2

Suppose you have project management responsibility to review concepts with a group to solicit reactions and input. What project management steps should you take to productively review concepts so the feedback is a valuable as possible and leads toward creating strategic impact with the work?

3 Project Management Steps to Productively Review Concepts

Group-ReviewHere are 3 essential project management steps that make reviewing concepts a much more valuable experience:

1. Create a framework to productively review concepts.

You know how you’d prefer group members review concepts; you know what types of input will be helpful as you work on the concepts further – or at least you should! With this knowledge, do yourself a favor and share it with the review group before the session.

You can provide everyone with a copy of the strategic brief, background on inputs you used, and / or clarification on the opportunities you are addressing. Share a list of questions or assessment criteria to structure how they form feedback and review concepts. You could even give them an evaluation scale to compare the concepts to one another.

2. As you review concepts. start with the junior person.

When the group is ready to provide feedback, attempt to begin by soliciting feedback from the most junior person first, followed by the next most senior person, and so on. An alternative is to begin with the quietest, most reserved person and move through the group to the most outspoken person.

The rationale is to gain early input from individuals who are most likely to have their feedback compromised by others sharing comments before them. In this way, you stack the deck to maximize the amount, honesty, and diversity of feedback from the review group.

3. Develop an escape plan to end the review

It is tragic to productively review concepts with a group and then reach the meeting’s end with no clear way to bring it to a quick close. Without a escape plan going in, indecision about what happens next can lead to unproductive conversation that quickly derails progress or negates decisions made up to that point in the review meeting.

For your review meeting escape plan, know what you will do with the feedback and which individual or subset of individuals will set the stage for what happens during the next round of development.

One productive alternative is for you, as the concept presenter, to summarize feedback into a set of next steps to shape additional work. Another possibility is the senior decision maker deciding on next steps (which you want to pre-plan with that person). The horrific possibility is trying to create a consensus where one doesn’t already exist. That leads to further development stalling because rather than trying to address a strategic objective you are left trying to satisfy potentially contradictory opinions. And that’s a situation that will never lead to creating strategic impact.

How do your project management steps help in creating strategic impact?

What works for you to manage review meetings effectively? Or do you have juicy stories to share of when things didn’t go right when you were seeking feedback? We’d love to hear them! Mike Brown

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Taking-ShitMessaging with Whip-Smart Wordsmith Emma Alvarez Gibson on Facebook, we were discussing business situations you know aren’t going to work out as you want, yet you move forward anyway. In one situation I was describing, Emma asked why I’d move ahead knowing the outcome wouldn’t be great.

My response was sometimes you take crap from people because you’ve done the strategic thinking and there is a very good strategic reason to do so.

This realization came from living in the Fortune 500 world as long as I did. You have to develop a strong sense of what those right times are if you expect to survive.

9 Business Situations Where You Might Take Crap from People

After we finished messaging, I wrote this list of nine business situations where it can make sense to take crap from somebody in business:

  1. There is a strategic advantage to be gained and taking crap is a small hurdle standing in the way.
  2. You don’t have any better strategic options, so it’s tough to avoid it.
  3. You can delegate or deflect the brunt of the crap-taking to someone else.
  4. Taking crap from a particular person is a badge of honor you can use as a proof point of some personal strength, capability, or perseverance.
  5. The stories you’ll be able to tell about the experience outweigh the downsides.
  6. Nobody will know the difference.
  7. Giving people crap is just something another person does that is more annoying than harmful.
  8. You don’t or won’t even notice it.
  9. You know everything will still work out in the end.

This list is certainly open to question and challenge based on how you view the strategic thinking behind one of these business situations.

What’s your strategic thinking about this?

What about you? Are there situations where you’ll take crap from someone for good reason?

Or do you take the Billy Joel approach? He was notorious for closing his live shows by saying, “Don’t take any s#!t from anyone!”

So which strategic thinking group are you in? Mike Brown

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Yesterday we explored taking an outside-in approach to planning a blog or content marketing editorial calendar. This social media strategy helps determine the relevant length an editorial calendar should extend based on the audience’s perspective.

As you identify audience-oriented content topics, here are three important questions to ask as you consider where the topics fit on the content marketing editorial calendar:

  • Will the audience be thinking about this topic as it’s happening?
  • Will the audience also be thinking about the topic sooner and / or later than it’s happening?
  • If they will be thinking about the topic at other times, when will that be?

Beyond simply identifying audience-oriented topics, these outside-in timing questions help improve how to sync topics with when the audience is actively seeking information or related content about those areas of interest to them.

Three Examples of Outside-In Timing and New Content Marketing Opportunities

Crowd-STL

1. One Event, Multiple Opportunities to Share Content

As we were developing the blog editorial calendar for a client in the market research field, it was clear their target audience operates on an annual cycle. We identified early fall as a time when the market research firm’s clients would attend the largest market research conferences. This is a natural time to talk about our client’s conference participation. Importantly, though, we also identified their clients as thinking about conferences mid-summer (“How to Choose the Best Market Research Conference”), immediately before them (“Getting the Most Value from a Market Research Conference”), and right afterward (“Top 10 Learnings during Conference Season”). Asking our three questions identified multiple related content opportunities (new content, sharing old content, soliciting guest posts, etc.) they might have otherwise missed.

