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Emma Alvarez Gibson and I were talking about identifying strategic themes within tens or hundreds of ideas from a strategic planning workshop or from thousands of comments within a survey.

Other than a big dose of help from outside forces, what are dependable ways to identify meaningful strategic themes?

This is important because latching onto the right groupings for ideas will make all the difference when highlighting and simplifying smart strategy recommendations.

As we chatted, I perused the Brainzooming website looking for articles on how we surface strategic themes. Posts on making strategic connections address some aspect of our approach, yet they cover only part of the story.

10 Cues to Identify Strategic Themes among Ideas

Reflecting on our Brainzooming process, we use all these cues to identify potential strategic themes among THINGS THAT:

  1. Are clearly related to strategy
  2. We know correlate
  3. Seem to correlate
  4. Represent natural groups you see or experience elsewhere
  5. Happen at the same time
  6. Appear close to one another
  7. Possess similar characteristics or attributes
  8. Incorporate similar inputs or outputs
  9. Undergo similar processes
  10. Demonstrate unusual but frequent connections between each other

There are likely more of these.

Yet, you don’t want too many cues. You must be able to quickly run through the strategic theme cues whenever you are faced with large a volume of open-ended comments.

Based on our experience, finding just the right number and range of strategic themes is one of the best methodologies you can employ to ensure broad strategic thinking AND clear steps to implement. – Mike Brown

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The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


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Mike Brown

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

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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!


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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This week marks the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming blog. I’ve told the story of its inception previously.

Looking back ten years, suffice it to say that starting to write and publish about the work I was first doing in the Fortune 500 world as a VP of Strategic Marketing and then in launching Brainzooming was one of the most important career decisions I ever made. Not fully anticipating it at the time, the blog became created the opportunity for this phase of my career, plus serving as a personal repository of business tools, and, after a ton of writing and publishing, a highly-efficient and effective encyclopedia of Brainzooming content we can adapt for other uses.

Searching through the blog this weekend for additional material to incorporate into an upcoming book, I found the list below. I can visualize the list on a piece of paper when I first wrote it in the mid-1990s. But if not for the blog, it would live in a file somewhere with no way to effectively retrieve it, even though it still holds up all these years later as a guideline for servant leadership and solid business behavior.

If you are in a leadership position or aspire to one, feel free to borrow and adapt it to share with your team. It’s a good starting point for setting the stage for making sure your team understands servant leadership and what it means to be an effective, successful team member:

15 Expectations for Servant Leadership

This self-assessment was prepared for my team in response to a question about what my expectations were of them. It’s reassuring that with minimal updates, the list of personal checkpoints stills works today. Having stood the test of many years, here it is for you to use as a self-check on your orientation and performance or for adapting and sharing with your own team.

Self-Assessment – You should be known for . . .

  1. Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovative ideas, etc.
  2. Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  3. Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  4. Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  5. Asking and answering for all analysis: “What does it mean for our brands, customers, competitors, and/or the market?” and “What actions do we need to take to realize an advantage from it?”
  6. Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  7. Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  8. Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  9. Being above reproach in dealings with all parties within and outside of the company-how you conduct yourself reflects on you, your co-workers, the department, and the company.
  10. Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  11. Sharing your own knowledge and expertise with others, i.e., what were the five most important things you learned at a seminar or from a book you just read.
  12. Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  13. Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  14. Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  15. Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

 

Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and Better!




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’m in Las Vegas this week, speaking at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. There are 60,000+ attendees and exhibitors. This is my third year speaking during the educational sessions. In 2016, I invited one person to sit on the stage as all the other presentation attendees helped generate new marketing ideas for the retail store she represented.

During this year’s presentations, I’ll be covering both brand strategy (Thursday) and social-first stories (Friday).

9 Areas to Tune-Up Your Brand Strategy for Peak Performance

The branding presentation features a nine-point brand tune-up any business can use to evaluate a variety of the most important aspects of your brand strategy and performance. As a resource for both the attendees and for all of you, here are links for each of the nine checkpoints.

