Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 180 – page 180
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The initial posts on this blog were on closing the strategic thinking gap that develops in many businesses (i.e., a desire to invest significant time on strategic issues, but little time spent in reality). Here are links to the five posts in order:

Why strategic thinking doesn’t happen
Something’s missing in strategic thinking
Somebody’s missing from the strategic thinking effort
Tools to improve strategic thinking’s efficiency & effectiveness
Outcomes are missing from strategic thinking & wrap-up

The posts provide an overview of specific approaches that can be taken to improve the quality & output of strategic thinking efforts in 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 was struggling recently to pull together slides for a branding presentation – an effort requiring only a little strategic thought and creativity. But several attempts at starting were relatively fruitless. Even though I’d set aside focused time to do the project, it was impossible to progress.

At the same time, another project was pending; it had to be completed so that the next person in the process could begin. With that project lingering, I forced myself into the mode of answering questions, closing down potential options, and repeating the mantra, “Better done than perfect.” After a day’s worth of work, there was tremendous relief in finally signing off on that project and emailing it to the person looking for the results.

Then with a brief mental break from the computer, selecting the slides for the presentation became a snap; it was finished in 90 minutes!

As much as I thought that I had the creative depth to move both efforts ahead virtually simultaneously, I couldn’t. The creative reserves necessary for the project didn’t leave enough free space in my mind to work on the presentation.

So the next time the strategic and creative juices aren’t there for a project, ask yourself, “Is there something else hanging over my head?” If there is, see if you can take the steps to get the “something else” completed or delegated to someone else so that you have the max headroom for creativity.

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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Too many research reports are a jumble of charts, arrows, and statements that simply play back what’s on the graphic (or worse, just regurgitate a chart’s methodology). For senior executives, that translates into a confusing (and at best, boring) jumble of information – pointing in all kinds of directions without really telling them anything.

If you have research responsibility, apply this maxim for great strategic thinking from Gary Singer, a wonderful strategist and the Chief Strategy Officer at Interbrand. His comment to me was:

  • Good researchers go to the edge of the data and step back – to be cautious & statistically sound.
  • Good consultants go to the edge of the data and stop – to be sure they’re on solid footing & that the client will buy off.
  • Great strategic thinkers go to the edge of the data, formulate a sound next set of assumptions that the audience can comment on & agree to, and then keep going to expand understanding & get to revealing insights.

It’s a simple statement and hard to do, but done successfully, it promises incredible business results. Use it as your new strategic hurdle to clear!

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 end of the year used to be a rather slack time at work. That changed about a dozen years ago, and ever since, December has been one of the most frantic times of the year. Add to that the holiday rush, and it all adds up to a lot of to-do’s that need prioritization.

Here’s an alternative that’s helpful when you have many other people depending directly on the completion of your to-do’s so that they can take action.

Instead of using the typical importance vs. urgency prioritization, create a grid that pairs urgency (how soon the to-do needs to get done) with the degree to which someone else is depending on the to-do as a next step for them (great dependency to little dependency). Now place each of your to-do items on this grid, thinking about near-term items that others are really depending on as a first priority.

Using this approach will give you a little different picture of your priorities, as you orient your to-do list to the importance of helping others first. And that’s what the holidays are all about!

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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Jay Conrad Levinson is the father of guerrilla marketing, the concept that businesses can reap greater rewards through the strategic use of low- and no-cost marketing tools. He says that there are at least 100 guerrilla marketing tools available to any business.

Beyond the standard tool list that Levinson uses, I’ve found it helpful to get marketing teams to work through a specific question-based exercise to identify marketing tools unique or at least specific to their own businesses.

Use the list below with your marketing team. One way is for a team member to identify as many answers to a specific question as possible within a 3 minute period, and then rotate the question to the next team member to build on the list:

  • What do we want to promote?
  • What are our features, benefits & competitive advantages? Which are most meaningful?
  • What communications vehicles are in place?
  • What ideas/words/phrases do we use?
  • Who are experts/partners? What’s notable about them?
  • Where do our audiences congregate (geographically or virtually) and/or receive our messages?
  • What motivates our audiences?
  • How can we get permission and the info to keep marketing to our audiences?
  • What business & personal relationships do we have that could be of assistance?
  • Who would like to be involved with us in growing our business?
  • Who could we help make more successful?
  • What interactions do we have with our audience?
  • What new interactions can we create?
  • What tools or ideas can we “steal”?

I’ve had a team of 8 to 10 people build a list of more than 200 tools (many of which they’d never thought of using) within a 25 minute period as everyone worked individually using the rotating question approach.

You can also check out a more focused set of areas to brainstorm and identify specific social media resources and tools your organization can use.

Give this exercise a try at your next staff meeting or planning session, and then go back through your marketing plan to make sure you’re using as many of the tools as possible that you’ve identified.  – 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 816-509-5320 to learn how we can develop an integrated, guerrilla marketing-oriented strategy for your brand.

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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Strategic thinking often falls short because specific outcomes are difficult to trace back to the effort put into strategic thinking or planning.

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

Be 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 has selected a set of ideas, ask them to 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 ideas that may have been overlooked.

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

Once individuals have placed ideas on the grid, talk through each one to see what support or challenges there are within the group. Typically, team members will overstate the number of easy to implement ideas that are 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 take 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 the 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.

WRAP-UP

So from the last several posts, you’ll ideally be better prepared to cultivate strategic thinking in your department or business and then to do something with it. We’ll revisit these topics over time to provide more refinement, but for now, schedule time soon to do some fruitful strategic thinking!

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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Here are two productive question-based strategic thinking exercises for a broad set of business situations.

“What’s It Like?”

This strategic thinking exercise has you look for analogous situations to yours, going to school on others who are smarter or better than you are in solving similar challenges.

The first step is to identify the characteristics of your situation or challenge, asking yourself the following questions to find ways to generalize your situation:

  • What is this really trying to accomplish?
  • How would I describe this situation in 5 – 7 words?
  • What’s this like in other businesses?

Identify who else faces a similar situation to your generalized business challenge and then use their perspective to identify how they’d address your situation and solve it:

  • Who else faces this?
  • How are they addressing it?
  • What would it be like if we addressed it similarly?

“Where Do We Add Value?”

This strategic thinking exercise focuses on where a business or internal department best delivers for customers. Themes that emerge help to identify areas for near term focus or elimination.

First, answer the following questions. Ideally this would take place in a pre-session survey:

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

Record the answers. Look for themes – areas of agreement & disagreement. Based on the themes that emerge, have your group answer the following questions:

  • For Areas of Current Incredible Value – How do we continue to grow the value delivered to provide even greater advantage?
  • For Areas that Don’t Deliver Incredible Value Because of Limitations – How can we work around resource limitations? What are new approaches to increase value? If we can’t fix this, should we eliminate trying to have an impact in these areas?
  • For Areas Where Little or No Value is Delivered – Is each of these critical? Are there opportunities to exit, eliminate, or re-work these activities? If it’s warranted, what steps can we take to make dramatic improvements in the value delivered?

There are many more strategic thinking exercises, but these two are beneficial ones to apply to common business situations that you may face.

The next post wraps up the overview on strategic thinking by addressing how to turn your efforts into successful results.

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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