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

I was at a church vision council’s meeting recently. The relatively new group is overseeing implementation of the church’s strategic plan and progress on it updated mission. That evening, the group was discussing alternative strategies to improve the church building and grounds. Looking at various plans, their conversation focused on the building activities in each plan:

  • The number of meeting rooms
  • The number and sizes of offices
  • Minimum hallway widths for accessibility
  • The types of dividers and doors to provide flexible room sizes
  • Which buildings might be torn down to enable new construction

Their discussion turned to how parish members might react to the various options and whether they’d support a building initiative.

via Shutterstock

My caution to the group was that, from the first stages, members need to be careful about the language they use to discuss the building initiative.

The group faced the classic features-benefits trap; their building project discussion was only about features.

Customers Write Checks for Features, but Buy the Benefits

They were ignoring the benefits: how each plan would dramatically expand the parish’s ability to realize its mission of prayer and service. Beyond the numbers of rooms and wall finishes, THAT is the important benefit from the building initiative. While the parish (and its members) will write a check for buildings and infrastructure, they are buying an experience. They are buying the ability to better help parishioners and all those they will reach out to with assistance to realize a closer relationship with God.

It’s easy for any organization to fall into that same features-benefits trap with its marketing and sales messages: While customers pay for features, they are buying the benefits.

That is why it is so vital to make sure you identify and articulate benefits that are clear, vivid, and important for your potential customers. – Mike Brown

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Our free “Big Strategy Statements” eBook lays out an approach to collaboratively develop smart, strategic directions that improve results!

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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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This matrix on 4 ways your organization can deal with major issues is DEFINITELY courtesy of the Brainzooming R&D lab.

Going back through notes and strategic planning posters from previous client engagements, I came across a big easel sheet. It was used during a particularly long and particularly challenging strategic planning workshop. The notes all pertained to tackling elephant in the room issues. These are issues inside an organization that everyone knows about (and will discuss in private) but that are NEVER discussed in meetings or any type of formal group setting. For this organization, which was undergoing a significant transition, many years of micro-managing resulted in at least one huge page’s worth of elephant in the room issues.

4 Ways to Address or Avoid Major Strategic Issues

That combination of knowing and discussing major issues led me to wonder: What are all the potential combinations of an organization knowing and discussing major strategic issues? That thought experiment is played out in this matrix.

You can see the elephants in the room in the lower right. Blind spots are in the lower left; these are the issues in the organization that are narrowly known and discussed. Failing to uncover issues the organization (and especially its leadership) doesn’t know, but that are very real, typically poses a significant threat.

Speculation occurs when there is a lot of chatter about issues that some might suspect, but for which most of the organization lacks any solid facts.

The upper right – the best quadrant – is transparency, where there is a reasonable balance between knowledge and discussion about major issues within an organization.

Did I mention that his was from the Brainzooming R&D lab? We haven’t used this matrix about major strategic issues in any formal ways yet. The first use will likely take place with an organization dealing with poor communication and a negative environment. We might use it before or during a strategic planning workshop to better understand where major issues are landing. If you do anything with this matrix ahead of that, we’d love to know what you think.

One Final Note: While this matrix is discussed in the context of an organization, it relates to other situations, particularly couples and families, at least based on being able to readily identify interpersonal behaviors within the matrix. So, maybe try it out at home first? But, probably not as a big poster you put up on the wall! – Mike Brown

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The day the IHOP/IHOb story broke, Emma messaged me that her son, Luke, wanted to discuss branding strategy with me. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Twelve-year-old Luke Gibson’s insight on the dangers of brand extensions was intriguing. We had quite the conversation about when brand extensions do or don’t make sense. Luke clearly saw fewer opportunities for smart brand extensions than I did.

His strong perspective on what would likely be a family restaurant decision underscores how consumers outside the intended target are forming opinions and influencing purchase decisions. And, since Luke and I didn’t exactly agree on brand extensions, I asked him to share his thoughts with Brainzooming readers. – Mike Brown

Luke Gibson on Branding Strategy: Change is Good. Greed is Not.

If you’re good at one thing, then most likely the right thing to do is stick to that one thing. For example, if you’re really amazing at pottery, you do that as your job, and people know you for your pottery business, then why would you suddenly switch to supply chain and logistics, with little to no experience in that? Don’t be selfish.