Expressing Clear Brand Benefits

Creating a Compelling Brand Promise

Using Your Brand to Shape Daily Decisions

Listening to & Learning from Customers

Establishing a Clear Market Position

Exploiting a Robust Brand Vocabulary

Identifying Custom Branding Tools

Sharing Social-First Stories

Maximizing Brand Popularity

Enjoy the links, and if you have questions on strengthening your brand strategy, contact us, and let’s talk about how you can do it effectively and efficiently. – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

 

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

 

Download Your FREE eBook! Boosting Your Brand with Social-First Content

 

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 marked a momentous day professionally, that seemed big on the day it happened, but not as life-changing as it has become.

On October 22, 1997, I wore orange socks for the first time.

Current Orange Socks

The occasion was presenting our first strategic market plan at Yellow Transportation (whose name was Yellow but whose color was orange) to the senior leadership team. The presentation took place at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play. Before the day was done, we debuted our new vision video on the Jumbotron followed by live actors from the video barging in to interrupt the proceedings.

In the vision video, the Yellow sales person wore orange socks. Before the big meeting with the senior executives, our boss, Greg Reid, asked Brenda Price (our department “mom”) to dye white socks orange so the entire Marketing department could sport orange socks.

After the meeting, I went on the hunt for more orange socks. Before we got them in our new company store, I found them at the Gap and started accumulating them.

Over time, another guy in the department and I got into an informal competition for who could have more orange stuff. Wearing orange socks was an easy way to make sure I always was wearing SOME orange daily.

Fast forward to last summer 2001: Chuck Salter of Fast Company was preparing an article on the turnaround at Yellow. Greg brought me along to a group interview with the senior executives to introduce me to Chuck as his internal fact checker. The orange socks came up in conversation, but they were tangential to the interviews with the top leaders. Chuck and I talked afterward by phone, and he asked about the socks and how long I had worn them.

When the Fast Company article appeared in January 2002, someone came to my office to ask if I’d seen it. I said I hadn’t. He let me know I was all over the article. I was horrified! I was the fact checker, and that was it.

In the article, Chuck Salter mentioned, “Without a doubt, vice president Mike Brown is the Cal Ripken Jr. of Yellow fashion. Brown has worn orange socks to work nearly every day — “99% of the time,” he says — since October 22, 1997.” With that statement – my entrée to Fast Company – there was no turning back on orange socks. The last day I didn’t wear orange socks at our Kansas City headquarters (after one of our cats died and I wasn’t in the mood), a co-worker went to the company store, bought me a new pair of orange socks, and insisted I change into them in the building’s main lobby.

Later, when Yellow bought companies whose colors differed, I’d wear blue, green, or orange / blue / green socks, as appropriate. At one point, I had five different types of orange / blue / green socks. When a senior sales VP with the company saw my multi-colored pair of argyles, he exclaimed, “I’m color blind, and I can tell those socks are ugly.”

Fast forward a few more years later. I got the go ahead to start speaking to external groups about what we were doing to involve large groups of employees and speeding up strategic planning. The restriction was, I couldn’t talk about Yellow, yet, I needed to wear the orange socks, because they are what got me into Fast Company. Googling “orange,” I discovered it is the color of creativity and innovation. Thus, even before The Brainzooming Group was emerged, it was obvious orange would be the brand’s color.

So, yes, I still wear orange socks daily.

At last count, my inventory of unworn orange socks was somewhere in the thirties. I’m not sure how many pairs of socks are in the currently worn mix; the number is probably comparable.

Orange Sock Inventory

Reflecting on the orange socks story, I still receive the question all the time, “Are you wearing orange socks?”

My response is always, “Yes, why in the world would I NOT wear orange socks?”  – 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!


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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I delivered a Brainzooming workshop on “Budget-Extending Social Content Strategy” at the Social Media Strategies Summit this week. We had more than forty attendees, which is a lot for a three-hour, interactive workshop. We adjusted our approach to maximize the interaction among the participants. During the time together, we worked through various Brainzooming tools to develop and implement social content strategy that is smart online and drives results for a brand.

Little did I suspect that covering career strategy would become an offshoot topic during the workshop.

