Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 179 – page 179
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One reason strategic thinking doesn’t take place is that 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 deal with strategy.

It helps to start with a simple definition of “strategic thinking” to serve as a guide: Addressing Things that Matter with Insight & Innovation.

There are three important elements in the definition that shape great strategic thinking.

“Things that Matter” – Strategic thinking focuses on fundamental opportunities & issues driving the business, not on far away things that are irrelevant to moving the business ahead. To do this successfully, you have 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 tactic-oriented discussion.
  • Realize there are Various Strategic Viewpoints – What’s strategic can differ on whether your view is company-wide, departmental, functional, or personal. 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’s years from now doesn’t necessarily make it strategic. If you don’t realize this, you’ll never get to strategic discussions because the pressing issues of the business (which may be hugely strategic) are considered to be tactical concerns that need to be solved right away without a lot of thinking getting in the way.
  • Use Exercises Designed to Help Tackle Challenging Issues – Using the types of strategic thinking exercises we’ll cover later will help neutralize traditional (potentially biased) perspectives, reducing unproductive politics and blind spots that stifle strategic thinking.

“Insight” – Strategic thinking starts with relevant insights. Combine & analyze diverse information from various sources (especially external data) and identify relationships that can lead to dramatic impacts. You can start by assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

“Innovation” – One of the best approaches to project future relevant events is to consider multiple perspectives and think through a full range of possibilities that may develop. Once again, there are simple question-based exercises that can help foster a more innovative look at the business.

There’s the outline for what successful strategic thinking encompasses. Next, we’ll cover elements to help awaken strategic thinking 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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0

One reason strategic thinking doesn’t take place is that 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 deal with strategy.

It helps to start with a simple definition of “strategic thinking” to serve as a guide: Addressing Things that Matter with Insight & Innovation.

There are three important elements in the definition that shape great strategic thinking.

“Things that Matter” – Strategic thinking focuses on fundamental opportunities & issues driving the business, not on far away things that are irrelevant to moving the business ahead. To do this successfully, you have 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 tactic-oriented discussion.
  • Realize there are Various Strategic Viewpoints – What’s strategic can differ on whether your view is company-wide, departmental, functional, or personal. 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’s years from now doesn’t necessarily make it strategic. If you don’t realize this, you’ll never get to strategic discussions because the pressing issues of the business (which may be hugely strategic) are considered to be tactical concerns that need to be solved right away without a lot of thinking getting in the way.
  • Use Exercises Designed to Help Tackle Challenging Issues – Using the types of strategic thinking exercises we’ll cover later will help neutralize traditional (potentially biased) perspectives, reducing unproductive politics and blind spots that stifle strategic thinking.

“Insight” – Strategic thinking starts with relevant insights. Combine & analyze diverse information from various sources (especially external data) and identify relationships that can lead to dramatic impacts. You can start by assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

“Innovation” – One of the best approaches to project future relevant events is to consider multiple perspectives and think through a full range of possibilities that may develop. Once again, there are simple question-based exercises that can help foster a more innovative look at the business.

There’s the outline for what successful strategic thinking encompasses. Next, we’ll cover elements to help awaken strategic thinking 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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In researching a presentation on cultivating strategic thinking, it’s clear there’s a significant gap between senior management expectations for strategic thinking effort (perhaps 1/3 of the senior team’s time) and what happens (typically less than 1 hour per month, if any time at all, is spent on strategic issues).

Why the gap?

Three potential reasons emerge:

  1. Something is missing – the traditional views (or stereotypes) of strategic planning don’t lend themselves to people wanting to invest time in the activity.
  2. Somebody is missing – strategic thinking is frequently viewed as the purview of senior management, cutting off the diversity of external & internal perspectives needed for effective thinking.
  3. Outcomes are missing – strategic sessions that may be viewed (at best) as interesting conversations, aren’t translated into clear outcomes that lead to clear results.

By changing perspectives, it’s possible to address each of these gaps, and ideally get people throughout your team thinking more strategically. In upcoming posts, you can explore some of the ways to realize these changes and reap the benefits.

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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0

In researching a presentation on cultivating strategic thinking, it’s clear there’s a significant gap between senior management expectations for strategic thinking effort (perhaps 1/3 of the senior team’s time) and what happens (typically less than 1 hour per month, if any time at all, is spent on strategic issues).

Why the gap?

Three potential reasons emerge:

  1. Something is missing – the traditional views (or stereotypes) of strategic planning don’t lend themselves to people wanting to invest time in the activity.
  2. Somebody is missing – strategic thinking is frequently viewed as the purview of senior management, cutting off the diversity of external & internal perspectives needed for effective thinking.
  3. Outcomes are missing – strategic sessions that may be viewed (at best) as interesting conversations, aren’t translated into clear outcomes that lead to clear results.

