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I used to always ask the same question at the end of every job interview: Is there anything you want to talk about but didn’t based on the questions I asked that you want to talk about now?

The question helped create a focused opportunity for nervous, hesitant, or distracted candidates to say whatever they wanted that they thought was important in selling themselves.

I dropped a variation of the question into an online collaboration workshop for a client’s strategic planning process. Based on the results, it has a new role as a strategic planning question.

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

The organization is going through a major leadership transition. Based on our interactions up to this point, honest, open conversation in a group setting is a clear problem for many individuals throughout the organization. While you hear some issues in a group setting, you hear more of the issues and story in one-off conversations.

Since the online collaboration is anonymous and knowing that there were likely other issues that leaders STILL hadn’t felt comfortable introducing, I added this strategic planning question on the fly: Is there anything else we haven’t covered that we should address?

The question generated a healthy response and surfaced several of the “elephants in the room” that certain leaders within the organization typically clamor about and bemoan because they are never addressed.

While we didn’t tackle the elephants in the online collaboration, at a subsequent in-person strategic planning meeting, one leader voiced a hope and expectation that we would tackle the elephants in the room. During a break in the conversation, I returned to the online collaboration results and copied the elephant issues on a big easel pad. With that move, the elephants were visible. We used the list during the in-person strategic planning workshop to make sure we tackled all of them.

While tackling the issues led to some drawn out and uncomfortable moments (at least for facilitators focused on productivity and getting through a certain number of exercises), the leader most vocal about the elephants had to acknowledge at the end that we had addressed them all.

Using the “what didn’t we cover” strategic planning question in a subsequent online collaboration workshop identified many great questions that another organization’s CEO could address before we ended the online collaboration.

With that, “what didn’t we cover” is now in our regular portfolio as a very productive strategic planning question. We suggest tucking it into yours, too. – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
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:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


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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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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence  featured an article this week with strategic planning questions based on Amazon. Inspired by an article in The Wall Street Journal by professor Scott Galloway, they lay out five strategic imperatives Amazon uses to disrupt markets and grow. For each strategic imperative, they suggest strategic planning questions to adopt an Amazon-like perspective in devising a company’s strategy:

Bringing Amazon-Based Strategic Planning Questions into Your Planning (via Inside the Executive Suite)

Saturday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article by Scott Galloway, marketing professor at the NYU Stern School of Business, and author of The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google. Galloway shares market dynamics, the DNA behind Amazon’s success strategy, and his view that Amazon (of the four companies) is positioned for a scenario where it “takes over the world.”

Via Shutterstock

We participated in conferences and client discussions recently where Amazon and its aspirations were an overwhelming focus. Wherever players in retail, consumer goods, transportation and logistics, and technology (among other industries) are grappling with uncertainty, Amazon is part of the conversation.

The Amazon Strategy DNA

Working from Galloway’s analysis, let’s look at how to incorporate a strain of the Amazon strategic success DNA into your own strategy development.  For several imperatives Amazon pursues, we extract questions you can use to frame explorations at your own organization.

#1 – Strategic Imperative: Pursue the market’s “most enduring wants”

Amazon Approach: According to Galloway, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remains strongly focused on putting money into addressing the “most enduring consumer wants – price, convenience, and selection.”

For Your Organization:

Amid uncertainty, there’s tremendous benefit in focusing investment and market penetration initiatives on the enduring wants among your customers and prospects. Does your organization know the enduring wants in your market for the foreseeable future? How are they strongly shaping and prioritizing your business strategy decisions?

Ideally, your organization can go beyond speculation in answering the first question, using a history of quantitative data on what drives customer decisions. Our experience has demonstrated that having a statistically-projectable view of customer behaviors is strategically beneficial. If that is unavailable to your team, explore the most permanent and behavior-driving structural market dynamics. Regulations, resource limitations, and other factors can all play a part in making some decision customer factors more lasting into the future.

#2 – Strategic Imperative: Target narrow, disproportionately profitable niches to dominate

Amazon Approach: While Google leads in overall search market share, Amazon is the major player in product search. Searching for products is the more lucrative market, putting Amazon in a prime position to dominate a profitable segment Google’s core market.