So yes, what I’m hinting at is IHOP, or should I say, “IHOb.” I’m sure that all of you knew IHOP, or “IHOb,” for their pancakes, and have gone to eat their pancakes at least once. Most likely you ate them during the day.

In an article for Business Insider, Darren Rebelez, president of IHOP, said, “We had to make a bold move to get people to be willing to talk about us for something other than breakfast food.”

Why? Your brand name is still about breakfast food. Might I add, what’s wrong with this picture?

Sam and Pam were walking to the International House of Pancakes. Sam asked, “What are you going to get at the the International House of Pancakes, Pam? Pam said, “I am going to get a hamburger from the the International House of Pancakes, Sam.” Sam said, “That is a good idea, Pam. I think I will have a hamburger, too,” said Sam.

Exactly. And yes, while the burgers at IHOb might be okay, you know what would taste even better? Their pancakes.

I’ve noticed that California-based Foster’s Freeze has done this as well. They have added burgers to their menu. What’s more is that it’s one little burger poster among thousands of ice cream stickers, so it’s also kind of hard to notice. And yes, hamburgers and ice cream are delicious together, but I would like to assume that the better place to get that would be at your local greasy spoon. It’s probable that most people don’t even order the hamburger! As many times as I’ve driven past, there is not one person holding a hamburger! (That Foster’s Freeze happens to be located across the street from a grocery store and surrounded with hot food places, so…) Yes, while their burgers probably taste okay, you know what would taste even better? Their ice cream.

To tie it up, brands should stick to the one thing that they are good at, and can branch off into other related areas. Leave the completely different opportunities for other brands. Your customers see you as greedy when you do this.  – Luke Gibson

Social-First Content to Make Your Customer the Star of Your 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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“The more bad ideas the better. If you work really hard on coming up with bad ideas, sooner or later, some good ideas are going to slip through.” – Seth Godin (June 19, 2018)

Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” – Elon Musk (Sometime before June 19, 2018)

You’ve heard it, and maybe even said it, or wished it. Who wouldn’t want to have explicit permission, even encouragement, to routinely make mistakes with your innovation strategy?

An article in The Wall Street Journal addressed this issue relative to baseball and how the strategies many major league baseball teams are using to improve player performance translate to typical office settings. The article focused on dissecting mistakes to learn valuable lessons, similar to the oft-cited trade-off benefit in making more business mistakes: you will learn more things, faster.

3 Ways a Productive Out Benefits Your Innovation Strategy

One section addressed making productive outs: the idea that when making an out, a batter tries to create a benefit for the team in exchange for not reaching base. Digging further, an article from makes an important point tied also making more business mistakes: “Some [baseball] players, seemingly, are attempting to record a productive out rather than just attempting to get on base and avoid an out at all costs . . . productive outs should be something that happen at random . . . they should not be something a player strives for, except in very fringe cases.”

Since we are now in the thick of summer, let’s go with this baseball backdrop to explore how some types of productive outs in baseball shed light on your innovation strategy and potential beneficial impacts:

#1 – Helping Other Good Things to Happen

Baseball Situation: A sacrifice fly involves a batter hitting a ball in the air (with fewer than two outs) and so deep in the outfield that a base runner can safely advance after the ball is caught. The team trades one of three outs for the opportunity to move a runner ahead, creating a score (if the runner is starting from third base) or increasing the likelihood of the runner scoring on a subsequent play.

Generalized Impact: A sacrifice fly creates time and space for other positive actions to take place, even though an important objective (the batter reaching base) is never achieved.

Actionable Learning: A comparable business situation involves regularly employing moonshot projects to boost innovation. A moonshot project is one with a large, far-reaching, and overarching objective that may never be fully realized or expected to directly contribute near-term revenue and profit impact. While ultimate success would be beneficial, it’s not essential. What a moonshot project yields, ideally, are near-term benefits through collaboration and smaller discoveries and innovations along the way. These will enhance revenue, reduce costs, and/or otherwise improve profitability and other business prospects.

Business Impact: How many moonshot projects has your organization attempted in the past year? The past few years? If innovation is lagging, purposefully use this concept to get your team thinking bigger while it throws off smaller, innovative benefits along the way.

#2 – Wearing out the Competition

Baseball Situation: Major league teams go to extremes to control how many pitches a starting pitcher throws in any game. One hundred pitches are a frequent limit. That means that the more pitches an opposing team forces an overpowering starting pitcher to throw, the sooner that pitcher will leave the game.

