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WeedsPreparing a creative and strategic thinking workshop for a client this week, one of the attendees mentioned in the pre-session survey a desire to identify ways to stay out of the weeds on project teams.

Great question and a strategic thinking topic we haven’t necessarily covered from that angle. While we talk frequently about the importance of focusing on what matters for an organization and staying productive, we haven’t necessarily addressed specific ways project teams can stay out of the weeds.

12 Ways Project Teams Can Stay out of the Weeds

Here are twelve ways to monitor whether a group is addressing strategic topics and ways a project team can stay out of the weeds if that is where it is stuck:

  • Involve a senior executive on the project team who has a short attention span for detail.
  • Prepare a meeting agenda that addresses big topics, but plans for a brief time near the meeting’s conclusion to revisit overly-detailed topics emerging during the project team meeting.
  • Maintain a running list of decisions and assumptions your project team has made and unless there is a clear and compelling strategic reason, make it difficult for the group to revisit and rework them.
  • Set a time limit for how much time you’ll spend researching, discussing, or deciding on a topic.
  • Invite fewer people to meetings where you’re discussing detailed topics.
  • Use an impartial facilitator to run the project team meeting and keep it moving toward the meeting objective.
  • Have someone with no experience participate in your discussion and whenever you get into topics that person doesn’t understand, pull the conversation back up to a meaningful level.
  • Ask whether the topic you’re discussing will have a material impact on the organization.
  • Continually ask how overly-detailed conversations are going to lead to discernible impact for customers or other important audience members.
  • Call time out on any topic you’re discussing that promises incremental impact but will be complex to implement.
  • Assign the people who want to get bogged down on a topic to do individual work to investigate or explore the issues and report back to the team.
  • Be willing to wrap up (or leave) early if there’s no forward progress toward the team’s objective and rethink your approach.

How do you keep a project team focused on strategic thinking and out of the weeds?

Do you have a tendency to get into the weeds when you really should be staying strategic? If not you, but others around you have a tendency to get into the weeds, how do you keep it from happening? – 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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An organization contacted us about facilitating a large, multi-organization strategic planning session. They ultimately decided, since the timing was tight and a lot of the details hadn’t been decided, to facilitate it themselves internally.

Bored-GuyShortly after the meeting, I heard about it via a couple of participants. Fifteen minutes was scheduled for introductions. TWO HOURS LATER, introductions wrapped up. Turns out, getting nearly two hours behind at the meeting’s start was the highlight of the two-day experience. It was supposedly all downhill from there, with a lot of questions about what, if anything, came from flying a large number of people to a relatively remote location in the middle of the country to meet.

Have you been in one of “those” meetings previously? I know I have.

While it seems like anyone can facilitate a meeting (I mean who CAN’T stand in front of a group and write things on a big pad of paper), it’s just not true that anyone can.

Strategic Planning and 5 Dangers of NOT Hiring a Professional Facilitator

When an organization tries cheaping out and not using a strong professional facilitator who can design and carry out an interactive strategic planning session, it COSTS an organization in at least five big ways:

1. You burn up participant goodwill

You may have only one shot to get a board or other stakeholder group to agree to participate in a strategic planning session based on their interest in the organization or initiative. If you frustrate them with an unproductive meeting, you COST yourself important goodwill you may have built up with them.

2. You don’t make a big enough and sustainable enough move forward

If a strategic planning session is really intent on driving big change, frittering away the opportunity to harness the expertise you’ve assembled to pave the way for big change will COST time and positive returns as you wait to cycle back until your next opportunity to push for big change.

3. You blow through opportunity or hard dollar costs

Even if you think you are not writing many checks to pay for your strategic planning session, there are still opportunity costs for the participants’ time investments. When a poorly designed meeting wastes the time for the participants, it COSTS you because you send a clear signal that you don’t respect their time investment in what you’ve asked them to help accomplish.

4. You stretch patience, not imagination and creativity

When a poorly designed strategic thinking session fails to push an organization’s imagination and creativity in a productive way, it winds up pushing the wrong buttons instead, i.e. impatience and boredom. The COST comes from failing to excite the organization to grow and develop to be more competitive and successful.

