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

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

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

Creating Strategic Impact – The Updated Brainzooming Manifesto

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

Why the discrepancy?

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

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

Defining Strategic Thinking Simply

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awakening Strategic Thinking

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

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

Here are some fundamentals for accomplishing this:

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

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

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

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

New Types of Strategic Thinking Tools

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

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

Combo-ExercisesStrengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats

Vital Trends and Innovative Directions

Setting Priorities

Creating Strategic Impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Strategic Thinking to Creating Strategic Impact

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

 

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

Mike Brown

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

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biz-failureI was discussing the principles of creating strategic impact with a senior executive at dinner recently. I mentioned the shift The Brainzooming Group has experienced in the past 12 months with many more requests for strategic thinking workshops versus previous years. She said it was because the focus the past few years for most organizations had been on business survival. Because of this, she sensed companies didn’t have time for strategy.

My response was, “So since they were focused on business survival, approaching decisions with no rhyme or reason was the best option?”

I was only being half flippant.

I understand her statement. It comes from the belief many business executives have that business strategy is a luxury; they see strategy as the layer on top after they have today (and maybe tomorrow) figured out for the organization. THEN, an organization has time to pursue strategy – which the organization defines as things that happen in the future.

While understanding where the belief comes from, it’s completely wrong-headed.

Creating Strategic Impact

Business strategy isn’t about long-term or short-term.

Strategy, as we define and work with clients on developing it, involves “addressing what matters with insight and innovation.” And what could be more core to business survival than “addressing what matters with insight and innovation”?

Heaven help a business that thinks addressing things that may or may not matter with conventional wisdom and status quo tactics is the key to business survival. If that’s the case, they aren’t long for the world.

Business Strategy and Business Survival

Business Strategy isn’t the layer on top.

Strategy is the foundation that directs your organization toward maximizing what makes you successful. Strategy helps the organization act to realize success AND ANTICIPATE and avoid disasters – the disasters awaiting businesses mistakenly thinking they are going to be successful without the benefit of strategic thinking.

If your organization finds itself in this business strategy and business survival trap right now, call us. We’ll help get you out of it, creating the strategic impact that’s at the heart of business success. – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming email updates.

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.

 

 

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

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

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

Spicing Up Strategic Planning in the Boardroom

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Mike Brown

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

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Creating-a-Strategic-ImpactIt’s early October, and many (likely most) large organizations that will create some type of annual plan are on the brink of intense strategic planning efforts.

Suppose your prior strategic planning efforts haven’t delivered the insights, implementation success, organizational development, or market results you’d expected.

If that describes your organization, and previous strategic planning efforts have fallen short in creating strategic impact, what are your options for improving next year’s results at this point? Is it too late to improve the strategic planning process already underway so the plan doesn’t sit on the shelf?

Answering those questions is the focus of the “Creating Strategic Impact” workshop I’m doing this evening for the Financial Executives International group in Kansas City. As a group of senior professionals, the Financial Executives International members should be in fantastic positions to still bring about strategic planning improvements for next year.

4 Ideas for Creating Strategic Impact and Improving Next Year’s Results

Even if an organization is well into strategic planning for next year, what steps will help ensure it’s having greater success in creating strategic impact?

Here are four ideas:

  1. Broaden the range of employees invited to offer insights and ideas into the strategic plan. At a minimum, expand participation by at least one level in the organization.
  2. Exploit how smart structure can create flexibility. While it sounds contradictory, selecting the right strategic planning structure can help employees more successfully contribute to creating strategic impact. And that’s true for both veteran and new planning participants.
  3. Don’t ask the same old strategic planning questions. When knowledgeable people are invited to address strategic opportunities from questions that provide “strategic detours,” an organization will uncover exciting new paths to growth. Additionally, through expanding participation within the organization, answering these questions becomes part of the daily strategic conversations taking place in the organization.
  4. Simplify your strategic language. If nothing else, use simple, understandable, and actionable language to describe your strategies and plans. Don’t use corporate jargon and confusing words so that what you’re trying to accomplish becomes clear to everyone in the organization.

Help Is Still Available for Creating Strategic Impact

Attendees at tonight’s presentation will receive more specifics on these four ideas. If you aren’t in Kansas City, and would like to understand how your organization can profit from these four ideas, give me a call (816-509-5320) or email, and let’s talk about what your best options are for creating strategic impact coming out of your strategic planning efforts. – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming email updates.

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.

 

 

“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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9-diagnostics-cover

As we meet senior executives, it’s clear there are still many unanswered questions on social media strategy, especially for those companies early in social media strategy implementation or those that yet to even develop a social media strategy.

How Strong Is My Organization’s Social Media Strategy?

