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How can you get the most mileage from the free strategic planning eBooks we regularly offer as downloads?

We do not pretend to be able to imagine EVERY single situation where you might apply our strategic thinking exercises. Yet when we create new eBooks, our main goal is ensuring the content is heavy on ideas and tools you can apply to improve strategic thinking and implementation in your organization.

One way we test that expectation is by working with the exercises ourselves to ensure their effectiveness and utility.

Using Our Own Strategic Planning Exercises

Considering that, here’s an example of how, as one previous boss might say, we eat our own dog food (in this case, strategic thinking exercises).

I was working yesterday on designing an upcoming strategic planning Zoomference for a client. One objective for the Zoomference is to push the leadership group’s thinking toward innovative ideas they might have never considered a few years before.

Reaching the part of the outline where we’re going to turn the participants toward more disruptive thinking, I needed to come up with appropriate strategic thinking questions for the client to consider. Turning around in my chair, I saw a draft copy of our Disrupting Thinking eBook. It is filled with questions to push thinking on multiple topics, including brand benefits, success factors, risk taking, and new market entry. I grabbed the copy, combed through it, and found five great questions.

Total time from identifying what I needed to having five strong potential strategic thinking questions?

Less than five minutes.

Compare that to sitting with a blank screen struggling to imagine brand new strategic thinking questions from scratch. I know I would have spent way more than five minutes.

If you’re similarly on the hook to come up with engaging questions or strategy and innovation ideas (which you likely are if you are still reading this), you would have taken the same or more amount of time.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be done in five minutes and ready to move on to the next thing?

How Much Time Do You Want to Save in the Next Year?

So, go ahead and download Disrupting Thinking right now. And grab our eBook with 600 strategic thinking questions, too. You will save TENS OF HOURS (maybe more) of time over the next year with these two Brainzooming downloads.
Download Your FREE eBook! Disrupting Thinking - 13 Exercises to Imagine Disrupting Your Brand

So yeah, we eat our own strategic thinking exercise dog food.

And it tastes darn good.

Plus, we share it ALL THE TIME! – 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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We were listening in on an internal innovation strategy call conducted by one of our clients. The team was wrestling with a concern voiced by the organization’s senior leader that its complete innovation portfolio wasn’t capable of yielding the financial impact he is seeking. The key question was, “Where’s the beef with this innovation strategy?”

via Shutterstock

The sense of unease among the organization’s innovation team leaders was palpable. They were feeling a need to scramble. They seemed ready to jump through hoops to justify the innovation strategy to the CEO. However, that would have entailed veering from their well-considered implementation plans.

3 Questions When the Innovation Strategy ROI Doesn’t Satisfy the Boss

Before they deviated from their very solid innovation strategy approach (only some of which we helped shape—they’ve been doing great work on their own), I challenged them to consider three questions:

#1. Is there a legitimate basis for the C-Suite challenge to their innovation strategy?

Does the organization truly lack innovation, or is the senior leader lacking awareness and understanding of the work the team has already accomplished? If they can’t answer that question upfront, they risk a lot of potentially unnecessary effort.

#2. Is there a standard methodology for quantifying the impact of the innovation strategy?

If yes, does it support the CEO’s perspective? If there isn’t a standard methodology to project and quantify the innovation strategy impact, it would be a better use of their time to develop one, rather than launching a disruptive CYA effort.

#3. If the team lacks innovation opportunities with a significant financial impact, what can they do to quickly find or create them?

Since it’s far better to scramble for progress than to take a CYA approach, what steps do they need to take to make this happen?

Where do you start looking for the innovation strategy beef?

In a follow-up call, they were still evaluating the need to pump up the number of new ideas to deliver the beef to the CEO.

Hearing they had still not answered these three questions and we’re trying to come up with more ways to generate more ideas, I cautioned them, using an analogy: they should answer the question about where the beef is by going to the fridge and putting a patty on the grill. Instead, they were primed to go out into the fields to look for more cows. The problem is that cows are difficult to find, and new cows don’t often yield the expected beef.

I’m hoping they are going to concentrate and invest their efforts into developing existing ideas, even if at the same time they’re pulling out all stops to get the CEO a satisfactory response.