For Your Organization:

Talking with executives about focusing on specific markets or niches frequently reveals a sense that targeting implies giving something up, rather than gaining. Surrendering bigger market size for greater profitability, however, is typically a winning move if you understand:

  • The profit mix within your business by product, service, and segment
  • The extent to which profitability is linked within areas of your business (vs. having generally discrete cost bases and pricing strategies in separate business lines)
  • The way the profitability mix in your organization parallels (or doesn’t) profitability in the broader market

Answering these questions is integral to identifying profitable opportunities and trying to over-penetrate lucrative market segments your brand can own definitively.

#3 – Strategic Imperative: Leapfrog on what’s next or what’s after what’s next

Amazon Approach: The 700 million Apple iPhone users give it the number one position in the voice-controlled market through the Siri app. The next largest (and emerging segment) is voice-driven home computing. There, through Echo, Amazon leads with a 70% share.

For Your Organization:

It is typically easier to successfully anticipate incremental innovation than innovation targeted two leapfrogs ahead. Forsaking near-term innovation for leapfrogs will entail significant failures. One conference presenter this summer shared the sizable list of Amazon innovation failures. While the brand has developed formidable successes, it’s investing in and walking away from leapfrog innovations that aren’t panning out as hoped.

Questions to ask in your planning include:

  • Where do we target innovation strategy exploration: making incremental improvements to what you do today, to what will be next in the marketplace, or toward the market(s) after that?
  • How much effort do we put into anticipating market developments five and 10 years from now?
  • Who are our leapfrog innovators?
  • What innovations are we exploring that can be potential leapfrogs?

Push to integrate a leapfrog element into your strategy, if it needs more innovation.

#4 – Strategic Imperative: Take your critical capabilities to market

Amazon Approach: Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the number-one player in the computer industry’s fastest-growing segment: cloud computing and storage. The genesis of AWS sprang from Amazon’s internal computing capabilities as it powered its multi-faceted online offerings.

For Your Organization:

As you focus on selling what you offer, there may be supporting capabilities within your organization that could deliver value and growth if companies outside your own could purchase them. If your leadership team hasn’t explored this possibility, it makes sense to do so periodically:

  • What core competencies allow us to deliver the best product or service we can?
  • Among these competencies, which ones are important to your competitors?
  • Which of our top competencies are sought after by companies beyond our competitive set?

If you can identify market-caliber capabilities, they can provide strong spin-off business opportunities.

#5 – Strategic Imperative: Sell-in and stick with your differentiation story

Amazon Approach: Jeff Bezos has made the case to the financial markets that vision and growth are as valuable as, if not more valuable than, near-term profitability. The financial flexibility this provides allows Amazon to play a more disruptive role.

For Your Organization: Executives love to guffaw at messaging as so much business fluff, but Bezos’ big vision and messaging are integral aspects of the company’s success.

Does your organization have a big, consistent differentiation message that ties directly into your business strategy? If not, it deserves time on your strategic planning agenda for 2018.

Picking What Makes Sense for Your Organization

You won’t hear us advocating a strategy just because another organization is pursuing it, and that’s not what we’re doing here. What we do suggest is identifying one or two areas to explore for your organization’s strategy: either what it is today, or what it should be fur the future. In those cases, go to school on Amazon and explore what a comparable approach means for your organization’s future. – via Inside the Executive Suite

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times



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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We just created twenty-five year roadmaps for a client’s strategic planning process in two hours and forty-five minutes. Start to finish, UNDER THREE HOURS.

When we say our brand promise revolves around getting brains zooming, we’re totally serious.

How do we eliminate so much time from typical strategic planning process approaches?

11 Ways to Speed Up Your Strategic Planning Process

Via Shutterstock

Here are eleven things we do differently to speed up developing strategy:

  1. We design the strategic planning process to fit your organization and team – not the other way around.
  2. We eliminate unnecessary parts of developing strategy and do away with all the complex templates to complete.
  3. We’ll use highly productive strategic and creative thinking exercises.
  4. We’ve done this hundreds of times, so we know how to adapt our strategic planning methodology so it’s highly efficient for you.
  5. We surround your team with strategic thinking exercises and structure so even inexperienced people will succeed at strategic planning.
  6. We employ online surveys and online collaboration tools to minimize the need for your team to travel and spend time in big meetings.
  7. We bring the fun to strategic planning, so the time will zoom by more quickly than you can ever imagine.
  8. Our collaborative strategic planning approach gets more people participating concurrently, increasing the planning pace.
  9. We know which corners to cut and which ones we can’t move past until we figure things out.
  10. We listen to every conversation and capture bits and pieces of interaction that fit your plan.
  11. We don’t like spending any more time than you do on strategic planning, so we’re always working to streamline it.