Among the most common questions senior executives are asking include:

  • How can a social media strategy meaningfully contribute to business objectives?
  • What metrics are relevant for measuring the impact of a social media strategy?
  • How do you determine the right staffing for a social media team?
  • Are the brand’s messages being appropriately represented through social media content?

To assist senior executives in evaluating both performance and opportunities in these and other social media areas, The  Brainzooming Group has created a new ebook: “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy.”

Free Ebook: 9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

This latest free ebook from The Brainzooming Group takes a sampling of the strategy exercises we use with clients and offers them in a format suitable for performing a quick self-diagnosis of a brand’s success with social networking. In a relatively brief amount of time, you’ll have a sense of where you need to concentrate your efforts to ensure you maximize the benefits of your organization’s social media efforts.

Securing your free ebook copy is easy: simply click on the button below and you’ll be taken to the sign-up page to download it. You’ll soon be identifying where your organization is missing vital business opportunities in social networking. – Mike Brown

 Download Your Copy

 

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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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One challenge with standard strategic planning approaches is people quickly become too familiar with the standard strategic planning questions, i.e., What are our strengths and weaknesses? Who are our main competitors? What are the threats and opportunities in the next few years? Familiarity breeds less attention to probing every aspect of the questions.

This phenomenon is compounded by people who having been at one company or in one industry for any length of time. If people are entering strategic planning with that type of history, they likely know ALL the standard and expected answers to the standard strategic planning questions.

The result is you get a standard strategic plan that falls far short of creating strategic impact.

Strategic Thinking Exercises and Creating Strategic Impact

Creating Strategic Impact through Strategic Thinking ExercisesThe approach The Brainzooming Group takes with clients in developing strategy is to twist the standard question areas into strategic thinking exercises with a greater likelihood of yielding new, unexpected and insightful ideas.

When you have new ideas versus the standard answers, you have a foundation for greater business success.

As you work on plans for next year, here are a few of the strategic thinking exercises we use as variations on the same old strategic planning to ensure we are creating strategic impact for our clients.

What are our opportunities?

What are our threats?

What are our strengths and weaknesses?

What benefits do we deliver?

Who are our competitors?

What trends will shape the future?

What should we do?

What should be our priorities?

Give these a try and see what new strategic insights you generate! – 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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Let me start by saying I’m blessed with wonderful parents who would do nearly anything for me. I never take for granted how remarkable that is. In fact, at times I create roadblocks so they can’t or won’t do something for me.

One example was a car I had in grad school and during our early marriage. While it wasn’t a flashy car by any means (it was an Olds for goodness sake), I loved it, my parents had gotten it for me, and my intention was to drive it until it wouldn’t run any longer.

At some point, the mileage reached a level that made my parents uncomfortable, and they insisted on getting me a different car. That was the last thing in the world I wanted them to do. So I told them the only way I’d stand for them getting me ANOTHER car was to have one just like it, and not just the same make and model, but even the same exterior (white) and interior (blue) colors. I figured that would be enough to scuttle things.

More of the Same Isn’t Always a Good Idea

Boy was I wrong. In the pre-Internet days, my dad tracked down a new version of the same car model with the exact same color scheme. While I was (AGAIN) tremendously appreciative of their kindness, quite frankly, I found I didn’t REALLY want an updated version of the same car. It was the SAME, and that was boring. It didn’t create a different driving experience. It was simply more of the same with fewer miles and none of the great grad school memories of the identical first car.

Replacing Yourself as a Leader

Acorn-TreeThe reason I pulled this story out is I’m developing a presentation on strategic planning and building legacy agencies for an organization of advertising executives. Based on conversations with the event organizers, many members are agency founders or have been the principals for quite some time. And if the agencies are going to live on beyond the careers of the principals, they need to do more strategic planning and identify their replacements.

I’m guessing more than a few of them might adopt my attitude in the car story. Emotionally, they don’t want to deal with the prospect of considering the agency’s future without their involvement. Knowing they’ve been integral to their agencies being successful, they may set out to find replacements just like them.

While that might seem to make sense on the surface, pursuing this strategy could yield the same dissatisfying results it did for me.

If an identical successor moves into leadership, it creates legitimate hurdles for this new person to compare favorably. And it is quite likely that an agency needs someone and something different to grow and prosper in the future than it did ten, twenty, or thirty years ago. That means the right answer is looking for the right next person, not an identical replacement.

Strategic Planning – Creating a Legacy for the Future

This concept extends to any of you charged with replacing  yourself as a leader and engaging in active succession planning. The process needs to begin by identifying the talents an organization needs to develop, grow, and thrive, followed by seeking someone who fit those needs. Leaders have to realize: your legacy implies a vibrant future based on a solid foundation, not force fitting so that everything is exactly the same. – Mike Brown

 

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming email updates.

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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