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November 10 is the anniversary of the Brainzooming blog’s launch, introducing our strategic thinking manifesto, which originally appeared as the first five Brainzooming blog articles.

The Brainzooming strategic thinking manifesto is the foundation of our business philosophy and how we are creating strategic impact for clients. Yet when it was published at the blog’s launch, there was no other Brainzooming content online to which we could link key concepts.

Now, several years into writing daily articles on strategy, creativity, innovation, and social media, there is ample online content elaborating on the Brainzooming concepts strategic thinking manifesto introduced. To mark this year’s anniversary of the blog and launching The Brainzooming Group, it’s time to re-share the manifesto. This updated version includes supporting links and updates to reflect the learning and growth from The Brainzooming Group client work since our launch.

Creating Strategic Impact – The Updated Brainzooming Manifesto

Dilbert-ThinkerPreparing our original presentation on cultivating strategic thinking, current literature suggested a significant gap between senior management expectations and the impact from strategic thinking. Senior leaders have strong expectations about their employees’ abilities to think strategically and how much time their senior teams should spend on strategic issues. One survey reported senior leaders expected to spend 1/3 of their time on strategic issues. Another survey found though that senior teams self-report spending less than 1 hour per month, if any time at all, on strategic issues.

Why the discrepancy?

We repeatedly see one or more of these reasons present in organizations struggling with strategic impact:

Through meaningfully changing strategic thinking perspectives, it’s possible to address each of these gaps, and involve many individuals throughout an organization into clearly beneficial strategic thinking roles with great results.

Defining Strategic Thinking Simply

One reason strategic thinking doesn’t take place is there isn’t a clear understanding of what strategic thinking is. As a result, ill-fated attempts to be “strategic” fall short, creating a reluctance to broadly address strategy.

The Brainzooming Group starts with a simple definition for strategic thinking: Addressing Things that Matter with Insight & Innovation.

There are three important elements in the definition to  shape productive strategic thinking and invite greater participation and results.

“Things that Matter” – Strategic thinking focuses on fundamental opportunities & issues driving the business, not on far away things irrelevant to creating strategic impact. Successfully focusing on things that matter implies being able to:
  • Understand the Overall Business & Direction – What’s important to the business and its customers – past, present, & future? There are various questions whose answers identify this, but one of the best is, “What are we trying to achieve?” You can always return to this question to re-set a discussion stuck in the weeds.
  • Recognize there are Multiple Strategic Viewpoints - What’s strategic differs on whether your view is company-wide, departmental, functional, or personal. While the strategic views within an organization should be interconnected, what’s strategic will differ between senior management and a specific department. Because of this, it’s vital to clearly identify which view your strategic thinking is addressing.
  • Take “Time” Out of Your Definition of Strategic – Strategic issues can take place this afternoon just as easily as in the future; just because something won’t come to pass for years doesn’t necessarily make it strategic. If you don’t realize this, you’ll never address strategic discussions because pressing issues (which may be hugely strategic) are viewed as tactics requiring immediate solutions – and thinking seems to slow things down, thwarting progress.
  • Use Strategic Thinking Exercises Intended to Creatively Tackle Challenging Issues – Using strategic thinking exercises helps neutralize traditional (potentially biased) perspectives, reducing unproductive politics and blind spots stifling creating strategic impact.

“Insight” – Strategic thinking starts with relevant insights gained from inside and outside the organization. Combining and analyzing diverse information allows you to identify relationships leading to creating strategic impact. You can start by assessing your strategic position in new and different ways through robust strategic thinking exercises.

“Innovation” – One of the best approaches to anticipate future relevant events is considering multiple perspectives and exploring a full range of possibilities that may develop. Simple question-based exercises foster a more innovative look at the business.

Awakening Strategic Thinking

If senior managers are the only ones sanctioned to think strategically in an organization, there is a real problem. A company’s senior team tends to view the world in a relatively homogenous manner – from having shared experiences to holding a common perspective on the company and the market. Shaking up that sameness and familiarity is vital.

Great strategic thinking springs from diverse perspectives, cultivated and managed toward a view of the current & future business environment that increases the likelihood of creating strategic impact. Achieving this means spreading strategic thinking responsibility throughout the business.