Put it all together, and that’s how to speed up developing strategy.

Contact us right now so we can work together to speed up developing strategy for your organization, allowing you to move into implementation faster than ever with a better plan than you had this year! – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!


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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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You’ll never guess what I’ll be doing during my rare free time the next few months.

Serving on a strategy planning team for an organization where I am a member! (See busman’s holiday.)

I’m part of one of ten small teams within a seventy-plus-person volunteer group developing a multi-faceted strategic plan. An external consultant is leading the process along with the organization’s top leaders. Our first meeting was last week. Reflecting on it the next morning, something struck me: this is the first time I’ve participated in someone else’s strategic planning process in over a decade. That means it’s perfect for:

Since we were promised an “easy, five-step strategy planning process” extending through early December, the timing overlaps many of you conducting your own strategic planning process cycles.

5 Reactions to Someone Else’s Strategic Planning Process

Here are early reactions relative to how we’d facilitate a collaborative strategic planning process at The Brainzooming Group.

Via Shutterstock

What Worked?

  • Engaging a Big Group of Participants – It’s fantastic to reach out to seventy volunteers to participate in strategy planning. The final plan can’t help but benefit from so many different perspectives.
  • Using Humor to Make Strategy Planning More Fun – The facilitator was funny, conveying humor both through his comments and slides. Plus, he took the required shots at strategic planning as a discipline to put participants at ease.

What Didn’t Work?

  • Providing a Template to Inexperienced Strategic Planners without Structure –Typical of most strategic planning processes, the facilitator showed us a three-column template to complete for a meeting next month. Each team is on its own to fill out the template. Other than defining the template’s three column headings, no one provided any structure or strategic thinking questions to help the ten teams effectively do their best work.
  • Not Incorporating Previous Strategy Planning Experiences to Make the Process Smarter and Easier – The facilitator works for a local organization that does this type of plan for related organizations. Each organization deals with many of the same issues, yet the strategic planning facilitator didn’t provide any frameworks or exercises to better address these issues. That’s where we’d want to speed up the process by eliminating redundant steps.
  • Leaving People to Gather Information Completely on their Own – For many of the areas in the strategic planning process, there are reference sources and experts pertinent to our organization’s priorities. Yet, the facilitator didn’t offer any materials beyond suggesting some people to call. Honestly, this omission creates a huge time waster for volunteers surrendering their off-hours to participate.

What’s Next

It will be interesting to see how rapidly and successfully our team and others move the planning ahead toward our mid-October deliverable.

Looking back, there were no major surprises among the things that didn’t work. Those are all fundamental strategic planning process shortfalls. The Brainzooming Group works hard to eliminate these.

If you’re thinking about how you can avoid these and other gaps in your own strategic planning process, contact us at The Brainzooming Group. Let’s chat about how to streamline your strategic planning this year in dramatic, results-oriented ways. – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make a Strategic Planning Process More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

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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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Ask most business executives about strategy, and they don’t spit out well-articulated strategy statements.

Instead, executives talk about customers or growth or cost cutting or new markets or a whole variety of other areas that can contribute to business success.

That realization was a breakthrough in how we would create a strategy development exercise back when I ran strategic planning for a Fortune 500 corporation.

The consultants we worked with to help us develop our first big strategic marketing plan back in 1997, didn’t provide productive structure to help us. To them, a strategy development exercise involved PowerPoint slides with boxes and grids to complete. It was about fully-formed answers with no real support to help business and marketing managers do the strategic thinking to develop their strategies. The process was difficult, slow, and only worked because the consultant staffed the engagement with a bunch of MBAs that did the work for our people. They billed high-dollar hours like crazy, turning a single strategic planning initiative into a seven-figure annual engagement.

Over time and hundreds of strategy development workshops, we changed all that.