By changing perspectives, it’s possible to address each of these gaps, and ideally get people throughout your team thinking more strategically. In upcoming posts, you can explore some of the ways to realize these changes and reap the benefits.

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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25

From experience and ongoing business innovation research, there are fairly common situations blocking business innovation across companies. No company has all of  these business innovation roadblocks, but the presence of just a couple of barriers will scuttle the most modest dreams of implementing a business innovation program to create value for customers.

None of these business innovation NO’s are insurmountable, so it’s important to understand what causes each of them and some steps to navigate around them and get business innovation going.

1. NO Knack for Innovation

There simply isn’t an orientation toward business innovation. It may be a mature industry, a company that’s had success with an intense focus, one that’s grown through M&A, or has been burned on previous formal innovation efforts. Whatever the reason, innovation doesn’t appear to be in the company’s DNA.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

2. NO Direction

Without a top-level mandate for innovative change, it’s tough for a business innovation-oriented culture to flourish. It could be that innovation is outside the company’s vision, there’s no upper management champion, or a lack of alignment stands in the way of innovation efforts.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

3. NO Rocking the Boat

There’s an unmistakable signal from management (whether it’s uttered directly or not): “If it isn’t broken, don’t mess with it. We’re not interested in risk taking; let’s just maintain the status quo.” These messages make it clear that good things don’t await those interested in exploring new approaches or trying to do things in different ways.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

4. NO Talent Pool

The company may have convinced itself the right people aren’t in place to make innovation happen. It could be a perceived lack of “creatives” or “outside the box” thinkers. More likely though, it’s a failure to get people with diverse perspectives together and let them work. It’s more about diverse talent not working together than not having the right talent in the first place.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

5. There’s NO Tomorrow

This NO springs from the conviction things will be won or lost in the short term, so there’s little need for long term business innovation development. Or it may be there’s no patience for protracted realization of opportunities. If a business innovation is going to be pursued, it needs to be developed and start paying out by the next quarter. In a challenging business economic environment, this sentiment becomes more prevalent.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

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6. NO Resources

As with a “no tomorrow” view, lowered interest in applying resources to business innovation may be more acutely felt right now. The absence of specific resources can be broad, including management attention, available time, and investment dollars. Without these vital inputs, innovation stalls or never takes off in the first place.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

7. NO Motivation to Innovate

Something’s lacking that dampens an internal drive to innovate. It could be an environment that doesn’t promote cooperation, no opportunity to receive credit for your effort, or a lack of other meaningful incentives to bring ideas forward and develop them. The net result is that innovation isn’t happening as naturally as it might.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

8. NO Process

There are instances where innovation appears to emanate naturally from within an organization. Chances are though that it’s been cultivated and developed through a process, even if it’s a relatively small scale and informal one. Without some type of planning and organized means to realize innovation, barriers and bureaucracy can easily block new ideas from coming to fruition.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

9. NO Implementation Success

Innovative ideas and concepts are cool, but only have value ultimately if they lead to successful implementation and deliver benefits for the intended audience. There are various roadblocks to successful implementation, including flaws in how ideas are recommended, prioritized, developed, and marketed to target audiences. With all those potential challenges, it’s a wonder anything new actually takes place!

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

10. No Measures

It’s difficult to sustain a formal business innovation strategy without metrics in place to report return on investment (ROI), showcase positive improvements, and troubleshoot issues. Even earlier in the innovation process, the absence of metrics makes identifying and prioritizing innovation opportunities a shot in the dark. Simply put: no metrics = no hope of long term innovation success.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

All the best to you in addressing the specific NO’s you face at work that stand in the way of business InNOvation.

If you’d like more information on exploring the personal perspectives you need to approach your whole life more innovatively, you can download an eBook version of “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation.” It’s a great companion on your mission to bring business innovation to life!  – 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 deliver these benefits for you.

 

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 invent your own instrument, you’re automatically one of the top three musicians in the world on that instrument.” – Matt Goldman, Co-Founder of the Blue Man Group (August 2008 “Inc.”)

Reinvestning your way into a position of advantage is a strategic concept any of us can apply personally or in business. What is an instrument, tool, process, or category that you can invent which creates a new area where you are, by definition, one of the best performers in the world?

Here are some exercises to answer that question.

