Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 3 – page 3

Last weekend’s Wall Street Journal featured a piece called “Two Cheers for Failure in a Tough Drug Industry,” by Jonathan D. Rockoff. The article highlighted innovation strategy options that drug companies are using to instill and support risk-taking behaviors. These companies are trying to motivate researchers facing daunting odds for bringing a drug successfully to market. Rockoff cites odds of 1 in 10,000 for drug compounds to ultimately gain regulatory approval.

The innovation strategy options include cultivating company culture, celebrating failures with parties and awards, and making sure they are failing as fast as possible with sufficient learnings.

4 Ways to Celebrate Risk Taking

While an innovation strategy that suggests throwing a party to celebrate a failed idea seems outrageous, the message from the pharma companies is that it’s smart business. Even if your innovation success rate is dramatically higher, motivating employees to embrace risks vital for innovating can be challenging. It’s chic for gurus to extol embracing failure. Yet, most employees have no track record of seeing peers – or anyone else – fail repeatedly as a pathway to corporate success.

Let’s suspend judgement and see the innovation strategy decisions certain pharma players are introducing to motivate taking risks.

1. Cultivating a Resilient, Innovative Environment

Ironwood Pharmaceuticals is targeting both learning and emotion to prompt engagement and risk taking among its nearly 700 employees. In business for nineteen years, it has only one drug in the marketplace; eight more are in advanced development stages. To create broader understanding among employees about embracing serial risk taking amid tough odds, it invites well-known pharmaceutical innovators to share their experiences and practices.

The company also depicts development paths of drugs that have successfully made it through the regulatory gauntlet. They display these case studies in the workplace. To further engage its team, Ironwood asks staff to submit clever early-stage names for products in development. They encourage temporary names that are inside jokes or reflect pop culture interests.

By involving employees beyond its research team, Ironwood personalizes for all staff the challenges of innovating when you expect to meet many setbacks and dead ends. Inviting everyone to name test drugs creates personal investment in products under development, even among non-researchers.

Something to Think about for Your Business: How does your organization create opportunities for all employees to invest in innovation, even if you are not looking for them to generate or develop new product ideas? Just as you might encourage every employee to find the connections between themselves and end customers, how can you encourage them to create closer connections to the innovation centers in your business?

2. Celebrating Risk-Taking Behaviors

The biotech units at AstraZeneca and at Bristol-Myers Squibb each award scientists and researchers for outstanding work. Their awards are independent of ultimate commercialization or lack of it. AstraZeneca hosts an annual event to recognize scientists. The awards, presented at a black-tie event (dubbed the “Science Oscars”) are based on promising work; results are not a factor. The “Bravo Awards” at Bristol-Myers Squibb are similarly granted based on research efforts.

When an organization singles out people for dedicated, positive effort AND successful results, it sends a powerful message. It says the organization realizes successful innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Innovation depends on ideas and exploration, development and testing, and ultimately, achieving some threshold rate of commercialization. Reinforcing a multi-dimensional innovation process view with incentives and rewards along all phases shows that the company understands the importance of cultivating all aspects of innovation.

Something to Think about for Your Business: Do your innovation metrics track performance from idea generation to R&D, and through business results? If not, what are some smart steps that will expand your innovation dashboard?

3. Letting Go when an Innovation Strategy Isn’t Working

Beyond ingenious names, Ironwood holds wakes for drugs it has tested but killed before reaching the market. The company introduced the idea of a drug wake to allay researchers’ fears related to its first failed drug. With research and development on the drug suspended, employees were dreading restarting their research efforts (at best) or losing their jobs (at worst).

The wakes salute development efforts that extend up to a decade without commercial success. Ironwood now has six in its history; the wakes are integral to helping employees move to new assignments with strong outlooks. Recalling personal experiences and memories conveys appreciation for each innovation journey, even if the desired destination proves elusive.

Organizational behaviors convey whether or not true appreciation exists for risk taking that doesn’t result in bankable ROI. The audacity of throwing a party for what could easily be classified as failures signals confidence in ultimate success, investment in valuing people (beyond exclusively ROI-based outcomes), and a relaxed environment. These send the clear message that support for innovation and risk taking exists independently from market success.

Something to Think about for Your Business: What do your organizational behaviors say about your organization’s risk tolerance? Do you back up communication about the value of risk taking with obvious support and encouragement when individuals and teams pursue new ideas that fail to come to fruition?

4. Failing and Learning

Vertex Pharmaceuticals is training employees to conduct thorough post-R&D analysis. It wants to ensure that scientists capitalize on every possible learning from failed innovation. Embedding the US Army’s “after-action reporting” technique provides a methodology for in-depth researcher interviews to identify themes behind successes and failures. The process turns personal learnings into organizational knowledge.

Something to Think about for Your Business: Are you using every innovation initiative, regardless of its success, to create learnings that make your organization smarter and better? How often are you prioritizing and green lighting higher-risk innovation initiatives that promise disproportionate new learning potential?

What ideas does this raise about your innovation strategy?

