7. What does the product most remind you of in another product?
  8. What emotional words describe the reactions people have when using your product?
  9. What made up word or words would does the product suggest?
  10. What names do people call the product after they’ve seen or used it for some time?
  11. What names do people call the product when they first see it?
  12. What words describe the product’s most prominent features?
  13. What words describe the product’s most prominent benefits?
  14. What words describe what users do with the product when it’s used as intended?
  15. What words describe what users do with the product when it’s used in a mistaken way?
  16. What words describe what users do with the product when it’s used in a very naughty way?
  17. What words or phrases would people use to describe the product when it works exceptionally well?
  18. How about when it works well over an extended period of time?
  19. What words would make users of the product proud or excited about their participation with it?
  20. What’s the most matter of fact name that describes the product?
  21. What’s the strongest description of the product?

If your team is dispersed, call us to find out how an online Zoomference collaboration allows many more of your team members to participate in naming exercises.

And if you’d like us to run with the project and generate the list of names, we’re happy to make it happen using a customized list of creative thinking questions tailored to your naming assignment.

And if you’re a few steps away from a name because you’re still searching for new product ideas, our Outside-In Innovation eBook is a must download resource. Get yours today using the download button below! – Mike Brown

Download Your Free  Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

 

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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