5. Stakeholders won’t take it seriously in the future

When you summon people for a strategic planning meeting and it goes nowhere, the next time you try to do the same thing – even if you have stepped up to using a professional facilitator, you will have COST your organization the active participation of stakeholders you burned previously. Why should they believe the next time will be any different? And you’ve not only tarnished their enthusiasm for your organization’s strategic planning efforts, you’ve done it for any other organization for which they may be involved.

So how beneficial is it to hire a strategic planning facilitator?

If you’re serious about wanting a productive, efficient, and interactive strategic planning, strategic thinking, or creative development experience for your organization, call us. Please call us. Don’t COST your organization in stupid ways. We’ll show you how hiring a strategic planning facilitator will deliver a positive return right away, and down the road! – 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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Productive strategic thinking exercises are at the heart of The Brainzooming Group methodology. Great brainstorming and strategic planning questions encourage and allow people to talk about what they know including factual information, personal perspectives, and their views of the future.

The Value of Strategic Thinking Exercises

I tell people who ask about how we developed The Brainzooming Group methodology that a big motivator was business people I worked with who didn’t know how to fill out strategic planning templates and worksheets.

They did, however, know a lot about the businesses, customers, and markets they served. We found we could ask them strategic planning questions and brainstorming questions to capture information to create strategic plans.

Since I could write the plan, knowing strategic planning questions to ask (within a fun, stimulating environment to answer them) was key to developing creative, quickly-prepared plans infused with strategic thinking.

And when you combine “creative,” “strategic thinking,” and “quickly-prepared,” you get Brainzooming!

Here is a sampling of more than 200 brainstorming questions and strategic planning questions that are part of the strategic thinking exercises we use with The Brainzooming Group. Yes, more than two hundred questions! Who could ask for more?

 

More than 200 Strategic Planning Questions for Strong Strategic Thinking

Creating Productive Questions

Strategic Thinking Questions for Developing Overall Strategy

Developing a Strategic Vision

Digital and Social Media Exploration

Creative Naming Questions

Innovation-Oriented Questions

Brainzooming-Before-After

Identifying Strategies and Assumptions

Extreme Creativity Questions

Strategic Marketing Questions

Sales and Business Development Questions

Questions to Perform More Effective Recaps

There you go with more than 200 strategic planning questions. Do you have any questions? Let us know! – 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.”

 

Mike Brown

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

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If you are considering launching a strategic planning process, either for your organization overall or for a specific part of the business, you have obviously done some thinking about it to get to this decision point.

8 Questions to Ask Before a Strategic Planning Process

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Simulated Image of a Brainzooming

Before taking your first steps to either implement the strategic planning process yourself or engage an outside party to lead you through the process, here are eight questions to ask.

Maybe you have already addressed some of these questions about your strategic planning process, but my guess is you likely have not tackled all of them:

  • What benefits should we get organizationally from the PROCESS of strategic planning?
  • Have previous strategic plans sat on the shelf or have we implemented them?
  • Is there a type of strategic planning output that is not as likely to sit on the shelf?
  • How many and what types of people should be involved?
  • Should the strategic planning experience be serious, stimulating, exciting, rewarding, or fun . . . or is there another descriptor that is more appropriate?
  • How fresh and reliable is our strategic foundation as we get ready to launch the strategic planning process?
  • How big a change are we looking for in the new strategic plan – is it minor or are we taking a big swing at our future direction?
  • How smart are we about what we do and our customers, markets, competitors, and all the other factors in our business environment?

Granted, these questions are shaped heavily by the very different approach The Brainzooming group takes to making sure a strategic plan broadly involves an organization and provides a dynamic, motivating, and creative experience for everyone involved.

Looking for Answers to these Strategy Questions?

However, based on talking with a variety of clients and potential clients, we approach strategic planning to create a very different experience than other outside strategists. So if you’d like help working through these questions and what they could mean for growing your organization and your people, give us a call (816-509-5320). – 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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Yesterday’s post explored sixteen signals to identify when strategizing becomes procrastination, stopping you from moving forward with implementation. At the heart of many of the sixteen signals is apprehension with decision making for various reasons.

In light of the challenges we all (okay, maybe most of us) face at times with making decisions on a timely basis, here is a recap list of Brainzooming articles on making successful decisions.

Decision Making Techniques

1. Don’t Overthink It? 5 Key Questions for Quick Decisions

Here are five ways to constrain thinking when it’s too easy to take more time to make decisions. Chopping off some available time, resources, and possibilities can get you to a decision much faster.

