Strategic Thinking | The Brainzooming Group - Part 4 – page 4
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Ten years into the Brainzooming blog, it seemed right to have someone else tell the story from a fresh perspective. Emma Alvarez Gibson, who helped shaped the Brainzooming brand before it even launched, is exactly the person.

Ten Years Now and Mike Brown Has a Blog – Emma Alvarez Gibson

It’s 2009, and I’ve just gone into business for myself, doing branding and copywriting. Thanks to Twitter, which is at that point still a place to have thoughtful conversations with smart people, a great-sounding gig has fallen into my lap. This guy I’ve never met has just hired me, after a couple of emails and a single phone call, to help launch his company. He’s kind of shockingly sincere, but he lives in Kansas City, and maybe that’s just how they do there. He’s about to leave his job as a strategic planning and marketing VP at a Fortune 500 transportation company and he’s got this whole other direction mapped out for himself—he’s been blogging now for a couple of years in preparation for this move.

“I don’t think I had any clue, at the start, about the impact the blog would have on my life.”

We work well together. He says I really get what he’s trying to do. And he pays promptly, as the best clients do. I wish him well, and we follow one another on Twitter. Every now and then we exchange pleasantries and silly jokes, sometimes an email or two. We tweet, we message, we leave comments on one another’s Facebook updates. I sign up for his blog posts, which are astonishing in their frequency as well as their depth.

“The blog paved the way for me to create a brand-new business identity. It allowed me to create a new present and future that built on, but wasn’t beholden to, my experience in the transportation sector.”

And so it goes for the next three years. By 2012 I’m no longer working for myself, as I’ve discovered that I’m terrible at it. I’ve got a capital-J job, and excellent health insurance, and tons of banked vacation time. One afternoon in 2014, I’m in my office with not a lot to do, and a message pops up: the guy from Kansas wants to know if I have a couple of minutes for a phone call. I’m a little weirded out, but say yes. He’ll be in San Diego in a month, he says, and wonders if I’m available to help facilitate a workshop. I am.

The evening before the workshop, I drive down from LA immediately following a Neil Finn show, accompanied by a girlfriend, just on the off chance that it’s all a setup and I’m meeting up with an ax murderer. (Spoiler: I’m not. The guy from Kansas is exactly as he represents himself online.) But despite it being our first time meeting face to face, it feels like we’ve known each other for years. Probably because we have.

“It gave me an identity beyond Mike Brown, which is in the top 5 most nondescript names.”

The workshop goes well. It’s fun, and challenging, and so gratifying to see that we’re giving people tools and resources that will continue to improve their work lives and also have the capacity to improve their personal lives. This work calls to me on a deep level.

Back in LA I keep thinking about how naturally we worked together and how our skills and expertise complemented one another. What if that could be my job? But I can’t really allow myself to venture too far down that path. There are too many variables and it isn’t as though he’s hiring tons of people—particularly not people 1600 miles away. I’ve got a child, a chronic illness, a mortgage, and my husband and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. I climb back down into the salt mines, so to speak, and focus on making things go.

“The body of work is a personal one. But it allows us to compete with the biggest consulting firms in the world.”

When the guy from Kansas asks if I’d be interested in the occasional editing gig, I am; soon it’s a weekly thing. I think, often, about what it would be like to do this full-time. One day, the guy from Kansas says, hesitantly, Hey, I don’t know how you’d feel about this, but when I’m in a position to extend the company’s base outside Kansas City, I’d really like to hire you full-time. I’d feel pretty great about that, and tell him so. And then it’s back to the salt mines for me, but now the work I’m doing when I’m not at my day job includes several long-term projects, and we’re presenting workshops and keynotes at conferences in San Francisco and on an island off the coast of Georgia.

Now it’s the fall of 2017. I have a block of time in the middle of my frenzied day that doesn’t belong to anyone else, and I shut my office door and call the guy from Kansas to discuss a couple of the projects we have going. When he answers the phone, I say hello and ask how he is. He says, Wonderful. I’m just finishing up your offer letter. Within fifteen minutes, I’ve given notice.

“The busyness of the business, driven in large part by the blog, has had a tremendous impact across my life.”

This month marks the tenth anniversary of what became the Brainzooming blog. I tease Mike about the sheer volume of content he’s created across these ten years. He must have content running in his veins where we mere mortals have only blood, I say. Oh, no, Mike Brown forgot to write a blog post for tomorrow! Not to worry – just hand him that letter opener! The wound will heal; the content will live on! The truth, of course, is simpler and more complicated than that. The truth involves a different kind of sacrifice, and hell of a lot of hard work.

It’s two months to the day since I joined Brainzooming full-time as Director of Brand Strategy. I can’t quite shake the sense that, at any moment, someone’s going to show up at my door and order me back to the salt mines. Because this kind of work isn’t work: it’s a calling. And that makes all the difference in the world, and to my world. (As do the excellent Beavis and Butt-head impressions Mike and I are prone to when in the same city. Or on the phone. Or, okay, via email.)