The Secret to Making a Strategy Development Exercise Faster and Easier

We streamlined strategy by giving our own people a strategic planning structure allowing them to showcase their experiences, knowledge, and perspectives. We sped up the process by assembling a multi-functional team that together had many more great ideas than a single marketing manager. We time-constrained strategic planning so that we spent less time on non-productive speeches and information sharing, instead focusing on productive strategic conversations.

And importantly, when we developed a new strategy development exercise, we actively used creative thinking techniques to help them very naturally think about typical strategy issues in very different ways.

This fundamental change in planning happened over a ten-year period. The Brainzooming strategic planning process was the result.

Brainzooming is all about streamlining strategic planning, making the process engaging, and the outcome actionable.

Sound like the formula your organization needs? If so, contact us, and let’s talk about the possibilities for develop faster, more successful business strategy at your organization! – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make Planning Strategy More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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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Based on executives visiting the Brainzooming website, there is considerable interest right now in “strategic planning icebreaker activities.”  I guess that isn’t surprising. This is the time of year when most organizations that are going to do strategic planning are thinking about it or have already started.

2 New Strategic Planning Icebreaker Activities

Here are two brand new ideas for strategic planning icebreaker activities. They both materialized last week. One is from a misunderstood comment at a strategic planning workshop. The other is a spin on a strategic planning technique someone told me about.

#1. Why can’t we have nice things?

Walking up to a small group at a Brainzooming strategic planning workshop, I mistakenly thought one participant said, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” That was enough of an inspiration to jot the idea down on this sticky note.

It occurred to me that this could be one of those fun strategic planning icebreaker activities to start a conversation about challenges and roadblocks an organization is facing. As it’s shown here, people can introduce themselves, then state a reason the organization can’t have nice innovations. Nothing about the question suggests whether the responses must be serious or silly. You may want to arrange for an early participant to share a silly answer to keep the tone light.

#2. Fill in the Blank

The second icebreaker activity idea came from someone telling me about a strategic planning workshop exercise where they used fill-in-the-blank questions. That made me remember the Match Game television program. On the game show, contestants completed a sentence by filling in a blank. The players scored points based on whether celebrities matched their answers to the typically suggestive questions.

Why not use a similar approach for strategic planning icebreaker activities?

Based on the same theme of getting a conversation started about innovation challenges, possible questions are:

I’m thinking we’d print the questions on sheets of orange paper, allowing people to answer them in writing and then hold them up as they introduce themselves.

Remember: These Are from the Brainzooming R&D Lab

We haven’t tried either of these in a real workshop yet, but we will soon. If you beat us to it, contact us about how they go! – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
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:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


Download Your FREE eBook! The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions



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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Chuck Dymer and I led the first step in a client’s multi-day strategic planning process this week. The client wants to envision its organizational role decades into the future. This initial visioning exercise was hugely successful and fun.  And fun was an important expectation since they found us by Googling “strategic planning fun” and downloading our eBook on the topic of fun strategic planning.

We have been preparing the strategic planning process design for this workshop over the last month. Along the way, our two client sponsors have been incredible with their level of engagement and participation.

All of their involvement paid off via the five-part strategic planning process workshop addressing multiple strategic priorities. The support they provided and roles they played were integral to making the visioning workshop a success. They are a great example of how a client can powerfully support strategic planning success.

13 Ways to Support Strategic Planning Process Success

If you want strategic planning to be more productive in your organization, here are 13 ways our clients made it happen that you can do also:

  1. Be present and active throughout the process
  2. Actively take part in identifying who to involve in the strategic planning process
  3. Devote the appropriate amount of time to understanding a workshop’s design and strategic thinking exercises
  4. Greet workshop participants as they arrive
  5. Describe the process to participants in real words (not jargon) that people understand
  6. Introduce the facilitators with enthusiasm
  7. Play along with the icebreaker activity
  8. Stimulate ideas among other participants without dominating a conversation
  9. Smile throughout the workshop
  10. Ask constructive, probing questions to generate ideas
  11. Engage people that aren’t participating much (if at all)
  12. Refer back to information sharing and activities earlier in the workshop
  13. Summarize the results with passion and hopefulness

If you do these things as an internal strategic planning sponsor, you are setting the stage for making your strategic planning process a success! – Mike Brown

 

fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Make Planning Strategy More Fun!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning

Enjoy this article? Subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

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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