Several attendees during and after the workshop recounted how their senior executives (typically from an earlier generation), don’t want to talk about their brands online. The reasons range include a corporate stance to not talk about what they do, relationships with suppliers and customers, fears of violating regulations, and a general skepticism that anybody that follows a brand’s online content EVER buys anything.

Yes, these concerns are ALL still out there.

Taking with several attendees about strategies to change these opinions, and the roadblocks they continue to expect, I finally suggested, “Maybe it’s time to find another job?”

That comment led to at least one powerful set of conversations with a young woman who realized that her future likely doesn’t include the brand where she is now. We talked about the importance of developing the next thing while the current thing is still paying the bills. On the conference’s second day, we talked about her passion for learning from and helping to mentor and develop strong woman in business. It all started to come together that this passion is her platform for changing the world. She’s committed to start blogging about it. And it’s not hard to see her writing a book and speaking about this, beyond all the individuals she’ll help in person.

13 Career Strategy Articles to Help Develop Your Next Job

When I pointed her to some background articles on the Brainzooming blog, I realized they were not in one place and easily findable.

Maybe you are in a comparable career position, where your skills are stagnating because your current brand’s executives can’t be convinced there are new and better ways to do things. If so, you may want to start thinking about whether it’s time to find another job (and act on it if it is).

Here are thirteen career strategy articles to help your exploration:

Keeping Things Going in Your Job Right Now

9 Ways to Understand the Political Fray and Stay the Hell Out of It

3 Strategies for Navigating a Political Environment

Career Challenges – 6 Ideas when Losing the Love for What You Do

Career Success – 7 Ideas If You Don’t Care About What You Do Anymore

Strategic Thinking Exercise – Simply Making Big Decisions

Corporate Sociopaths and Horrible Bosses – 7 Ways to Survive Them

Doing the Work to Start Finding another Job

The 4-Step Career Advice Nearly Everyone Ignores

Career Change – 4 Career Tips for a Mid-Career Professional

Is Your Personal Brand Portable to Another Job?

The Strategy for Exploiting Your Mindless Job

Career Strategy: Dear Job, I Can’t Quit You

Career Success Strategies – 6 Steps When You’re Laid Off by Anonymous

Career Strategy Challenge – 5 Ideas When You Lack Résumé Metrics

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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I stopped by the grocery store to use the ATM the other morning before leaving for New York to deliver a content marketing strategy workshop today at the Social Media Strategies Summit.

I decided to walk around the store to find something for lunch before getting on the plane. Finding nothing even remotely appealing, I headed for the door, not expecting to witness a solid customer experience strategy lesson.

Passing by the checkout aisles, I noticed a customer starting to unload her cart. Based on the checkout area’s configuration, the checker couldn’t see where the customer was or that she was beginning to unload her groceries. Since the store was dead this early in the morning, the checker came around to the front of the lane to wait for customers. By this point, the customer had moved further into the lane, but after the checker left her post.

The result?

The customer had her groceries all out on the belt. She was ready to have them checked, pay, and get out. The entire time, the checker was at the front of the aisle looking for customers heading her way to see them early and run around to her station to provide quick service.

DOH!

Via Shutterstock

Watching this scene develop, I stopped by the front door to see how long it was going to take for either the customer or the checker to realize there was a problem! It took so long, and I was in a hurry, waiting thirty seconds wasn’t enough time to see how long it finally took to discover the mistake.

Is Your Brand Making this Customer Experience Strategy Mistake?

Turning to go, I realized I have been guilty of doing the same thing as the checker. Many a brand is guilty of this as well: so eagerly trying to track down a new customer that it is missing all kinds of opportunities to serve and accommodate the customers it has.

Poor visibility into customer interactions or faulty customer experience strategy design could both be issues. That was the case in the grocery store. Other times, it may be that there’s more thrill in the hunt for a new customer than in tending to those you already have.

No matter the reason, it’s a good idea to step back and ask: Are we treating our current customers with all the enthusiasm and attention we show to the new person that is just walking through the door!

Well, are you? – 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
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Download this FREE ebook to turn ideas into actionable innovation strategies to drive your organization’s comeback!


Download Your Free Outside-In Innovation Strategic Thinking eBook

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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