We’ve now met in person five times, and next year will bring more opportunities to get together to address problems, create solutions, and bring people together in ways they would not have thought possible. I can’t wait to see where Brainzooming goes next.

Happy blog anniversary, Mike. Happy blog anniversary, Brainzooming. Here’s to the next ten years. Emma Alvarez Gibson

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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 strategic thinking skills are important in helping find agreement for action amid a big, unstructured conversation?

That was the challenge during a nonprofit board call. The call was an opportunity for board members to react and share perspectives for the first time as a group about a critical business topic. The meeting objective involved identifying actions the board supported and would collectively recommend. We found our way to three target recommendations after two hours of conversation.

One board member remarked later how easy it was to get lost in the back-and-forth without identifying anything the group would recommend.

5 Strategic Thinking Skills to Lead Groups to Action

How then did we find three areas for the board to agree to as action items? Here are five strategic thinking skills you can employ in comparable group situations:

  • Listen for verbs. Verbs suggest action. Listen especially for actions you imagined before the call that the group might embrace and advance. Having a list prepared ahead of time helps you focus and piece together answers from snippets of conversation.
  • Figure out who the leaders are historically and on the call (if they are different). Listen for when a group leader voices something that agrees with someone who is less vocal. If you can find agreement there, it’s a powerful combination: the leader picking up on a more marginal player’s strategic thinking.
  • If you can identify a core idea for action, listen for other suggestions that build on, complement, or enhance the original idea. Highlighting other strategic thinking lets you keep returning to the core idea. Doing so grounds the group in hearing the core idea repeatedly and focuses their strategic thinking on that idea vs. pursuing unrelated directions.
  • If you modify an action-oriented idea with different strategic thinking, return to the person with the original idea to see if that makes sense for them. You want to improve the recommendation and build on it, but not at the expense of losing your original supporter.
  • Don’t linger too long if the group reaches some level of agreement. You don’t want to try to work for total agreement and risk seeing what agreement you had unwind through additional discussion.

Employ these five strategic thinking skills when you need to give a group room to talk, but also to move toward action.

It won’t necessarily be easy, but it should speed up getting to agreement. – Mike Brown

Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and 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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Emma Alvarez Gibson and I were talking about identifying strategic themes within tens or hundreds of ideas from a strategic planning workshop or from thousands of comments within a survey.

Other than a big dose of help from outside forces, what are dependable ways to identify meaningful strategic themes?

This is important because latching onto the right groupings for ideas will make all the difference when highlighting and simplifying smart strategy recommendations.

As we chatted, I perused the Brainzooming website looking for articles on how we surface strategic themes. Posts on making strategic connections address some aspect of our approach, yet they cover only part of the story.

10 Cues to Identify Strategic Themes among Ideas

Reflecting on our Brainzooming process, we use all these cues to identify potential strategic themes among THINGS THAT:

  1. Are clearly related to strategy
  2. We know correlate
  3. Seem to correlate
  4. Represent natural groups you see or experience elsewhere
  5. Happen at the same time
  6. Appear close to one another
  7. Possess similar characteristics or attributes
  8. Incorporate similar inputs or outputs
  9. Undergo similar processes
  10. Demonstrate unusual but frequent connections between each other

There are likely more of these.

Yet, you don’t want too many cues. You must be able to quickly run through the strategic theme cues whenever you are faced with large a volume of open-ended comments.

Based on our experience, finding just the right number and range of strategic themes is one of the best methodologies you can employ to ensure broad strategic thinking AND clear steps to implement. – Mike Brown

Download our FREE eBook:
The 600 Most Powerful Strategic Planning Questions

Engage employees and customers with powerful questions to uncover great breakthrough ideas and innovative strategies that deliver results! This Brainzooming strategy eBook features links to 600 proven questions for:

  • Developing Strategy

  • Branding and Marketing

  • Innovation

  • Extreme Creativity

  • Successful Implementation


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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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What are all the change management strategy roles a change agent plays?

My answers to that question grew recently because of an experience with a client developing its future vision.

We were working with an organization on its future vision while facilitating its strategic planning process. The organization’s leaders, and many of the team, have been in place for a long time, limiting the collective view of how other organization’s do things in bold, innovative, and different ways.

As we worked on strategic thinking exercises to explore the company’s future vision and user experience, the change management strategy vocabulary the group used was conventional, unemotional, and lacking innovative thinking. Despite the static language, strategic conversations with the team suggested they possessed a legitimate interest in pursuing innovative strategies.