Should you find yourself in this unenviable-yet-crucial position within your own organization, I encourage you to consider the questions above. They may just mean the difference between progress and business as usual! – Mike Brown

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Download: FREE Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookAre you making the best use of customer input and market insights to deliver innovation and growth? Creating successful, innovative new products and services has never been more dependent on tapping perspectives from outside your organization.

This new ebook features sixteen strategic thinking exercises to help you ideate, prioritize, and develop your best innovative growth ideas. Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Learn and rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate crowd sourced perspectives into your innovation strategy in smart ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s growth.

Download Your Free Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Fake Book

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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Do you dread strategy meetings?

Really, we’re among friends, so you can be completely truthful in your answer: Do you REALLY, REALLY DREAD strategy meetings?

Of course, you dread them. Every executive dreads strategic planning. I know I do.

The reason is while it is important for organizations, participants hardly ever see the connection between participation and positive changes for brands and customers.

While a strategic planning process may promise to deliver real objectives and tactics, it often never happens as promised. Senior executives may say they want disruptive ideas, but they really want ideas that are easy to grasp and fit the current system. And who wants to waste precious time on trying to imagine and plan things an organization should pursue but ultimately never will?

That is why wrapping strategy meetings in creative thinking exercises and the appropriate amount of fun and diversion is optimum.

80 Fun Strategic Planning Activities and Ideas!

We’ve been facilitating fun strategic planning activities for years.

Across our client engagements, here are links to 80 activities and ideas for making strategy more fun!

Even though fun strategy meetings seem elusive, we routinely make them productive, enjoyable, and fun for the organizations, senior executives, and teams with which we work. Enjoy this dive into our most successful approaches.

If you would like to go even deeper, contact us, and let’s talk about how we can bring a fun approach to strategy into your organization! – 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.”

Download Your 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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In the Midwest, where I grew up, grain elevators are a common sight. The tall structures store grain for processing, and you learn as a kid that they can be both combustible and explosive. Given they hold a high concentration of grain, and therefore a large surface area, it only takes a small spark to turn one into an explosive scene.

3 Conditions for Explosive Creative Thinking Skills

Reflecting on grain elevators led me to consider explosive creative thinking skills, and the parallels between the two. The characteristics that create a potentially dangerous explosive situation at a grain elevator can be turned to a positive when applied to creative thinking skills:

#1. Large surface area

When it comes to creativity, this element translates to setting up many-to-many (as opposed to one-on-one) interactions among participants during a creative workshop. In this way, a variety of people are exposed to, and can stimulate new thoughts and perspectives in, one another.

#2. Intensity

Achieve intensity by constraining time and creating high expectations for the number of ideas a creative group should imagine. With just a few competitive people involved across a large group of participants, a big goal combined with a deadline leads to an opportunity to push everyone’s creative thinking skills for big impact.

#3. Structure

Finally, by having creative thinking exercises in place, you provide the right structure for group collaboration. And that’s the spark that takes the setting from calm to explosive.

Creativity Goes Boom!

This shorthand analogy proves very convenient if your team’s creative thinking skills aren’t delivering the results you would like to accomplish. Step back and ask, How can we generate the combination of the abundant surface area, intensity, and the structure to spark an explosion of creative thinking? – Mike Brown

Facing Innovation Barriers? We Can Help!

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Are you facing organizational innovation barriers related to:

We have free Brainzooming eBooks for you to help navigate barriers and boost innovation!

 

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“Inside the Executive Suite” from Armada Corporate Intelligence featured ideas keeping executives focused on strategic priorities during strategic planning meetings. If your team wanders away from the important strategic topic, here’s a strategy to address it:

3 Ways to Keep Strategic Priorities Front and Center with Executives via Inside the Executive Suite

An executive reported a real-time challenge: keeping the senior team at her company focused on strategic priorities. Depending on the number of executives, or the positions of those prone to overly-detailed discussions, making sure a senior team does not get caught in the weeds during strategy meetings can be a touchy proposition.

We suspect it’s an issue familiar to many organizations. We find it typical that at least one or two individuals in any senior group are comfortable sticking to more detail than you would expect them to embrace. These may be individuals who are responsible for specific areas (and perhaps have been so throughout their careers) and/or ones with personalities oriented toward greater-than-average detail.

Keeping Strategic Priorities Front and Center

Do you struggle keeping senior-level strategy discussions at the appropriate level? If so, try these techniques we’ve employed over the years to focus meetings on strategic priorities that legitimately deserve executive suite attention.