Generalized Impact: Long-at-bats involving multiple foul balls and/or not swinging at pitches outside the strike zone prematurely exhaust one of the opposition’s scarcest resources. You can hit the first pitch and let the pitcher off easy or battle through ten or twelve pitches and wear him down faster.

Actionable Learning: Translating this idea to business means focusing on what your stance is toward competitive strategies and implementation. This upends the strategy of simply trying to beat out the competition on features and benefits. You can purposefully use promotions, market pilots, and the concentration of your resources in niche markets to attempt to divert a competitor’s attention from its pre-planned strategy and force them to follow you. In some cases, your actions may drive a competitor to expend unplanned focus and resources (both at a premium in most organizations) to match your agenda.

Business Impact: Executives typically think about current competitors and ways to outsmart them. How often do you engage your team in developing and implementing strategies to wear down your competitors’ resources to create new advantage for your brand?

#3 – Stacking the Odds with Controlled Failure

Baseball Situation: Hitting behind the runner is another type of productive out. As an example, if a base runner is going from first to second base, a runner tries to hit somewhere closer to first base. If they execute this well, it makes it more likely that the fielder will throw to first (which is easier), allowing the base runner to safely advance.

Generalized Impact: This play represents controlled failure: an experiment that is designed to yield positive results when it doesn’t work (e.g., produces an out), and even better results when it does (the fielder fumbles the ball and the batter is also safe).

Actionable Learning: In a business setting, you may have various unknowns or untested ideas. You can use this idea and design an innovation pilot, experiment, or test whose primary objective, rather than a market success, is a learning success. Gaining the right new insights is the focus, and if a near-term business success happens to result, all the better.

Business Impact: Is the idea of an experiment designed for learning success a new or a familiar concept in your organization? How can you apply it more frequently?

The Similarities Are Striking

Even if you aren’t a baseball fan, there are innovation strategy lessons galore throughout the game. And for the big fans: what strategy takeaways do you find in the intricacies of America’s favorite pastime? – Edited from Inside the Executive Suite

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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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An executive responsible for strategy planning who was downloading our eBook on 11 Fun Strategic Planning Ideas posed an important question: How can you successfully identify and try new ways to get internal groups working together on strategic planning?

We’re always thinking about increasing the strategically combustible human surface area engaged in strategic planning.


In other words: Brainzooming wants as many smart, diverse people working together as we can effectively and efficiently accomplish on any fun strategic planning initiative.

We tend to find that our ambitions for this exceed that of our clients. (See previous Brainzooming article on the damaging lack of diversity in strategic planning workshops.)

7 Ways Groups Can Collaborate on Fun Strategic Planning

Nevertheless, in answer to this new reader’s question on getting internal groups working together, here are seven ideas we’ve either tried, or would in a minute, to maximize internal collaboration and promote fun strategic planning:

  1. Identify all the potential people involved in strategic planning upfront, nothing those who most need to collaborate
  2. Perform a skills, knowledge, and interests inventory of all your strategic planners, then pair people who complement each other based on the assessment
  3. Create a strategic planning event that includes people from multiple groups and features cross-group activities
  4. Employ an ice breaker where people reveal information they know that is helpful to strategic planning that others will be surprised they know
  5. Use assigned seating to nudge people who don’t work together to at least sit together
  6. Create strategy teams with members of various groups that will need to collaborate to complete their assignments
  7. Make sure each planning group identifies all the departments and people critical to success early on, then require that groups reach out to them BEFORE the planning is done

Implementing even a few of these ideas within a strategic planning process that values diversity and broad participation, will make an impact.

Want to talk more how you can translate this approach to strategic planning? Contact us, and we’ll discuss how we’d customize the process steps and participation opportunities to maximize the impact for your brand! – Mike Brown


fun-ideas-strategic-planning11 Ideas to Create a Fun Strategic Planning Process!

Yes, strategic planning can be fun . . . if you know the right ways to liven it up while still developing solid strategies! If you’re intrigued by the possibilities, download our FREE eBook, “11 Fun Ideas for Strategic Planning.”

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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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We have some popular articles on the Brainzooming website about how to imagine a whole array of cool product names. All those articles relate to the early stages of the product naming process. We’ve done a few things, but not as many, on the decision process for picking the creative and strategic options from all the cool product names you end up imagining.

But yesterday, Emma forwarded a link to one of those maddening slideshow posts on 31 Product Naming Fails.