2. Making Decision Making Easier – She Loves Me, She Loves Me Not

One factor that can slow decision making speed is too many available choices. Here is a low-tech, very direct way to narrow your decision options and move directly toward decision making.

3. Strategic Thinking Exercise – Simply Making Big Decisions

Your approach for making big decisions doesn’t have to be overly complicated. It can be as simple as listing your criteria and asking yes or no questions about the options you’re considering.

4. Black and White Decision Making? Today, Change to Grey (and Vice Versa)

There are benefits to consciously changing your typical decision making style, even if temporarily.

5. Project Management – 15 Techniques When Time Is Running Down

I enjoy events because they have a built-in deadline: at some point, the event will start, and all decisions are either made or you’ve lost the chance to tinker any longer. When looking at all deadlines as “events,” these techniques help focus and move forward when time is running down.

Decision Making with Teams

6. Level 5 Decisions – Decision Making without Your Influence

Maybe part of your decision making challenge is you are trying to make too many decisions yourself. This helpful strategic thinking approach helps move decisions away from you toward your team so everyone can be more effective.

7. Striving for Simple Revolutionary Ideas

This prioritization and decision making approach not only helps identify winning ideas, it takes best advantage of using both individuals and groups working through a group decision making process efficiently.

Prioritization

8. Built for Discomfort – An Alternative Prioritization Strategy for Innovation

If the easy decision is always the decision that gets made, this prioritization strategy will help force a group to more strongly consider uncomfortable ideas that can be more challenging but also more beneficial.

9. Prioritizing Things Others Are Depending Upon

When you’re in a team situation, delaying a decision or action can really screw things up for the next person in the process. This alternative prioritization approach places a premium on taking actions that set the next person up for success.

Dealing with Varied Decision Making Situations

10. Making a Decision – 7 Situations Begging for Quick Decisions

It can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and turn small decisions into protracted ones. This guide adds some perspective to seven common decision making situations that could be quick decisions once you strip away everything that’s surrounding them.

11. Market Research – 5 Ways to Not Screw Up Focus Group Decision Making

As a market researcher, I’m quick to support the idea of getting market input to help make better decisions. If you misuse market research as a way to tap market input, however, you can make the situation worse. Here’s how to not screw up focus groups if you’re using them.

12. Is Your Brand Headed for Trouble? 5 Strategic Warning Signs

While decision making isn’t the central focus of this article, poor decision making is at the  heart of these strategic warning signs that suggest a brand is heading for trouble, if it’s not already present and accounted for in Troubleville. – 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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Most of the time the Brainzooming blog shares strategy, innovation, and creativity ideas while consciously trying not to tout what we do at The Brainzooming Group. Our hope is by sharing intriguing and insightful content on strategy, innovation, and creativity, you will want to explore more deeply how The Brainzooming Group can improve your organization’s performance. Suffice it to say, we do not toot our own horn too much. (Did you like the way I got both “tout” and “toot” into the same paragraph? That will make the SEO grading apps crazy.)

Why Change Is Hard and 3 Ideas for Making Change Easy

Recently I was reading (okay, listening) to, Switch (affiliate link), the book on change by Chip and Dan Heath. I was struck by how The Brainzooming Group successfully addresses what Chip and Dan Heath identify as three of the main points from Switch addressing why change is hard:

Why Change Is Hard #1: Organizations resist planning for change because it is too complex or too hard

Group-Strategic-ConnectionOur Approach for Making Change Easy: At The Brainzooming Group, we refer to this challenge of planning for change as the “can’t get over the hump” problem. We see it repeatedly. Smart organizations with solid people get only so far with developing implementing strategy, but cannot get any further.  Sometimes the answer is strategic thinking tools; sometimes it is resources; sometimes it is strategic focus.

In the Brainzooming process, we analyze what the sticking point is and apply the correct “lubricant” to move the process forward. When you have built up the arsenal of strategic thinking tools and successful creativity approaches we have over the years, finding the answer to move a strategy toward implementation is quick.

Why Change Is Hard #2: People have a fear of failure, so they won’t even try to think about what should be changed, much less make the effort to change it

Our Approach for Making Change Easy: We account for the probability of failure as we design our strategy thinking process. As a result, we inoculate you against being afraid of change. The Brainzooming Group helps you generate a significant number of ideas and concepts as we temper the natural inclination to censor or needlessly debate whether ideas or concepts are good during the early stages of strategic thinking.