Identifying Your Distinctive Talents

Distinctive talents are skills closely associated with you where you continually improve as you do them, you benefit others, and you create a spark that attracts people to be a part of the energy you’re radiating. Building your list of distinctive talents begins with answering these questions openly & honestly:

  • What things motivate you to get up every morning?
  • How are you of the greatest service to others?
  • What activities bring you the most happiness and contentment?
  • What functions, talents, and skills do you (or have you) used that give you the most fulfillment in your professional life, family relationships / duties, spiritual life, and personal interests / hobbies?
  • How would you spend your time, talents, and attention if you didn’t have to work?

Hint – Stumped for answers in some areas? Ask a few acquaintances what they think your distinctive talents are.

After answering all the questions, go back and circle the 5 or 10 or 15 answers that truly fit the distinctive talents definition. Since these areas are likely to be the most intuitive for you, you think less about the mechanics of doing them and simply perform them really well. This makes them ideal to incorporate into creating a new “category” where you’ll be the best in the world.

Look and Ask Around

A 360 degree survey can be scary, but it’s a great tool to get a sense of how others perceive you. It can be tremendously instructive and beneficial. I did one through a leadership class several years ago that really helped me redefine some of my behaviors. There are various ones available online.

Another fast way to get some sense of potential areas you can use to define “your category” is to ask yourself and others three value-related questions:

  • What are the TOP 3 things I do that ADD INCREDIBLE VALUE for others?
  • What are the TOP 3 things I do that DON’T DELIVER INCREDIBLE VALUE for others because we can’t/don’t focus enough time, attention, and/or resources on them?
  • What are the TOP 3 things I do that ADD LITTLE OR NO VALUE for others?

Look for themes among the answers and consider using areas of incredible value as potential category definers. Areas where you could deliver value but don’t are potential opportunities for more concentrated effort. Areas where you’re delivering little value could be areas to attempt to eliminate from your routine.

Soliciting reactions about yourself from others may feel intimidating, but assessing and using the responses wisely gives you an advantage most people are unwilling to pursue.

Identifying Ways to Transform Yourself

Yet another way to ideate on a strong “personal” category is to use your current personal strengths and deliberately transform them to identify new and distinctive possibilities. Here’s a relatively quick approach:

  1. State your objective as “Building a distinct personal category to define and differentiate my value to others.”
  2. List 8-10 of your distinctive talents and areas of incredible value as Attributes in the left column in the grid below.
  3. Using the objective from Step 1, take each talent and value area in Step 2 and transform them in the various ways suggested below, always asking: “To create a new personal category how can I (INSERT TRANSFORMER FROM BELOW) to / of (INSERT STRENGTH OR TALENT)?

Potential Transformers include Make It Bigger / Do More of It, Make It Smaller / Do Less of It, Replace It, Turn It Around, Remove It, Standardize It, Customize It, Make It More Complex, Simplify It, Eliminate It

Run through as many combinations as you can, trying to generate 2 or 3 new ideas form each pairing. Don’t settle for fewer than 60 possibilities that could fit into your personal brand category definition.

Next, we’ll narrow all the possibilities to get close to defining your category.

Prioritization and Creating the New You!

After working through the previous three exercises, you should have a wide variety of potential possibilities as input into your distinctive personal brand category.

So what are some steps to dramatically narrow the list of ideas? Here’s a flashback to some previous posts you can use to narrow your possibilities:

Try to narrow to 10-15% of your original ideas, and then begin looking for elements that you can put together to create a new category with which to describe your talents.

Ideally your personal category should be distinctive and defined in a way that you become the only answer to, “Who are the best people who can do this?”    – 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 see how we can help make your strategic thinking and planning more productive, even when you’re not on a plane!

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 Importance of Strategic Mentors

A mentor can be invaluable for any business person as part of your informal business team, providing a different and more experienced perspective than you’d have on your own. Not all mentors are suited to fill every role, so it’s beneficial to have various mentors to satisfy specific experience gaps.

Do you have a strategic mentor – one who can help you identify the things that matter in your business situation and provide new insights & perspectives on how to approach things innovatively? When seeking one out, look for the following characteristics – beyond those that any great mentor possesses. The best strategic mentors are:

  • Smart
  • Experienced & diverse
  • Adept at asking productive, probing questions
  • Oriented toward innovation
  • Gifted with perceptive, accurate instincts
  • Able to identify “what matters” in a particular situation
  • Visionary
  • Open to challenging both you and the status quo
  • Comfortable holding a contradictory view
  • Able to make solid, insightful connections

I’ve been blessed to have several great strategic mentors. Some of the lessons they’ve taught me are shared below.