Innovation Vocabulary and Change Management Strategy

change-management-strategy

Later in the strategic planning workshop, we used a collaging exercise as another way to help the team express its vision for the organization. In the exercise, the group cut words and images from magazines to express their depictions of various strategic concepts. We had selected specific magazines to use in the exercise that would stretch how the organization thought about itself and its clients. With a bolder innovation vocabulary than they possessed on their own, they did an incredibly strong job of articulating an innovative future vision.

Reflecting on the difference between the group members working from their own language and working from the innovation language in the magazines, the difference was apparent: they didn’t have their own vocabulary for major change, so they struggled to express their aspirations. When we provided a bigger innovation vocabulary, they could paint a bigger, bolder vision for their future and the change management strategy involved.

That’s when it became clear that another thing a change agent needs to do is make sure his or her organization has the innovation vocabulary to describe the degree of change management needed to realize a bold future. An organization trying to transform likely needs an external change agent with an outside perspective to provide a new vocabulary for innovation.

Lesson learned.  We’re developing new ways to immerse our client’s organization in all the innovation vocabulary they need for the change management strategy task ahead.

Want to learn more about that process? Contact us, and let’s talk about creating major change within your organization! – Mike Brown

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Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

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


Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative Strategy



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 marks the tenth anniversary of the Brainzooming blog. I’ve told the story of its inception previously.

Looking back ten years, suffice it to say that starting to write and publish about the work I was first doing in the Fortune 500 world as a VP of Strategic Marketing and then in launching Brainzooming was one of the most important career decisions I ever made. Not fully anticipating it at the time, the blog became created the opportunity for this phase of my career, plus serving as a personal repository of business tools, and, after a ton of writing and publishing, a highly-efficient and effective encyclopedia of Brainzooming content we can adapt for other uses.

Searching through the blog this weekend for additional material to incorporate into an upcoming book, I found the list below. I can visualize the list on a piece of paper when I first wrote it in the mid-1990s. But if not for the blog, it would live in a file somewhere with no way to effectively retrieve it, even though it still holds up all these years later as a guideline for servant leadership and solid business behavior.

If you are in a leadership position or aspire to one, feel free to borrow and adapt it to share with your team. It’s a good starting point for setting the stage for making sure your team understands servant leadership and what it means to be an effective, successful team member:

15 Expectations for Servant Leadership

This self-assessment was prepared for my team in response to a question about what my expectations were of them. It’s reassuring that with minimal updates, the list of personal checkpoints stills works today. Having stood the test of many years, here it is for you to use as a self-check on your orientation and performance or for adapting and sharing with your own team.

Self-Assessment – You should be known for . . .

  1. Stepping up to challenges as they arise with your time, effort, learning, innovative ideas, etc.
  2. Honesty–with yourself and with everyone in the department and the company.
  3. Attention to detail and accuracy in everything that crosses your desk.
  4. Absolute integrity in using and reporting information.
  5. Asking and answering for all analysis: “What does it mean for our brands, customers, competitors, and/or the market?” and “What actions do we need to take to realize an advantage from it?”
  6. Making communication clear and simple–getting to the point without jargon and unessential information. Constantly work to improve both oral and written communication skills.
  7. Completing assignments in a timely manner.
  8. Being innovative–what can be done differently to increase efficiency, productivity, value, and revenue or reduce costs?
  9. Being above reproach in dealings with all parties within and outside of the company-how you conduct yourself reflects on you, your co-workers, the department, and the company.
  10. Using the knowledge and expertise of others inside and outside the company; recognize and acknowledge their contributions.
  11. Sharing your own knowledge and expertise with others, i.e., what were the five most important things you learned at a seminar or from a book you just read.
  12. Being a leader–even if you are not personally heading a group or project.
  13. Being oriented toward helping people solve problems.
  14. Embracing technology and using it to further profitable revenue.
  15. Solving problems if they arise.

Originally delivered 1/09/95

 

Start Implementing Faster and Better!

In the new Brainzooming strategy eBook 321 GO!, we share common situations standing in the way of successfully implementing your most important strategies. You will learn effective, proven ways to move your implementation plan forward with greater speed and success. You’ll learn ways to help your team:

  • Move forward even amid uncertainty
  • Take on leadership and responsibility for decisions
  • Efficiently move from information gathering to action
  • Focusing on important activities leading to results

Today is the day to download your copy of 321 GO!

Download Your FREE eBook! 321 GO! 5 Ways to Implement Faster and 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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I’m in Las Vegas this week, speaking at the Specialty Equipment Market Association show in Las Vegas. There are 60,000+ attendees and exhibitors. This is my third year speaking during the educational sessions. In 2016, I invited one person to sit on the stage as all the other presentation attendees helped generate new marketing ideas for the retail store she represented.

During this year’s presentations, I’ll be covering both brand strategy (Thursday) and social-first stories (Friday).