Here are some fundamentals for accomplishing this:

Keep track of who is thinking and how they think – In bringing people together for strategic thinking, make sure three vital perspectives are represented with people that have:

  • Solid, front-line business experience (to help frame business issues)
  • Broad functional knowledge (with an understanding of capabilities)
  • Creative energy (acting as catalysts to view things in new & unconventional ways)

Invest time in productive thinking – Create and protect time for strategic thinking. This requires a willingness to invest dedicated time to consider many possibilities, to narrow focus to the best ones, and then develop & implement the best strategies. Focused time helps create an environment where people can selectively turn off conventional wisdom, triggering many more possibilities.

Use structure to increase output and efficiency – In initial phases, brainstorming techniques help productively manage how people with varied perspectives can increase the number of ideas generated very efficiently. Some starting principles include:

New Types of Strategic Thinking Tools

A challenge with standard strategic planning approaches is people are familiar with standard strategic planning questions and answers. Additionally, if people are entering strategic planning with long histories inside an organization, they know the expected answers to standard strategic planning questions.

Aligned with typical areas addressed during strategic planning, here are some of the alternative paths The Brainzooming Group uses to reach vital insights leading to creating strategic impact.

Combo-ExercisesStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

Vital Trends and Innovative Directions

Setting Priorities

Creating Strategic Impact

Strategic thinking often falls short because specific outcomes are difficult to trace to original strategic thinking or planning effort.

Beyond approaches covered previously to focus strategic thinking, broaden participation, and increase its rigor, a several principles can help create more tangible outcomes.

Creating-a-Strategic-ImpactBe prepared with a rigorous prioritization approach – Frequently, 5 to 15% of the possibilities from a strategic thinking session have near-term development potential or strong relevance. A great first pass prioritization approach is to approximate the number of ideas your team has generated and divide it by 5 to arrive at 20% of the ideas. Divide this total by the number of participants; the result represents how many ideas each person will be able to select based on their belief in an idea’s strength and/or potential.

Let participants start narrowing – With their individual idea “allowances” set, participants can begin selecting ideas that they’ll take through the prioritization process. Ideas chosen can be their own or those of others. The important thing is that participants believe in the ideas they select.

After each team member selects ideas, have them make an initial assessment of each idea using the following questions – What are the idea’s strengths? What are the idea’s weaknesses? What’s unexpected or unusual about the idea relative to the status quo? What’s your initial recommendation about how the idea could be addressed? It’s beneficial to share these initial thoughts aloud to familiarize group members with previously overlooked ideas.

Perform individual ranking with group input – Following the initial report-out, use a 4-box grid to allow individuals to place their ideas relative to two dimensions:

  • Potential Impact – On a scale from Minimal to Dramatic
  • Implementation Ease – On a scale from Easy to Difficult

Brainstorming-Session-Contribute-to-SuccessOnce individuals have placed ideas on the grid, talk through each one to see what support or challenges exist within the group. Typically, team members will overstate the number of easy to implement ideas expected to have dramatic impact. If true, these ideas are very attractive, but often they’ll have less impact or may be more difficult to implement than originally suspected.

Don’t be afraid to consider moving an idea if there’s a clear view from the group that it’s stronger or weaker than its original placement. The result of this combined individual-group exercise should be a much more refined set of ideas, with a good deal of input to set the stage for selecting a few ideas that will be pursued further for development.

Keep track of what’s left over – It pays to track ideas that aren’t selected initially. These often resurface later and it’s nice to be able to tie them back to the strategic thinking efforts that you’ve been conducting.

From Strategic Thinking to Creating Strategic Impact

Ideally you are better prepared to cultivate strategic thinking as a precursor to creating strategic impact in your department or business. Subscribe to the Brainzooming blog, seek ongoing learning, and schedule time soon for fruitful strategic thinking! And if you need ehlp to start or deliver results, let us know. We’d love to help you in creating strategic impact. – Mike Brown

 

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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Magnet-MeetingThe theme of the Magnet Global advertising meeting where I spoke recently on creating strategic impact was building a legacy agency.

By building a legacy agency, they meant an organization that grows and retains value for an owner/principal as they transfer the organization to a next generation of leadership.

There were a variety of outstanding presentations. One in particular that struck me was from Bill Hughes, President of LMK in St. Louis.

A major part of what resonated for me in Bill’s remarks was his leadership perspective (he admitted leading best with a leadership team vs. solo leadership), and his willingness to make decisions to his detriment that benefitted others in order to strengthen the organization. His leadership perspective is not one you see extolled very often, yet it rings completely true for a genuine servant leader.

Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

One strategic maxim Bill Hughes shared that translates into a strategic thinking exercise was his view on the characteristics of productive client relationships. Bill counseled attendees to use three selection criteria for productive client work:

1. It creates learning for the organization

2. The work is enjoyable

3. It pays well

According to Bill’s perspective, you must have two of the three for productive work leading to a healthy, legacy agency.

Thinking about it, that makes perfect sense. Consider the classic strategic maxim, “Fast, cheap, and perfect – you can have two of the three, but not all three.” It is very comparable.

Strategic Thinking Exercise

Here’s the broader strategic thinking exercise. Whenever you are involved in a strategic relationship, express it with three criteria: two related to the experience and one to the value exchange.

You can this strategic thinking exercise at the front end of a relationship to negotiate and form it.

Alternatively, it serves as a diagnostic once a strategic relationship feels as if there are problems, especially when the problems emerge suddenly. If that’s the case, chances are two out of three ain’t bad. It’s likely two out of three are necessary, and you’re down to one! And that’s bad. Mike Brown

 

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Two-GeeksWhile it might require a healthy dose of strategic gymnastics, it’s still easy to narrow down competitor comparisons on how your brand performs to a subset of only direct competitors who do exactly what you do.

When you make the strategic decision to try to create favorable comparisons by only looking at how your brand is doing relative to brands JUST LIKE yours, you:

  • Make everyone feel better about how your brand is performing
  • Restrict nagging strategic discussions about brand weaknesses
  • Allow your brand to be number one in something – or maybe many things
  • Give your salespeople something to talk about
  • Create tidier competitive comparisons
  • Don’t have to invest as much in doing new things to keep up
  • Don’t have to invest as much in doing what you do today dramatically better
  • Help create focus
  • Provide a quick way to sidestep challenging performance questions
  • Help fuel a sense of internal brand pride

While these things can all seem good and make things easier, they all stand in the way of your brand creating strategic impact. That’s because easy competitor comparisons completely miss that your customers don’t make easy comparisons for your brand and that the most dangerous potential competitors may look NOTHING LIKE your brand.

Your customers are most likely comparing everything you do for them and everything they experience about your brand to the brands they know perform those particular functions the best. That’s true whether those other brands are in your market, or if you have even heard of these brands, let alone track them as part of your standard competitor comparisons.

While you may feel the need to make easy competitor comparisons to get everyone to feel good about your brand, you’d be much better off to make all the hard comparisons instead.

Making the hard comparisons will get everyone motivated to improve your brand to be truly exceptional and distinct compared to ANY other brand out there.

Making the hard comparisons will fuel creating strategic impact. – Mike Brown

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

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Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.”

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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Rebecca from Nudge Village reached out to me on Twitter (where she is @NudgeVillage) with a nudge to turn some of the lengthier Brainzooming compilations into job aids and eBooks available for purchase online. Doing that is something that’s been on our list (and we’ve been working on) but have yet to land on the right format.

Rebecca’s nudge and what she’s starting with NudgeVillage prompted me to ask her to write a guest blog post on the “power of a nudge.” She took the return nudge from me and is sharing her thoughts today on what a nudge can do for any of us. Here’s Rebecca!

 

The Power of a Nudge by Rebecca of @NudgeVillage

NudgeVillageHave you ever had a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or even someone you barely know make a suggestion or comment that made a huge difference in your life? It may have been a simple remark, but it had a lasting impact on choices you made going forward?

We call these “nudges.”

These little ideas, comments, and suggestions have the power to increase our self-confidence, encourage us to change direction in our lives, educate us on new possibilities, and  instigate a new business, adventure or idea. Unfortunately, some nudges can have a negative impact; they can lead us away from generally accepted moral and ethical behavior or cause us to lose confidence in our own capabilities and gifts.

How can small, seemingly unimportant interactions hold this much power in our lives?

Over 10 years ago I decided to quit my job and go back to school. Why? A friend suggested I get a masters degree. I hadn’t thought about getting a masters degree, but I had made it a goal to take a few courses in web design. The power of the suggestion made me re-think my plan. I decided to enroll in an online MBA program through the University of Maryland. I was accepted and started my first course – accounting. It wasn’t my best subject and it wasn’t very motivating.

