Strategy | The Brainzooming Group - Part 5 – page 5

Are you still trying to finish your strategic planning process for next year?

Is it to that point where your biggest worry is being about to call the plan strategic without making other executives fall on the floor laughing hysterically?

If this sounds like your situation (and we know, based on searches many of you are using to peruse Brainzooming strategic planning content, that at least SOME of you are facing this challenge), then the new eBook from The Brainzooming Group is the answer: Right Now! 29 Ideas to Speed Up Strategic Planning.

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  • 5 Things to Do If You Haven’t Started Planning
  • 1 Question to Focus and Speed Up Strategy Meetings
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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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Ten years into the Brainzooming blog, it seemed right to have someone else tell the story from a fresh perspective. Emma Alvarez Gibson, who helped shaped the Brainzooming brand before it even launched, is exactly the person.

Ten Years Now and Mike Brown Has a Blog – Emma Alvarez Gibson

It’s 2009, and I’ve just gone into business for myself, doing branding and copywriting. Thanks to Twitter, which is at that point still a place to have thoughtful conversations with smart people, a great-sounding gig has fallen into my lap. This guy I’ve never met has just hired me, after a couple of emails and a single phone call, to help launch his company. He’s kind of shockingly sincere, but he lives in Kansas City, and maybe that’s just how they do there. He’s about to leave his job as a strategic planning and marketing VP at a Fortune 500 transportation company and he’s got this whole other direction mapped out for himself—he’s been blogging now for a couple of years in preparation for this move.

“I don’t think I had any clue, at the start, about the impact the blog would have on my life.”

We work well together. He says I really get what he’s trying to do. And he pays promptly, as the best clients do. I wish him well, and we follow one another on Twitter. Every now and then we exchange pleasantries and silly jokes, sometimes an email or two. We tweet, we message, we leave comments on one another’s Facebook updates. I sign up for his blog posts, which are astonishing in their frequency as well as their depth.

“The blog paved the way for me to create a brand-new business identity. It allowed me to create a new present and future that built on, but wasn’t beholden to, my experience in the transportation sector.”

And so it goes for the next three years. By 2012 I’m no longer working for myself, as I’ve discovered that I’m terrible at it. I’ve got a capital-J job, and excellent health insurance, and tons of banked vacation time. One afternoon in 2014, I’m in my office with not a lot to do, and a message pops up: the guy from Kansas wants to know if I have a couple of minutes for a phone call. I’m a little weirded out, but say yes. He’ll be in San Diego in a month, he says, and wonders if I’m available to help facilitate a workshop. I am.

The evening before the workshop, I drive down from LA immediately following a Neil Finn show, accompanied by a girlfriend, just on the off chance that it’s all a setup and I’m meeting up with an ax murderer. (Spoiler: I’m not. The guy from Kansas is exactly as he represents himself online.) But despite it being our first time meeting face to face, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. Probably because we have.

“It gave me an identity beyond Mike Brown, which is in the top 5 most nondescript names.”

The workshop goes well. It’s fun, and challenging, and so gratifying to see that we’re giving people tools and resources that will continue to improve their work lives and also have the capacity to improve their personal lives. This work calls to me on a deep level.

Back in LA I keep thinking about how naturally we worked together and how our skills and expertise complemented one another. What if that could be my job? But I can’t really allow myself to venture too far down that path. There are too many variables and it isn’t as though he’s hiring tons of people—particularly not people 1600 miles away. I’ve got a child, a chronic illness, a mortgage, and my husband and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I climb back down into the salt mines, so to speak, and focus on making things go.

“The body of work is a personal one. But it allows us to compete with the biggest consulting firms in the world.”

When the guy from Kansas asks if I’d be interested in the occasional editing gig, I am; soon it’s a weekly thing. I think, often, about what it would be like to do this full-time. One day, the guy from Kansas says, hesitantly, Hey, I don’t know how you’d feel about this, but when I’m in a position to extend the company’s base outside Kansas City, I’d really like to hire you full-time. I’d feel pretty great about that, and tell him so. And then it’s back to the salt mines for me, but now the work I’m doing when I’m not at my day job includes several long-term projects, and we’re presenting workshops and keynotes at conferences in San Francisco and on an island off the coast of Georgia.

Now it’s the fall of 2017. I have a block of time in the middle of my frenzied day that doesn’t belong to anyone else, and I shut my office door and call the guy from Kansas to discuss a couple of the projects we have going. When he answers the phone, I say hello and ask how he is. He says, Wonderful. I’m just finishing up your offer letter. Within fifteen minutes, I’ve given notice.

“The busyness of the business, driven in large part by the blog, has had a tremendous impact across my life.”

This month marks the tenth anniversary of what became the Brainzooming blog. I tease Mike about the sheer volume of content he’s created across these ten years. He must have content running in his veins where we mere mortals have only blood, I say. Oh, no, Mike Brown forgot to write a blog post for tomorrow! Not to worry – just hand him that letter opener! The wound will heal; the content will live on! The truth, of course, is simpler and more complicated than that. The truth involves a different kind of sacrifice, and hell of a lot of hard work.