Clicking through all the slides made me realize: for all the imagination you want to have among the people coming up with cool product names, what you MUST have is an eclectic and perhaps slightly shady set of characters reviewing the potential cool product names to prevent a massive product name fail.

18 Sensibilities to Avoid Massive Cool Product Name Fails

Having personally reviewed each of these incredibly terrible product names, I now share with you the 18 sensibilities you must have on your team to avoid a cool product name fail.
You need individuals who:

  1. Possess a good understanding of interpersonal and solo sexual acts, plus a fascination with all the related jargon of both.
  2. Have insight into fringe communities and what they love, embrace, and abhor.
  3. Love horror – both in movies and IRL.
  4. Understand (and/or will track down) all the ways that words in one language won’t work in other languages.
  5. Have a basic clue about life and no appetite for group think or apparently unstoppable momentum for stupid ideas.
  6. Can go six (or even nine) deep on synonyms describing varied sexual activities.
  7. Fully understand all the mechanisms and terminology of what is popularly known as Number 2.
  8. Are diligent at saying all product names aloud before voting yea or nay.
  9. Understand that there are multiple ways to voice a g, a c, or a k.
  10. Have big enough investments in the brand’s success that they won’t let incredibly funny names that no one seems to get make it out of the room alive.
  11. Put the scat in scatological.
  12. Are willing to tell the boss that the family name should never be placed on a building, box, or label. Or uttered aloud. EVER.
  13. Are automatically suspicious of any abbreviation, acronym, or contraction.
  14. Possesses clairvoyant powers and can predict when a currently okay word or sound will fall flat within a decade.
  15. Have a working knowledge of all global genocides, along with the associated moral issues, slang, and sensitivities related to each one.
  16. Know every nickname and euphemism for genitals, what they produce, and all the activities one (or more) can do with them.
  17. Are savvy enough to flip everything upside down and say words backwards to look for sinister alternative meanings and shapes.
  18. Abhor being too true or too literal in describing a product, what it does, and how it looks.

Of course, it’s possible that you don’t need eighteen people on your cool product name review team, if you have the right people in your organization. Heck, if you hire right, one person may be all you need! And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.  😉  – 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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An efficient AND effective innovation strategy adapts to a company’s business objectives, strategic priorities, and team. It doesn’t start with getting everyone together in a room for a creative thinking workshop and expecting innovative ideas to happen spontaneously. Analysis, outreach, and design thinking combine to make in-person innovation productive and ROI-driven – after completing the pre-work.

Before holding innovation strategy workshops, we take advantage of best practices, stakeholder input, & upfront analysis to surface high-impact innovation opportunities.

5 Ways to Boost Your Innovation Strategy’s Efficiency

Here’s an example from a Brainzooming engagement to help a client’s finance team lead an innovation strategy initiative. The objective was to reduce the company’s working capital levels on an ongoing basis. We employed five techniques in advance of an in-person innovation workshop to focus the work and boost success.

#1. Identifying innovation across industries

Brainzooming identified relevant best practices and innovative strategies across industries. This work provided an external checklist of innovation opportunities to shape further analysis and to design the online surveys.

#2. Aggressive data mining and analysis to create focus

Brainzooming conducted internal analysis to highlight 80-20 opportunities. This helps focus innovation efforts. As is typical, this step uncovered powerful improvement-related insights hidden within summarized data.

#3. Online input and collaboration for greater access

We employed an online survey to reach stakeholders who are highly relevant to the innovation initiative’s success but might otherwise have been overlooked. Viewing the financially-driven working capital initiative as business innovation pointed to the need for sales, customer service, and other areas to participate actively.

#4. Engaging atypical stakeholders and experts for input

Rather than assuming that the department responsible for the innovation strategy has all the answers, we actively included other groups. We sought to reach out to sales, customer service, and other departments focused on customer and business relationships with significant accounts payable levels.

#5. Workshop design capitalizes on findings

The in-person innovation workshop design and implementation benefits from all the activities up to that point. The early input shapes the strategic priorities, innovation exercises, and additional deliverables to foster successful implementation.

Want to maximize innovation AND efficiency?

Is your management team looking for collaboration and innovation, but concerned about how it will impact the focus on efficient daily operations? Contact us, and let’s talk about how to deploy an efficient innovation strategy initiative in your organization to maximize your results and impact. – 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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