1. Identify Where Everyone Stands Up Front

We are major proponents for meeting with executives before important strategy discussions. Whether through in-person interviews or some type of online input, it is helpful to know which executives are thinking what, and what issues resonate most strongly with them. Pre-meetings provide a sense of areas in which individuals may take the group into unnecessary detail. Questions to explore up front include:

  • What are the most important issues to address?
  • Where do you suspect strategy discussions could potentially derail?
  • What factors are important for determining the right strategy?
  • What topics do you feel most strongly about addressing in the meeting?

Based on participants’ answers, you will develop an early indication of the areas in which a meeting could go into the weeds. You will also have a sense of the major strategic themes to use in anchoring meeting conversations. Also, look for the senior leaders most likely to keep things out of the weeds. Talk with them beforehand, asking for their assistance to voice concerns if a particular leader or discussion becomes stuck in tactical matters.

2. Implement a Structure that Emphasizes Discussions on Strategic Priorities

Using what you identify during pre-meeting conversations, design a meeting format and structure to help the team focus on strategic issues. As you evaluate what is strategic, we recommend ignoring whether issues are long- or short-term. The timeline associated with acting on an opportunity or challenge doesn’t determine its strategic importance. Rather, think of strategic issues as those that will create a material impact on any of the following areas for your organization:

  • Its brands
  • Key audiences
  • Customers and prospects
  • Structure and alignment
  • Financial prospects
  • Vision and values
  • Resources and raw materials

Sharing and adopting a comparable framework for what is strategic helps keep a discussion focused on matters that will legitimately move the needle in any of these areas.

We also use several other approaches to steer strategic conversations:

  • List the major strategic themes you identify before the meeting. Allow the senior group to individually and collectively assign each item to a category: strategic, tactical, or (project) task issues.
  • Assign time limits to various agenda topics, allowing more time for strategic matters—disproportionately so.
  • As tactical or extraneous items are mentioned and commanding attention, stop and ask for clarification around the strategic issue to which they relate. If they can’t be tied back to strategy, table them.
  • Tackle non-strategic topics with questions that reveal them for what they are. Ask: How does this contribute to accomplishing our major objectives? How will this create a meaningful impact for customers (or other audiences)? If we don’t address this at a senior level, what major downsides will it create?

You can use these techniques individually or in combination to help manage discussions toward a strategic level.

3. Actively Listening for Strategic Information

From our experience, it’s rare that senior leaders (or anyone else for that matter) will articulate clear strategy statements and strategic issues right away. Instead, strategy emerges from snippets of conversation. That places heavy responsibility on the meeting facilitator to listen for strategic inputs amid conversation that may largely seem tactical.

Beyond monitoring for the strategic areas we mentioned earlier, listen for any conversation that touches on:

  • Organizational aspirations
  • Expectations tied to strategic initiatives and outcomes
  • Numbers that help size the impact of a strategic initiative
  • Significant strengths and weaknesses
  • Factors impacting organizational success, either positively or negatively
  • Descriptions of metrics and objectives
  • Beliefs central to the ways in which an organization conducts business
  • Elements that will contribute to decision making

By identifying the types of information you need to develop and refine strategy, you can better recognize relevant elements that surface throughout a strategic discussion. When details emerge, record and organize them in a way that both highlights their strategic nature and provides a visual aid to align the group. We’ve used this technique to allow a leadership team the flexibility to talk in an open format, while capturing their strategic insights and organizing them in a way they can productively use. Another advantage to actively and distinctly posting strategic decisions and issues as you go through a meeting is that it creates a visual aid to manage the conversation. If people get in the weeds when trying to revisit previously-made decisions, you can point them to the decision list to demonstrate it has already been addressed.

Additionally, if several senior participants are struggling to stay on a strategic plane, divide the larger group into smaller sub-groups. Put tactical thinkers together, freeing those ready to stay focused on strategic topics and make progress.

Keep Trying

We’ve suggested various ideas for keeping strategic priorities a focus for executives . We’ve used them all successfully. Yet they won’t all work in every situation. Try them, adapt where you need to do so, and develop your own variations that work most successfully with your group of senior leaders.  – via “Inside the Executive Suite” 

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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!


Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative 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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Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

No, I’m not asking whether your employees are movie stars, singers, or newly-celebrated personalities that tweet, buy, or glom their way into celebrity status.