We don’t leave you with a pile of uncategorized and unusable ideas, though. We have tested strategic thinking tools to help organize, categorize, and evaluate the new you generate. Knowing the chaff is going to be thrown away helps people not be afraid to generate the kernels of wheat (or nuggets of gold) that lead to successful change.

Why Change Is Hard #3: There is too little attention paid to building upon success and too much attention placed on solving problems

Our Approach for Making Change Easy: The Brainzooming process helps you solve problems. Just as important though, we also help organizations better recognize what they are doing right and provide them the structure and options for building upon that success.

Would You Like to Make Change Easy? At Least Easier than It Has Been?

Thank for indulging this exploration on how the Brainzooming process accomplishes relative to making change easy. We’d love to talk with you about the opportunities and issues in your organization where you are finding change is hard. We’ll return tomorrow to our usual focus on less self-referential issues of strategy, innovation and creativity. Today though, I wanted to point out specific ways we help smart organization make successful change easy. – Barrett Sydnor


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We don’t frequently report new product case studies on the Brainzooming blog. One reason is we don’t cover our own client innovation work because it’s almost always confidential.

Another reason?

Commenting on stories about new product development innovations as reported in magazines is too speculative. Having been involved with public relations spin for Fortune 500 level companies, by the time you read a major story in the press, it may have little resemblance to what actually happened to innovate the new product.

Instead, the case study-oriented stories we cover tend to focus more on a strategic thinking question we use frequently: What brainstorming questions or creative thinking exercise would have generated this innovation?

Even if the brainstorming questions or creative thinking path we hypothesize isn’t what the brand used to hatch its innovation, it helps us continually develop new strategic thinking exercises or refresh familiar brainstorming questions we use with clients of The Brainzooming Group to generate ideas.

Tostabags – Making “Cooking” a Grilled Cheese Sandwich Easier

One recent product that was new to me, however, screamed for a blog post on brainstorming questions.

Grilled-Cheese-EasyTostabags (affiliate link) literally jumped off the shelf during a Saturday morning grocery store shopping trip. With Lent approaching and me doing more of my own food preparation (notice I didn’t say “cooking”) recently, the promise of an easy grilled cheese sandwich was top of mind!

As Facebook friends pointed out, it’s not like making a grilled cheese is that hard. But when your main food prep motivations are using as few dishes or utensils as possible and trying to maximize the microwave oven’s role, traditional grilled cheese preparation is a 3-item chore (stove, frying pan, and spatula).Talk about complicated!

The clear benefit of Tostabags, developed by Guy Unwin of the UK’s Planit Products, was not lost on me. This was especially true since the price tag covered the brand name, making the benefit more clear than the brand name! The ability to take two pieces of bread, put a piece of cheese between them, slip it into Tostabags, and slide the whole deal into a toaster? That’s much easier, and what’s even better, having tried one out, Tostabags work. The grilled cheese sandwich was great!

Brainstorming Questions that Could Lead to Tostabags

Not knowing how Guy Unwin came up with the Tostabags idea, you can imagine the idea flowing very naturally from an exercise learned from Chuck Dymer called Trait Transformation (it also goes by the name SCAMPER).

The basis of Trait Transformation is initially identifying:

  • An innovation objective, i.e., innovating new products to make cooking easier
  • Characteristics related to the innovation objective

In the case of coming up with the idea for Tostabags, the characteristics might have been kitchen items associated with cooking (i.e., stove, microwave, utensils, toaster, etc.) or common prepared foods (i.e., sandwiches, scrambled eggs, pizza).

With the characteristics (or “traits”) identified, they are modified through “transformers” to deliberately change how they factor into the innovation objective. Typical transformers include:

  • Simpler
  • More Complicated
  • Bigger
  • Smaller
  • Easier
  • More Customized
  • More Complex

Using a Trait Transformation approach, you can clearly see the combo question: How could we make preparing a grilled cheese sandwich easier?

Answer: Pop it into a bag in the toaster!

Try Them Both – Trait Transformation and Tostabags

If it’s not apparent already, I’m a longtime fan of Trait Transformation and a recent fan of Tostabags. Try Trait Transformation out when you need new innovation ideas that vary what’s already out there. And while you’re busy innovating, keep yourself energized eating an EASY grilled cheese sandwich with Tostabags!  - 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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