Could you identify a couple of areas where pharma companies are supporting risk-taking behavior that would benefit your organization’s innovation strategy? Maybe it’s not a wake for a dead idea, but what else can you mine for an innovation strategy boost? – 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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What could you do to your boring office so you and others are thinking strategically more readily and effectively?

Someone searched and came to the website looking for strategic thinking in the office examples. While we have a post on doing thinking strategically without leaving the office, we don’t have anything on how the physical surroundings of an office can boost strategic thinking.

32 Ideas for Thinking Strategically in the Office

If I were going to outfit an office to boost strategic thinking in a big way, here are things I’d do (and btw, the links below are nearly all affiliate links):

Physical Surroundings

I’d make these adjustments to the physical space:

  • Include a mobile, magnetic white board to draw out ideas
  • Even better, white board paint to make all the walls into white boards (and underneath, we’d apply metal primer so we could use magnets to hold up paper)
  • Paint grids (maybe like graph paper) on the white board walls to organize thinking and ideas
  • Maybe smart board technology (but I’m not quite sold on it yet)
  • A couple large screens to look at data, images, and video
  • Video conferencing equipment (preferably a Telepresence system, if at all possible)
  • Soft carpet to be able to lay on the floor and imagine
  • Make sure there are plenty of windows to look outside
  • Include multiple types of lighting with multiple ways to shut them down in certain parts of the office, but not in the other parts
  • Have fifty square feet of space per the number of people expected to meet for strategic thinking in the office

Strategic Inputs

For strategic jumping off points, there are various things to include:

Supplies and Resources

Here’s my shopping list for resources:

Other Stuff

These are other things I’d want around or available in the office:

Granted, it’s likely everything I spelled out here would not fit in most offices. And there is no way this is a universal list for fostering thinking strategically in the office. What will make thinking strategically easier and more frequent in your boring office will depend on what stimulates your best strategic thinking. – Mike Brown


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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 are an organization with a limited budget but an intense need to better understand the audiences you serve, what are the best research methods to pursue?

That was the question from two nonprofit executives tasked with planning market research to support a new marketing plan.

Before diving into planning market research, I asked about old research they had. Although the most recent customer research was five years old, a cursory review of the customer segmentation it generated suggested its research methods were sound.

With that preliminary check on the previous research methods, we spent our time discussing what they could discover from what they had in hand before planning market research. We also discussed market research others have done or might be doing, in addition to informal listening posts they could deploy right away.

14 Questions Before Planning Market Research

Whenever you are planning market research, these fourteen questions comprise a money, time, and effort-saving list to explore!

Examining Your Own Previous Market Research

  • Was the output valuable (made sense, spurred insights, suggested smart directions, etc.), even if we didn’t use it?
  • Are the results valuable, accurate, and recent enough that we can use them to start thinking about future research?
  • Do we have the original data set to slice and dice the results for new insights?
  • Are there questions in the previous work that we can incorporate into new research methods?
  • Have we linked the customer survey results to internal metrics to find predictive relationships?
  • If we haven’t linked customer survey results to your internal metrics, is there the possibility of doing it now?

Exploring Research Others Have Done

  • What other organizations have asked and answered comparable question to ones we have?
  • What experts have insights into the questions we want to answer?
  • Are there industry associations with ideas on answers or research methods to make us smarter?

Anticipating Surveys Others May Be Doing

  • Are there other organization’s surveying our audience that might allow us to include some questions?
  • Could we propose a joint research project with another organization to satisfy our mutual needs?
  • Are there university programs where students can conduct research for us?

Considering Preliminary Research to Perform

  • What research methods can we use to reach out to customers on a manageable scale to gain their perspectives?
  • How could asking questions informally help identify potential new questions, important attributes, or other insights to shape planning market research we will conduct?

That’s a Start!

There are more questions you can ask, but even these will make sure you get as much value as you can from other sources before you begin planning market research initiatives that require substantial investment. – Mike Brown


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From a day-to-day perspective in the corporate world, we didn’t necessarily use objective metrics about creative ideas. Too often, it came down to whether an executive liked or didn’t like an idea.

After talking with a friend, I think the percent of time you are told to pull back your creative ideas because they are too big and bold may be a good way to assess how your creativity is faring in an organization. My friend explained that over a period of years, her bosses shot down every dynamic possibility she proposed as a creative marketing idea. The cumulative impact is she no longer offers big creative ideas because there isn’t any point. Her learned reluctance to push bold creative ideas now creeps into other situations where she does have tremendous latitude to introduce bold ideas. As she describes it, this phenomenon frustrates her professionally AND personally. It takes the creative joy out of side projects she does.

An Objective Creativity Metric

You could define a metric on how often you are told to pull back your creative ideas as a ratio:

Number of creative ideas you suggest
Number of times you have to pull back creative ideas because of bigness and boldness

Here are a few observations about the resulting percentage for this Creative Pullback Ratio (or CPR – yes, it HAD to have an acronym!):

If you are told to rein in every creative idea, that’s not a good place. There is a disconnect. It may be time to make sure your bold creative ideas are clearly and understandably rooted in strategy. Alternatively, you may be in a place that is thinking way too small; you should get out as soon as you can.