I’m asking about whether you feature your employees within your branding strategy in ways that allow them to attract attention and accolades for how great it is to have them as part of your brand?

Employer Branding Strategy Stars

Talking with a B2B company about a day-long customer program, I suggested they invite employees to fill various roles at the event. These duties would give customers exposure to smart, strategic, and dynamic team members they might never typically know. It would create the opportunity to celebrate the great people at the brand. Incorporating these interactions in its branding strategy could strengthen relationships, open doors to new business possibilities, and reinforce customer perceptions that they have chosen the best service provider.

Want to guess the response to the idea?

“Great idea, but everybody is really busy. We can’t pull them away from their regular jobs for even a few hours.”

I understand that EVERYBODY is CRAZY busy. Busy is about doing what the company does. Busy is at the heart of selling and producing revenue and profit growth.

Yet brand building (via creating stronger relationships and perceptions) is integral to the company being able to sell more, do more, and make more money. And opportunities to foster customer relationships in ways that strengthen the brand outside of the day-to-day of doing business are typically rare. While it appears to be a great business decision to ensure everybody is in place to perform their daily tasks, this represents a poor branding strategy decision.

If the company thought about its employees as business celebrities, its priorities would likely differ. They would probably not hesitate to put their important customers in direct contact with their employee celebrities to get to know them better and bask in their glow.

Against that backdrop, let me ask the question again: Are your employees celebrities within your branding strategy activities?

And if you answer, no, COULD and SHOULD they be?  – Mike Brown

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Looking for Brand Innovation to Grow Your Business? Brainzooming Has an Answer!

Brainzooming Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking Tools eBookBusiness growth can depend on introducing new products and services that resonate more strongly with customers and deliver outstanding value.

Are you prepared to take better advantage of your brand’s customer and market insights to generate innovative product ideas? The right combination of outside perspectives and productive strategic thinking exercises enables your brand to ideate, prioritize, and propel innovative growth.

Download this free, concise ebook to:

  • Identify your organization’s innovation profile
  • Rapidly deploy effective strategic thinking exercises to spur innovation
  • Incorporate market-based perspectives into your innovation strategy in successful ways

Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!

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 snapped this picture at Target the other evening because of the intriguing product branding ideas it suggests.

This is a ten-pack of 7.5 ounce cans of Diet Coke. Compare that to the typical Diet Coke configuration: twelve cans of 12 ounces. Doing the math, this carton has 75 ounces of Diet Coke vs. 144 ounces in the typical 12-by-12 arrangement we purchase like crazy at our house.

Just looking at the numbers, you can see people are receiving about 50% of the amount of Diet Coke they might expect if they rush into the store and grab a carton without paying attention.

That’s a big difference!

3 Product Branding Ideas to Beg, Borrow, and Steal

Suppose you are in a similar product branding situation. You need to reduce what your brand delivers, but still put sizzle into your product so consumers think it is an attractive option. How do you go about it? Try going to school on three producing branding ideas from Diet Coke, and look for where you can beg, borrow, and steal ideas!

Beg

Background: Smaller cans do not usually suggest a positive brand experience.

Diet Coke Strategy: Translating small to sip-sized. This takes advantage of alliteration and whimsy. And rather than seeking permission for the change, this branding strategy idea begs forgiveness later – if ever!

Ask: What’s the coolest way possible to describe the presto-chango we’re about to pull on our customers?

Borrow

Background: Mini Cooper has positive brand affinity. The brand has helped make small a good thing.

Diet Coke Strategy: Borrowing mini and using it in a maxi fashion across the entire side of the box.

Ask: What brand positively employs a typically negative attribute that our branding strategy can embrace and celebrate?

Steal

Background: On the carton, it says 7.5 ounce cans. The images show the traditional can and bottle, though.

Diet Coke Strategy: Stealing from the Coca-Cola brand halo to depict a traditional can (12 ounces) and the classic bottle (something bigger than 7.5 ounces). This creates a deliberate mismatch between what you see and what you buy.

Ask: What brand attributes from our higher value / more significant offers can we use to sell-in something less?

Download 10 Questions for Successfully Launching

From the Brainzooming Product Branding Lab

We haven’t tested this exercise for generating product branding ideas since it is brand new. If you beat us to putting it into practice, let us know how it works for you! – 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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