Dave Brown – College Years

Dave Brown (no relation) introduced me to my wife and was our boss on the student activities board at Fort Hays State University. We later went to Southern Illinois University as a result of Dave introducing us to his former student activities boss from grad school. Dave was the first strategic mentor in my career.

I learned a number of very important lessons from Dave that have served me incredibly well since; they can probably benefit you also:

  • Whenever you’re bringing even a few people together, it’s an event and you should make it special. Under Dave’s tutelage, I produced small coffee house performances and a 5,000 person concert. No matter how many people were attending, he emphasized making the event something memorable. That perspective shaped me to view every meeting or presentation, no matter how small, as an event where there’s a duty to create a memorable experience.
  • You have to plan and manage the whole host of details for any event. Dave demonstrated the discipline of planning and producing large events. It became quickly clear I wouldn’t get into concert production (Kansas City’s most well-known promoter told me to forget it, because “you start at the bottom and work your way down”). Yet when another mentor entered my career later, and our company started producing large events, I was able to step into a production and on-stage role seamlessly even though I was a market research guy. That opportunity has profoundly shaped my career the last 10 years.
  • Create a huge vision and stick to it amid all odds against you accomplishing it. Dave created an incredible, nationally-recognized concert series at a small Western Kansas college, attracting an unbelievable string of #1 chart acts. He did it with an often hostile university administration that completely missed the significance of his accomplishments in gaining attention for the university. It was audacious, but it was the right thing for the school, and Dave was going to make it happen no matter what.

There’s a host of other things in my life that Dave shaped, but within this short post, he accounted for me meeting my spouse, making the introduction that ultimately led to me getting a nearly free graduate education, turning me into an “event person,” and paving the way to successfully seize one of the biggest opportunities of my career.

Bill McDonald – Early Career

The first week Cyndi and I were in in Kansas City while unpacking boxes and listening to Mike Murphy’s radio show, I heard Bill McDonald talk about how his company, Kansas City Infobank, researched and identified market opportunities. While unsure about my career, I loved school, was good at it, and Infobank sounded like school. Thus began my “second MBA” – spending 2 ½ years at Infobank doing strategic projects for entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 companies, and everything in between.

Despite our financial challenges as a small business, Bill became an important strategic mentor. As mentioned before, the business instruction he gave me encompassed lessons too numerous to list. One in particular transformed my writing, helping create a personal business writing style.

Three months into the job, I was struggling with my first major report about the market for a laser printer add-on. Despite the report’s focus, I was writing pages on the personal computer market as an enabler for this technology.

Bill finally sat me down and said, “You need to understand you’re not in school anymore. You don’t need to write a long litany of facts to prove you’re qualified. You’re writing for business. The fact we have this assignment presumes we know what we’re doing. Get right to the point of our recommendations and the rationale behind them.

The discussion was a wake up call that business writing was different. Unlike school, where you’re required to demonstrate understanding to support getting a good grade, business writing needs to get right to the point. That’s even truer today. Bill’s direction has been a tremendously valuable career-long lesson that I’ve shared with many others to help improve their written communication.

Greg Reid – Career Job

No one’s success depends exclusively on individual efforts. We’re products of the ideas and interactions in which we’re immersed daily.

Greg Reid (far right), one of my strategic mentors, provided an important gift relative to this and the importance of talking about “we” instead of “me” in business.

Why use “we” when you communicate?

Being able to talk from a “we” perspective brings responsibilities, requiring you work with others in developing a recommendation, opening yourself to challenges and different perspectives. Considering different points of view creates stronger recommendations. While it may take more time or work to build broader agreement, the benefits are tremendous. It forces others with a stake in the recommendation to voice their support. Credibly talking from a first person plural perspective also removes a recommendation from standing on your point of view vs. someone else’s.

While there’s plenty of valid emphasis on personal responsibility and accountability in business, the “we” approach doesn’t fly in its face. Instead, it helps mitigate sometimes unwise behaviors attributable to seeking too much personal responsibility.

In making his point, Greg suggested listening to a co-worker’s language. When focusing intently, it was clear how often he used “I,” “me,” and portrayed sole responsibility for a recommendation he was advocating. Unfortunately, “his” audience didn’t support it, and having characterized it as his own, the decision came down to whose individual perspective was deemed more valid. Guess what? He lost. Not long after, his failure to build alliances was cited as a factor when pushed out of his position.

Pay attention to your communication. What’s your frequency of using “I” or “me” when you could have easily said “we”? Even without formally including others, simply dropping self-attribution for ideas creates some mystery regarding how big your support base is.

Summary

These are three of my incredible strategic mentors. Strategic mentors are out there – find one of your very own!


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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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