Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 173 – page 173
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Today’s post for “Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t” Week examines ways to look at your market and business to take advantages of opportunities where your competitors aren’t located.

Many markets, especially in the business-to-business arena, are relatively conventional, i.e. they don’t necessarily have a lot of breakthrough, cool new developments such as the Apple iPhone. Even in these cases, however, there’s still a great opportunity to make a mark because in a conventional market, small doses of unconventional can really stand out. Sometimes, dramatic change comes from doing simple things that nobody else is doing.

Here are a few questions to ask and answer to help identify ways to be more unconventional in your own market:

  • What are things that customers have been requesting that we’ve yet to deliver?
  • What are the most frequent customer-precipitated exceptions to our product or service?
  • What are the most frequent employee-created exceptions to our product or service?
  • What are the best, most successful companies (regardless of industry) doing to grow customer relationships with their brands? How can we emulate them?

If a competitor isn’t already doing your answer to one of the questions above, you’re set with a potentially great opportunity for an unconventional move.

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’s Brainzooming posts are dedicated to one of my favorite all-time players, Wee Willie Keeler. You’ll learn more about him Wednesday, but the reason he’s a favorite is because of his famous strategic quote: when asked about his hitting approach, he replied, “I hit ’em where they ain’t.”

That strategy works in so many ways, we’ll use it as the inspiration for the posts all week. Today’s turns the quote around, concentrating on not getting hit where you ain’t looking.
I spoke a couple of years ago on the same program as the then-COO from Sprint. During his presentation, he highlighted the incredible number of photographs being taken and sent via cell phones on a monthly basis.

It would have been interesting to sit inside Kodak in the years leading up to the emergence & explosion of this capability to see if cell phones were ever considered as competitive threats. I suspect they weren’t, especially since a Kodak exec I saw presenting at a Frost & Sullivan conference in early 2007 couldn’t get beyond his focus on printing things. There wasn’t much recognition of alternative means of communicating and transmitting images and the impact on Kodak.

The scary implication for any business is that not all future (or even current) competitors will “look” like your company. Cell phones don’t look like cameras, and the images that they produce aren’t too conducive to printing. Yet, for capturing & sharing images, they’re a lot more functional than a traditional camera (or even an electronic one).

How can you begin to assess and project the nature of future competitive threats. Beyond cursory exploratory market research techniques, here are several questions to consider:

  • What benefits does your company deliver? If you didn’t deliver them, who else currently would / could deliver them?
  • What if your company never existedhow would customers satisfy their needs?
  • What if your industry never existedwhat alternatives might develop to satisfy needs?
  • Who are the niche players in your markets today that could grow in prominence? How might they be defining your business for you right now?

We used the first benefits-oriented set of strategic questions at a Kansas City Business Marketing Association in looking at how Apple had disrupted other markets, yet could be disrupted itself. The strategy exercise interestingly yielded Microsoft, Garmin, YouTube, and Louis Vuitton as all potential competitors to deliver the same benefits Apple does. That’s quite a wide-ranging list!

This type of strategy work is challenging and highly speculative. But it pays to consider, anticipate, and prepare for as many competitive possibilities as you can imagine.  – Mike Brown

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 brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you develop a stronger competitor profile and create business building strategies to target big competitors more successfully.

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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Speaking to a graduate level class on innovation several years ago, we covered the concept of borrowing ideas from other sources, looking for opportunities to change & incorporate them into your business.

One student, a communications professional at a major local company, said his department held “Plagiarism Fridays.” They were trying to upgrade their marketing effort, and Plagiarism Friday was a bit of a show-and-tell to get employees looking at strong creative from other industries, thinking about how their company could learn from it.

Here’s a way to take this approach and adapt it for your own business:

  • Schedule time and ask employees to look for examples of great ideas to share. The only rule – they have to be from outside your industry or competitive set.
  • Have participants present the selected ideas – perhaps 2 or 3 pieces per session.
  • Get each person to do a quick personal assessment. For each idea, identify what’s strong, what’s weak, what’s intriguing or unusual, and a recommendation for how your business could incorporate some learnings from it. Share the assessments as a group.
  • Select one of the sample ideas and using the input from the assessments, have the group apply it to one of your business challenges to see what possibilities arise.
  • Select at least one new possibility and do something to advance it.