It’s two months to the day since I joined Brainzooming full-time as Director of Brand Strategy. I can’t quite shake the sense that, at any moment, someone’s going to show up at my door and order me back to the salt mines. Because this kind of work isn’t work: it’s a calling. And that makes all the difference in the world, and to my world. (As do the excellent Beavis and Butt-head impressions Mike and I are prone to when in the same city. Or on the phone. Or, okay, via email.)

We’ve now met in person five times, and next year will bring more opportunities to get together to address problems, create solutions, and bring people together in ways they would not have thought possible. I can’t wait to see where Brainzooming goes next.

Happy blog anniversary, Mike. Happy blog anniversary, Brainzooming. Here’s to the next ten years. Emma Alvarez Gibson

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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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What strategic thinking skills are important in helping find agreement for action amid a big, unstructured conversation?

That was the challenge during a nonprofit board call. The call was an opportunity for board members to react and share perspectives for the first time as a group about a critical business topic. The meeting objective involved identifying actions the board supported and would collectively recommend. We found our way to three target recommendations after two hours of conversation.

One board member remarked later how easy it was to get lost in the back-and-forth without identifying anything the group would recommend.

5 Strategic Thinking Skills to Lead Groups to Action

How then did we find three areas for the board to agree to as action items? Here are five strategic thinking skills you can employ in comparable group situations:

  • Listen for verbs. Verbs suggest action. Listen especially for actions you imagined before the call that the group might embrace and advance. Having a list prepared ahead of time helps you focus and piece together answers from snippets of conversation.
  • Figure out who the leaders are historically and on the call (if they are different). Listen for when a group leader voices something that agrees with someone who is less vocal. If you can find agreement there, it’s a powerful combination: the leader picking up on a more marginal player’s strategic thinking.
  • If you can identify a core idea for action, listen for other suggestions that build on, complement, or enhance the original idea. Highlighting other strategic thinking lets you keep returning to the core idea. Doing so grounds the group in hearing the core idea repeatedly and focuses their strategic thinking on that idea vs. pursuing unrelated directions.
  • If you modify an action-oriented idea with different strategic thinking, return to the person with the original idea to see if that makes sense for them. You want to improve the recommendation and build on it, but not at the expense of losing your original supporter.
  • Don’t linger too long if the group reaches some level of agreement. You don’t want to try to work for total agreement and risk seeing what agreement you had unwind through additional discussion.

Employ these five strategic thinking skills when you need to give a group room to talk, but also to move toward action.

It won’t necessarily be easy, but it should speed up getting to agreement. – Mike Brown

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  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

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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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Emma Alvarez Gibson and I were talking about identifying strategic themes within tens or hundreds of ideas from a strategic planning workshop or from thousands of comments within a survey.

Other than a big dose of help from outside forces, what are dependable ways to identify meaningful strategic themes?

This is important because latching onto the right groupings for ideas will make all the difference when highlighting and simplifying smart strategy recommendations.

As we chatted, I perused the Brainzooming website looking for articles on how we surface strategic themes. Posts on making strategic connections address some aspect of our approach, yet they cover only part of the story.

10 Cues to Identify Strategic Themes among Ideas

Reflecting on our Brainzooming process, we use all these cues to identify potential strategic themes among THINGS THAT:

  1. Are clearly related to strategy
  2. We know correlate
  3. Seem to correlate
  4. Represent natural groups you see or experience elsewhere
  5. Happen at the same time
  6. Appear close to one another
  7. Possess similar characteristics or attributes
  8. Incorporate similar inputs or outputs
  9. Undergo similar processes
  10. Demonstrate unusual but frequent connections between each other

There are likely more of these.

Yet, you don’t want too many cues. You must be able to quickly run through the strategic theme cues whenever you are faced with large a volume of open-ended comments.

Based on our experience, finding just the right number and range of strategic themes is one of the best methodologies you can employ to ensure broad strategic thinking AND clear steps to implement. – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

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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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Looking for ways to spice up your organization’s strategic planning process before you lock into the same old strategy ideas shaped by your senior team’s conventional wisdom?

Try asking surprising strategic planning questions to push your leadership team toward new thinking.

Here is where we are coming from: when someone with romantic interest in you gives you a gift, it’s usually attractively, even lavishly, wrapped. Discovering the wonderful new treasure awaiting you requires tearing off the wrapping paper. Now apply that idea to the traditional industry knowledge – the conventional wisdom of your business.

Conventional wisdom is especially prized by executives with tenure and experience in one industry, company, and/or discipline. While conventional wisdom can speed decision making and prevent you from repeatedly making the same mistakes, it also is a powerful weapon to stand in the way of new thinking, innovation, and applying creativity to business strategy.

Just as you must tear away wrapping paper to get to the great gift inside, you must tear away conventional wisdom that stands in the way of innovative strategies. This is vital to move an organization in new, innovative, and disruptive directions.