If no one ever says your ideas are too bold, that is also bad. It means you aren’t challenging anyone’s thinking with your creativity. You are going for safe and easy instead of innovative and disruptive.

Since neither CPR extreme is good, the right frequency for getting told to pull back creative ideas is somewhere between zero and 100%. That’s a huge range. Where the right place is depends on a couple of things:

Could monitoring a CPR benefit your creative ideas?

I pitched this idea to my friend. She said she didn’t think about developing creative ideas like this at all. That’s fair; maybe the CPR is too calculated (pun kind of intended) for people who are pure creatives.

For someone like me who has to use creative thinking structures (especially extreme creativity exercises) to boost creativity, the CPR may make more sense. I’m manufacturing creative ideas, no imagining them from pure inspiration. When you are a creativity manufacturer, having a creativity metric such as the CPR would help me know if I’ve dialed the right creative recipe.

Could thinking about your CPR help your creativity? Or does it just seem silly? Mike Brown

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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, we identified the six types of strategic planning process activities we use to design a client’s strategic thinking workshop. To facilitate you going deeper into thinking about how these activities function within a strategic planning process workshop, here are articles in each of the six areas.

6 Types of Strategic Planning Process Activities

Interacting (Networking, meeting, team building)

Informing (Sharing background data and context)

Investigating (Assembling the facts for strategic planning)

Insighting (Revealing breakthrough opportunities and threats)

Iterating (Structured thinking to expand ideas)

Integrating (Assembling pieces into strategy)

Lots of places to go with all these articles on strategic planning activities that can fit into a workshop within your strategic planning process.

Putting it Together in a Strategic Planning Process

If you have responsibility for leading the strategic planning process in your organization, we recommend bookmarking this strategic planning activities reference and coming back to it when you need to explore the right mix of exercises to engage your planning participants.

Of course, picking the right menu and bringing it to life is our specialty. Get with us at, 816-509-5320, or the contact us page on the website so we can discuss the approach that makes the most sense for your organization. – Mike Brown

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What types of strategic planning activities are in a strategic thinking workshop?

Readers have been asking this question frequently of late. That this is taking place during a period when many companies are IMPLEMENTING strategies suggests you understand the importance of strategy even beyond initial planning.

As we collaborate with a client to design strategic planning activities for a strategic thinking workshop, we explore various possibilities. The goal is making sure the strategic planning activities we select best match the organization, the objective, and the participants. By adapting the process to the situation, we’re able to help clients develop strong strategies with tremendous time efficiency.

6 Potential Strategic Planning Activities for a Workshop

If you are figuring out strategic planning activities in a strategic thinking workshop, we suggest looking toward six “I” categories as your starting point for the design. These six types of activities include:

Interacting – Meeting, networking and connecting with one another to build or enhance the sense of team among participants.

Informing – Providing background data and context so everyone has the same backdrop for strategic thinking. These activities often happen before a group convenes.

Investigating – Examining a particular situation to ensure the appropriate facts and perspectives are available for strategic thinking.

Insighting –  Identifying breakthrough thinking to open the door to deeply understanding opportunities and threats that strategy needs to address. (And yes, we know Insighting is a made-up word!)

Iterating – Using specific creative and strategic thinking exercises in a sequence to help the group generate many possibilities and ideas.

Integrating – Taking the output from throughout the strategic thinking workshop and putting it into strategic planning outputs. As with Information activities, these often happen outside a group setting.

Selecting the Right Menu of Activities

Selecting the menu of activities for a strategic thinking workshop isn’t haphazard. As we mentioned, the combination of the organization, objectives, and participants leads to the right menu of strategic planning activities. We explore each of these areas upfront to determine what to include.

The next article will take you deeper into each of the six categories with helpful articles to shape a productive strategic gathering.

Have questions about how we apply these activities? Contact us at The Brainzooming Group, and let’s talk about how to create the right menu of activities for your team. – Mike Brown

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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 long ago learned an important lesson about corporate branding decisions: no matter how many intriguing, mentally-engaging brand strategy conversations you have among senior executives, those conversations NEVER lead to final decisions. No, corporate branding decisions are only resolved when someone needs a new business card, trade show booth, brochure, or website.

When you have to physically display a logo or depict how two brands relate to each other when they are placed together? THAT is when executives finally make corporate branding decisions.

A conversation with an upcoming client brought this lesson to mind. They asked whether they should include the organization’s logo in the official email signature.

Addressing that question led to an extended conversation about reasons why they should or should not include the logo. During the conversation, we also tackled what the organization’s multi-part name is supposed to mean (because no one seems to know) and why its logo looks like something it isn’t. We also touched on whether one of their product names actually has much greater brand equity than the overall organization (which changed its name to an acronym several years ago).

See what I mean?

A question about the email signature quickly got us (well, at least me), questioning their whole naming and identity strategy.

If you’re struggling with corporate branding decisions no one is moving forward to resolve, maybe it’s time to design new business cards. Getting physical like that will prompt the decisions you need to make to clarify your brand strategy and move into action.  – 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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