A few months into the MBA program I received an email from a former co-worker who excitedly shared that she thought I should go to graduate school and that she had found a program just for me at George Mason University. Her email contained all the right words to peak my interest – training, education, HTML, and adult learning. So, I signed up. Seriously, I went to the website, found out the requirements for applying, took the proper steps and I walked into my first class on campus less than four months later.

Why would I start a graduate program based upon a suggestion from a friend? Why would I drop out of an MBA and start a new program based upon a simple email communication?

Accepting a Nudge

I still don’t know why, but I acted on their suggestions. Perhaps I trusted their opinions. Perhaps I trusted that they knew my desires, talents and skills. Perhaps I felt inspiration at the moment the suggestions were given. Though I’m still not sure why I accepted those “nudges” and took action, I can look back and see the amazing change they made in my life. I did well in the program and went on to progressively more interesting and higher paying jobs. I also gained a lot of confidence in myself.

The act of accepting a nudge is important. But, what may be even more important is taking the time to become “a nudger.” Sharing small tips that might help a friend, suggesting that someone ask for that raise, and expressing confidence that a person will be able to attempt and achieve a goal. Sometimes it is just to be helpful and sometimes we will truly be inspired to say something that will help someone completely change direction in their job, their friendships, and life goals.

We all have the power to nudge and be nudged. It gets easier with practice and as we become more aware of these interactions, we also start to notice when we might be unintentionally nudging people in the wrong direction or becoming a detriment to their growth. But, those moments will be rare.

Try nudging someone today. You’ll see the power of a nudge. It might change you too. – Rebecca (@NudgeVillage)

 

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Download the free ebook, “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” to help you generate fantastic creative thinking and ideas! For an organizational innovation success boost, contact TheBrainzooming Group to help your team be more successful by rapidly expanding strategic options and creating innovative plans to efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can deliver these benefits for you.

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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4yr-CupcakeEvery year around this time, I do a column looking back at twenty-five lessons learned or reconfirmed during the past year of The Brainzooming Group. Since we’re approaching four years away from corporate life, we’ve now reached one hundred lessons.

While I’ve spent a few weeks putting together the list of twenty-five lessons in previous years, this list came together – with twenty-five lessons plus one – in perhaps thirty minutes. This was surprising since I was originally going to write a column about client lessons for this year’s anniversary of being away from corporate life. The client lesson post will just have to wait

And if you want to see lesson number 26, you’ll find it on our Brainzooming Facebook page. Please check out the Brainzooming Facebook page, and Like us while you’re there. We share Brainzooming blog posts and other items on strategy throughout the month.

25 Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed) in Year Four Away from Corporate Life

Here’s this year’s twenty-five lessons list:

  1. Past performance is no indication of future performance.
  2. Cash remains the undisputed king despite the message at social media conferences that, “Content is king.”
  3. When you’ve lived with a certain structure for a long time, you can easily miss the benefits of new-found flexibility.
  4. Some things simply take time to figure out and become clear no matter how much you want to figure them out right away.
  5. It makes strategic sense to start with the things that will take the longest to develop, but you also have to launch the other things to maximize the payoff from your planning and efforts.
  6. You can and should learn from every encounter. Not all the learning will be equally valuable, though.
  7. You may multi-task to save time, but you’re not likely to get the same benefit as if you address tasks one at a time.
  8. People other than you are always going to be able to see things you can’t see about yourself.
  9. No matter what someone thinks, says, or promises, there’s still a high probability it won’t happen; plan accordingly.
  10. Not asking someone to commit at a relationship’s start will help form more relationships, but it won’t lead to many relationships that survive challenges.
  11. Even when you know better, if you don’t change your situation, you’ll repeat the same mistakes again because the situation will trump your knowledge.
  12. Not all b.s. looks or smells like b.s., which is why you either have to have a good b.s. detector or just assume most of what you see and hear is b.s. and act accordingly.
  13. People complain WAY too much about travel because it’s an easy target for grousing. If you hate travel SO MUCH, pursue a different line of work.
  14. NEVER and ALWAYS are used WAY too much for effect. The answer is somewhere in the middle, and finding where in the middle is the whole deal.
  15. “Bluff while you learn” isn’t at the top of my “Favorite Strategies” list, but in the right circumstances, it works.
  16. Droughts end, but you won’t know when and may not be able to tell why one ended.
  17. There’s HUGE financial value in a well-placed pause in a conversation.
  18. While there is benefit to concentrating on what you do best, you can’t let yourself off the hook from doing important things where you aren’t your best.
  19. When fretting about what seems like an unbelievably long sales cycles, I need to remember we talked to a branding agency during corporate life and only decided to work with them nine years later. We’re into year three with some potential clients. Guess we have a ways to go.
  20. Great friends may go away from you. Let them go. Find new great friends, and cherish even more the ones that don’t go away from you.
  21. You don’t always have to react to things that go awry right away. Put them on the list, pay more attention to them, but don’t over-react. Some stuff will simply fix itself.
  22. Structure is so valuable because it can help you perform and do what you need to do even when you don’t want to do it or aren’t performing well at all.
  23. Depend on God more. Trust more. Act on it more.
  24. Even when you’re well into your career, you may have to completely re-work some long-ingrained behavior patterns. Doing this is HARD, so start as early as you can.
  25. By the time you let someone know you’re going to ask them for help, know what you’re going to ask them for already, even if it’s not immediate. If you don’t, chances are you’ll never get around to figuring out what you need to ask them.  – Mike Brown

