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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

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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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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We have been discussing strategic planning process approaches for next year with multiple people. While they are all considering different ideas, there is one common element to the conversations. They all want to spend less time planning, making it more productive and beneficial than in the past.

3 Strategic Planning Process Tweaks to Make Right Away!

There is no one answer for every organization to improve its strategic planning process. We can share some important fundamentals, however, to improve planning productively in significant ways.

1. Adapting the Strategic Planning Process for Your Organization

Make sure your strategic planning approach fits how your organization addresses:

  • Developing information and insights
  • Exploring opportunities
  • Making decisions
  • Implementing successfully

While you may want to change planning, recognize you are doing so relative to what creates the highest likelihood of success. Against what will work best for your team, consider these ideas to shape specific planning activities.
11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

2. Capture Current Ideas and Imagine New Ones

The most important strategic planning activities are those that help participants think about capitalizing innovatively on opportunities and addressing challenges. Don’t forget, however, to begin by asking everyone to identify their starting lists of opportunities and threats along with sharing their best current ideas to address them. Documenting these starting points acknowledges current thinking and typically frees participants to consider new ideas.

To accelerate thinking about new opportunities and approaches, ask unconventional strategic planning questions. You can try these five hypothetical situations we find valuable to spur innovative thinking:

  • Suppose we have the same goal we have now, but severely constrained resources. What can we do differently?
  • If our goal were two times greater than what is now with the same resources, what would we do differently to hit it?
  • Select some of the starting ideas we shared to accomplish our goals. What are completely opposite ways we might be able to try that have a chance of working?
  • If another company outside our industry were addressing these opportunities and challenges, what would they do to achieve success?
  • If a non-traditional, emerging competitor were trying to disrupt our market position, what would it do? How can we adopt those same moves to protect and improve what we do now?

These types of scenarios set the stage for dramatically different strategic thinking and innovative possibilities.

3. Deciding on Strategies and Writing the Plan

Relative to making decisions about which strategies to incorporate into the plan, we recommend soliciting input from the planning participants while recognizing who owns the ultimate decisions. Specify upfront which individual or group will prioritize the ideas to form the final plan.

When it comes to documenting the actual plan, spare participants the chore of writing it during the workshop. Identify who in your organization is strong at shaping project management plans; those people are likely the best equipped to efficiently translate all the input into a plan people will use.

Customize to Make It Work for Your Organization

Incorporating even a few of these suggest will make your planning more productive this year. If you want help to identify which ideas will work best in your organization, contact us, and let’s talk about what our experience suggests for your situation! – Mike Brown

Want to Avoid Typical Boring Strategic Planning Process Meetings?

Here is your answer. These 11 not stuffy for work techniques will spice up strategic planning with new thinking on:

  • How to move out of long-established comfort zones that limit strategic thinking
  • Livening up strategic discussions with exercises designed to generate disruptive ideas
  • Capturing the benefits of an offsite meeting right in your office

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Not 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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Are you in the midst of boring strategic planning meetings?

Lots of people are right now enduring dreadful strategy meetings with all the same people, issues, and annoying behaviors they have been putting up with year after year. One executive facing the prospect of another round of boring strategic planning meetings asked what ideas we had for putting some fun into strategic planning?

Beyond sharing how we’d use insights from a broader employee group to shake up the group’s stale old interactions, the question got me thinking about other ideas. How else could we create fun strategic planning meetings for the group?

I started looking at ideas for how to get the spark back in a romantic relationship. Amazingly, the advice for couples falling into dreadful patterns with the same boring conversations and daily routines was easily adaptable to changing how senior executives engage in strategic planning. Yes, amazingly, there are many similarities in adding spark to tired, old relationships, no matter whether they are taking place personally or professionally.

Want to put the sizzle back into your senior team’s strategic planning?

Download our FREE Brainzooming eBook: 11 NSFW* Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning!

11 Hot Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

We reveal all the surprising ways to change your team’s boring strategy conversations to foster productive, fun strategic planning.

In case you worry about downloading something NSFW, DON’T WORRY. Our NSFW doesn’t stand for Not Safe For Work. It means, Not Stuffy For Work!

These proven ideas and techniques will lead to:

  • Creating openness to new techniques
  • Moving out of long-established comfort zones
  • Livening up strategic discussions with new exercises

This NSFW* Brainzooming eBook shares the techniques we use with new and old clients to make strategic planning fun while helping create innovative, successful business results!

Download Your FREE eBook! 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning

 

Download your copy of 11 Not Stuffy for Work Ways to Spice Up Strategic Planning today!

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 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


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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“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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