9 Areas to Tune-Up Your Brand Strategy for Peak Performance

The branding presentation features a nine-point brand tune-up any business can use to evaluate a variety of the most important aspects of your brand strategy and performance. As a resource for both the attendees and for all of you, here are links for each of the nine checkpoints.

Expressing Clear Brand Benefits

Creating a Compelling Brand Promise

Using Your Brand to Shape Daily Decisions

Listening to & Learning from Customers

Establishing a Clear Market Position

Exploiting a Robust Brand Vocabulary

Identifying Custom Branding Tools

Sharing Social-First Stories

Maximizing Brand Popularity

Enjoy the links, and if you have questions on strengthening your brand strategy, contact us, and let’s talk about how you can do it effectively and efficiently. – Mike Brown

Boost Your Brand’s Social Media Strategy with Social-First Content!

Download the Brainzooming eBook on social-first content strategy. In Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content, we share actionable, audience-oriented frameworks and exercises to:

 

  • Understand more comprehensively what interests your audience
  • Find engaging topics your brand can credibly address via social-first content
  • Zero in on the right spots along the social sales continuum to weave your brand messages and offers into your content

Start using Giving Your Brand a Boost through Social-First Content to boost your content marketing strategy success today!

 

Download Your FREE eBook! Boosting Your Brand with Social-First 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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Yesterday marked a momentous day professionally, that seemed big on the day it happened, but not as life-changing as it has become.

On October 22, 1997, I wore orange socks for the first time.

Current Orange Socks

The occasion was presenting our first strategic market plan at Yellow Transportation (whose name was Yellow but whose color was orange) to the senior leadership team. The presentation took place at Arrowhead Stadium, where the Kansas City Chiefs play. Before the day was done, we debuted our new vision video on the Jumbotron followed by live actors from the video barging in to interrupt the proceedings.

In the vision video, the Yellow sales person wore orange socks. Before the big meeting with the senior executives, our boss, Greg Reid, asked Brenda Price (our department “mom”) to dye white socks orange so the entire Marketing department could sport orange socks.

After the meeting, I went on the hunt for more orange socks. Before we got them in our new company store, I found them at the Gap and started accumulating them.

Over time, another guy in the department and I got into an informal competition for who could have more orange stuff. Wearing orange socks was an easy way to make sure I always was wearing SOME orange daily.

Fast forward to last summer 2001: Chuck Salter of Fast Company was preparing an article on the turnaround at Yellow. Greg brought me along to a group interview with the senior executives to introduce me to Chuck as his internal fact checker. The orange socks came up in conversation, but they were tangential to the interviews with the top leaders. Chuck and I talked afterward by phone, and he asked about the socks and how long I had worn them.

When the Fast Company article appeared in January 2002, someone came to my office to ask if I’d seen it. I said I hadn’t. He let me know I was all over the article. I was horrified! I was the fact checker, and that was it.

In the article, Chuck Salter mentioned, “Without a doubt, vice president Mike Brown is the Cal Ripken Jr. of Yellow fashion. Brown has worn orange socks to work nearly every day — “99% of the time,” he says — since October 22, 1997.” With that statement – my entrée to Fast Company – there was no turning back on orange socks. The last day I didn’t wear orange socks at our Kansas City headquarters (after one of our cats died and I wasn’t in the mood), a co-worker went to the company store, bought me a new pair of orange socks, and insisted I change into them in the building’s main lobby.

Later, when Yellow bought companies whose colors differed, I’d wear blue, green, or orange / blue / green socks, as appropriate. At one point, I had five different types of orange / blue / green socks. When a senior sales VP with the company saw my multi-colored pair of argyles, he exclaimed, “I’m color blind, and I can tell those socks are ugly.”

Fast forward a few more years later. I got the go ahead to start speaking to external groups about what we were doing to involve large groups of employees and speeding up strategic planning. The restriction was, I couldn’t talk about Yellow, yet, I needed to wear the orange socks, because they are what got me into Fast Company. Googling “orange,” I discovered it is the color of creativity and innovation. Thus, even before The Brainzooming Group was emerged, it was obvious orange would be the brand’s color.

So, yes, I still wear orange socks daily.

At last count, my inventory of unworn orange socks was somewhere in the thirties. I’m not sure how many pairs of socks are in the currently worn mix; the number is probably comparable.

Orange Sock Inventory

Reflecting on the orange socks story, I still receive the question all the time, “Are you wearing orange socks?”

My response is always, “Yes, why in the world would I NOT wear orange socks?”  – Mike Brown

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming blog email updates.

 

Create the Vision to Align and Engage Your Team!

Big strategy statements shaping your organization needn’t be complicated. They should use simple, understandable, and straightforward language to invite and excite your team to be part of the vision.

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


Download Your FREE eBook! Big Strategy Statements - 3 Steps to Collaborative Strategy



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.

More Posts - Website

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