Strategic Planning Questions that Create Surprise

One key to greater creativity and innovation is the ability to temporarily forget what you know. That’s where unusual strategic thinking questions provide an element of surprise when developing strategy. Executives quickly become overly familiar with standard strategic planning questions:

  • What are our strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are our threats?
  • What opportunities do we have?

Try twisting traditional strategic planning questions in new, unusual ways. You will quickly see how surprising questions lead to new, unexpected, and insightful ideas that spark winning strategies.

If you’re interested in a treasure trove of strategic planning questions addressing multiple important business areas, download our eBook, The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions (The Brainzooming Group Uses. So far.)

Also, for more ideas on spicing up strategic planning, you need to grab your copy of our FREE Brainzooming eBook: 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning!

Don’t settle for boring strategic planning. Use these free resources to bring new life to your planning today! – Mike Brown

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11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

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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I’ve been remiss in sharing updates about the strategic planning process I’ve been participating in for a non-profit organization. The initial article on the strategic planning process promised updates on my first time participating in someone else’s strategic planning process in many years.

5 Things to Hate about a Strategic Planning Process (and 5 Antidotes)

Since that post, we’ve been through two formal meetings. The first was to share our fact base, strategic issues, and planning implications. The most recent one was to review our tactical plans, including timing and responsibilities.

Both meetings were limited to twenty minutes so the steering committee could get through all the other plans. Both meetings were disconnected from the discussions going on about all the other plans. Both meetings reminded me of all the things that frustrate me about strategic planning processes. For example:

Frustration 1: Starting a Strategic Planning Process with Handing out Templates to Complete

Antidote: Shout, “Wow! It’s clear where you want all the answers to go. But can you work with me to help figure out what the best answers are other than me pulling imagined answers out of my @&&!!!!”

Frustration 2: Spending too much time discussing the strategic planning process and too little on using it to develop winning strategies.

Antidote: Suggest to the person heading up planning that you put the process on an amazing diet, with twice as much strategy and 75% less process!

Frustration 3: Scheduling Strategic Planning Meetings where All but One Person Sits and Listens

Antidote: Raise your hand and ask, “Can’t we break up into small groups and get lots of work done as we all participate? And if not, can’t you share your speech and your slides so I can just read it when it’s convenient???”

Frustration 4: Nitpicking Words Early in the Process

Antidote: Ask, “Do you know what this means? Yes? Okay, it’s fine for now. We’ll fix the wording L A T E R!”

Frustration 5: Trying to Assign People and Dates Too Early

Antidote: Say, “I know you want to make sure someone owns every part of the strategic plan and completes it by the expected date, but let’s make sure we have the right things in the plan before we start badgering people about getting them done!”

There Is a Different Way to Make Strategic Planning Work Productively!

All those frustrations and antidotes are why the Brainzooming process exists. There is a different, and much better way to carry out a strategic planning process. It is faster, more collaborative, and effectively engages the voices and perspectives to create a stronger, more successfully implemented plan.

If you want to find out what THAT type of strategic planning is like, contact us and let’s talk about making it work at your organization! – Mike Brown

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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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What are all the change management strategy roles a change agent plays?

My answers to that question grew recently because of an experience with a client developing its future vision.

We were working with an organization on its future vision while facilitating its strategic planning process. The organization’s leaders, and many of the team, have been in place for a long time, limiting the collective view of how other organization’s do things in bold, innovative, and different ways.

As we worked on strategic thinking exercises to explore the company’s future vision and user experience, the change management strategy vocabulary the group used was conventional, unemotional, and lacking innovative thinking. Despite the static language, strategic conversations with the team suggested they possessed a legitimate interest in pursuing innovative strategies.

Innovation Vocabulary and Change Management Strategy


Later in the strategic planning workshop, we used a collaging exercise as another way to help the team express its vision for the organization. In the exercise, the group cut words and images from magazines to express their depictions of various strategic concepts. We had selected specific magazines to use in the exercise that would stretch how the organization thought about itself and its clients. With a bolder innovation vocabulary than they possessed on their own, they did an incredibly strong job of articulating an innovative future vision.

Reflecting on the difference between the group members working from their own language and working from the innovation language in the magazines, the difference was apparent: they didn’t have their own vocabulary for major change, so they struggled to express their aspirations. When we provided a bigger innovation vocabulary, they could paint a bigger, bolder vision for their future and the change management strategy involved.

That’s when it became clear that another thing a change agent needs to do is make sure his or her organization has the innovation vocabulary to describe the degree of change management needed to realize a bold future. An organization trying to transform likely needs an external change agent with an outside perspective to provide a new vocabulary for innovation.

Lesson learned.  We’re developing new ways to immerse our client’s organization in all the innovation vocabulary they need for the change management strategy task ahead.

Want to learn more about that process? Contact us, and let’s talk about creating major change within your organization! – Mike Brown

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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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