Previous Year’s Lessons Learned (or Reconfirmed)

 

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Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailWe talk all the time with business executives about the importance of more people in their organizations developing strategic thinking skills. Some understand right away why this is beneficial. Others wrestle with the idea that something sounding like strategy would get out of the hands of senior management. The typical objection is if people throughout the organization are thinking about strategy, they either

  1. Won’t be working or
  2. Will be trying to come up with their own strategy ideas for the work they ARE doing.

We make the case that any organization benefits from more people being able to understand its strategy and carry it out with some degree of strategic thinking.

Sure, senior management does the strategy setting – at least for the overall organization. But as we define it, strategic thinking involves, “Addressing what matters with insight and innovation.”

That means a strategic thinker should be better attuned to what matters (and why) for the organization, along with having developed the skills to identify when there are opportunities or challenges related to doing what matters.

6 Reasons Businesses Need Strategic Thinking from Employees

Here are six reasons that businesses need strategic thinking from employees – even on the front lines! Strategic thinkers can:

  1. Better understand the importance of strong performance and how to personally do something to make it happen
  2. Spot and support selling opportunities with customers to grow revenue
  3. Call attention to mistakes and potential problems with the current strategy’s implementation before senior management will
  4. Identify new opportunities to deliver value to customers that address customer needs while fitting with organizational strategy
  5. Challenge potentially bad moves the organization is considering because they have different perspectives than senior management does
  6. Become more promotable faster because they have stronger business skills

Rather than being afraid of employees being strategic thinkers, smart business executives realize they are a lot smarter when they are surrounded by smart people.

So if you’re a business executive who would like to be smarter, there’s your plan. – Mike Brown

 

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“How strong is my organization’s social media strategy?”

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question. Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.”

 

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

 

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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Board-RoomThe VP of Operations at a potential client for The Brainzooming Group asked what we do to ensure healthy strategic conversations among a senior management team that has worked together a long time. He wondered about the challenges of breaking through this type of tight-knit group in the boardroom to ensure we’re moving toward creating strategic impact.

I told him the way we break through a tight-knit senior management group’s pre-existing cliques and decision making process is by coming to the table with new insights. We often glean these insights though soliciting strategic input from a much broader employee group than an organization has previously.

All these additional voices go a long way toward disrupting a group’s traditional dynamics.

Spicing Up Strategic Planning in the Boardroom

Beyond including more strategic voices, there’s an unlikely source for techniques we use as inspiration: ideas for spicing up a long-term romantic relationship!

Look at any self-help magazine for advice on spicing up a long-term relationship, and you’ll see ideas such as:

  • Introducing an element of surprise
  • Openness to new techniques and ideas
  • Role-playing and games
  • Toys
  • Scheduling a dedicated day together monthly
  • A change of scenery
  • Planning a staycation together
  • Putting aside technology-based distractions
  • Spending time away from each other
  • Moving out of a long-established comfort zone
  • Recalling earlier, more intense periods in the relationship
  • Finding a babysitter and getting away

As I look at our Brainzooming process and how we introduce creative thinking into strategic planning, we’ve used some variation of all these ideas for spicing up strategic planning in the boardroom.

Granted, how these ideas play in the boardroom is quite different than in the bedroom. But either way, getting people in a long-term relationship to reach new performance levels depends on spicing things up in new ways! – Mike Brown

 

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The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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