Plagiarism Friday sounds like a great idea to me, so…go ahead, steal it and take it to work tomorrow (just be sure to change it and make it 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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It’s the time of year when many annual reports are published. If your company publishes one, take advantage of the opportunity to get a better sense of “what matters” in your business. Read the management letter where the company’s senior leadership goes on record with its take on past performance, future aspirations, and the priority efforts that are expected to get your company where it’s going.

Afterward, ask yourself how your efforts fit with and contribute to the priorities. If you don’t clearly see or can’t logically make connections to what you’re focused on, you’ve got some work to do to link to what matters in your business.

Mike Brown

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

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I’ve known John Burton for a long time, and we’ve worked together closely during various phases in our careers. He’s a strong, multi-dimensional strategic thinker, and it was great to see him at the BMA presentation last week. Here are his thoughts on the reluctance companies demonstrate in hiring a mix to people to spur diversity in strategic thinking:

I had the pleasure of hearing Mike’s strategic perspective presentation last week. One point he made struck a cord with an idea I have been thinking about in recent weeks – Do companies make hiring decisions to be complimentary or complementary?

Mike mentioned that an aspect of “awakening strategic thinking” is a having good blend of participants. You need some that have experience, some with strong functional knowledge and a few with dynamic, creative energy. This is just like basketball, where you need to blend a point guard with shooters and big men. In both cases, the key to success is to have people play complementary roles in the process, creating a bigger whole than any one aspect can bring on its own.

However, a business sometimes forgets this point when putting together its leadership team, especially when it comes to sales and marketing.

A business was recently going from small company to major player in a fragmented business service segment after a number of acquisitions. Leadership knew it needed to add strategic marketing and sales resources to help position the company for continued growth. After defining a senior position and recruiting candidates that fit the bill, they backtracked and decided to hire someone whose primary background was sales management.

Why? They felt they had to have someone the new person’s most important direct reports (regional sales VP’s) would respect and feel comfortable with. In essence, they went for the candidate that would get “compliments” for being familiar versus someone that would “complement” the organization by bringing new skills and insights.

Sometimes, success comes not from creating a comfortable, “complimentary” environment, but putting a team together that forces everyone to live with a little discomfort. – John Burton

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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The title question arose at the Business Marketing Association presentation Thursday. It’s usually preceded by, “Why do you wear orange socks?” The answer speaks to three principles important for a creative perspective:

Accepting Contradictions

I’m proud my name is “Brown,” but the color has never been prominent in my life, despite saying & hearing the color’s name every day.

With this contradiction (being Brown, but not brown), it’s no wonder I wound up at a company named Yellow whose brand color is orange. The contradiction escaped me for several years. Senior management didn’t care for orange, so there was little evidence of it. And even though I was more oblivious than accepting of this contradiction, the result was the same!

Taking Advantage of the Unexpected

When Greg Reid took over as CMO and said, “If our most asked question is why’s the name Yellow if our color’s orange, let’s do something with it,” ORANGE start showing up everywhere. The marketing staff even wore orange socks to our strategic plan presentation.

That triggered a friendly competition with another employee to sport the most orange (socks, shirts, shoes, backpacks, cups, etc.). I became known for wearing orange socks daily. When “Fast Company” profiled us and called me the Cal Ripken, Jr. of orange clothes for the socks, the connection strengthened. Taking advantage of this opportunity, I co-opted the company’s brand as part of my own. ORANGEbecame MY color.

Look for Strategic Connections

Speaking on innovation, I researched what orange represents and found it matched my topics: creativity, balance & harmony, strength, enthusiasm, excitement, happiness, healing, vigor, and success. I used orange even more to link my personal brand and key presentation themes. An added bonus? I didn’t have to buy a new non-orange wardrobe & business accessories.

Now when asked about the color mismatch, I simply say, “I’m like an M&M – brown on the inside, orange on the outside!”

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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  1. Don’t multi-task – focus on one project at a time with your full attention.
  2. Surround yourself with smart people who will challenge you.
  3. When someone tries to pass a problem or question to you, ask for their recommendation or point of view before you comment.
  4. Pray for wisdom that can be used to benefit others and pay attention when your prayer is answered.

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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