2. Reaching Out Before the Primary Brand Interaction

I wrote earlier about Southwest Airlines sending me an email the previous evening saying we’d have Wi-Fi on my next morning’s flight. The night before was when I was actually THINKING about what work had to be completed before getting on the plane. The perfectly timed email from Southwest Airlines contained very pertinent information of benefit me hours before my direct interaction with the brand.

3. Shifting Timing and Content Sharing Opportunities

The Brainzooming Group has tried to emphasize strategic planning content later in the year since our experience has been many companies were thinking about strategic planning much later in the year than previously. This year, with many calls from potential clients already thinking about multi-year or annual planning processes, we’ll be shifting strategic planning content to this more traditional timeframe in Q2, even if planning doesn’t actually HAPPEN until later in the year.

Social Media Strategy from Outside-In Timing

As if it’s not clear by now, we are big proponents of external audience-driven social media strategy as the way to make a content marketing effort come alive and truly engage your audiences. The challenge, as it always is, is after looking from the outside-in, taking the resulting topic ideas and making things happen with them. - Mike Brown

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When was the last time you invested 45 minutes to check your social media strategy?

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question. Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of a social media strategy with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social 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 post started as an opportunity to beat up an event I attended focused on information sharing from multiple panelists.

While the organizers know better, they failed to address fundamentals to make the event more valuable for both in-person attendees and those trying to report the event via social media channels.

Panel-Questions

The event’s content was intriguing, and I did some live tweeting, but it was in the absence of four items that would have made it a much stronger (and easier to report) event:

  1. Create and over-communicate an event hashtag to find and aggregate tweets plus let audience members connect more easily
  2. Show a title slide for all presenters with their names, organization affiliations, and Twitter handles all correctly spelled
  3. State upfront, during, and afterward what the organizers intend for the audience to walk away with as a benefit for being at the event
  4. Provide context (or some model) for how the presenters’ activities or points of view fit together relative to the event’s theme

See what I mean?

Four simple steps to dramatically boost an event’s impact for in-person attendees and those participating online.

But what about the intent of this piece changing?

Well, as I was writing this, I recalled the workshop I presented the other day at the Enterprise Center of Johnson County.

While I had my Twitter name and a hashtag on every slide, I never once called attention to it as a way to invite live tweeting. I also neglected to share the host organization’s Twitter handle. And none of it was written on the whiteboard where it would have been more visible for attendees.

It’s definitely EASY to point out other’s shortcomings, but it’s far better to have a checklist you hold up to others AND follow yourself.

Now that there is a four-point checklist, I’ll be trying to follow it for my future events.

How about you? - Mike Brown

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When was the last time you invested 45 minutes to check your social media strategy?

9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy

Is your social media implementation working as well as it can? In less than 60 minutes with the new FREE Brainzooming ebook “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social Strategy,” you’ll have a precise answer to this question. Any executive can make a thorough yet rapid evaluation of nine different dimensions of their social media strategies with these nine diagnostics. Download Your Free Copy of “9 Diagnostics to Check Your Social 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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In the past few weeks, we’ve had several discussions with potential clients about facilitating their strategic planning processes for 2015. (Yes, we’re already working on 2015. I KNOW, but that’s what planning people start doing months before others do!)

In each of the calls, we’ve discussed the concept of “producing strategic conversations.”

Producing Strategic Conversations?

Strategic-ConversationsThe phrase, “producing strategic conversations,” actually predates the creation of The Brainzooming Group.

We started using it to describe what we were doing internally in a Fortune 500 setting. It was an apt description of how we were helping marketing managers and senior leaders quickly (as in one day) explore, articulate, and document their strategic plans. We delivered this efficiency by avoiding a typical strategic planning approach: handing participants a slew of confusing or vague planning templates and expecting them to complete the templates on their own.

Instead, we were creating strategic impact by leading them through creative structures and strategic thinking exercises. These exercises helped them efficiently and actively explore and discuss opportunities and challenges in new ways within groups of their internal collaborators. We captured the details and themes emerging from the “strategic conversations,” using the output to document plans within a very brief time frame.

It was during hundreds of these sessions (many conducted in the hotel meeting room shown here) that we honed the Brainzooming methodology.

Facilitating a Strategic Conversation

In terms of facilitating strategic conversations, it’s not the typical facilitation used in a market research or focus group setting, although that might be what it resembles.

Instead, we facilitate in a style that both encourages and challenges participants. To put it in a sports setting, we act as both cheerleaders and tough coaches. All the while, we earn and honor the trust that allows us to move back and forth between these two contrasting roles.

Specific fundamentals we employ in producing a stimulating strategic conversation include:

  • Demonstrating sincere excitement for participants’ contribution
  • Not letting a participant flounder when trying to contribute (esp. when just starting to share ideas)
  • Making only productive interruptions, i.e., those that help guide them and draw out additional comments
  • Physically leaning in to the discussion to signal interest and anticipation for what participants have to say
  • Smiling as a way to demonstrate our connection with a participant

Again, the differences are subtle relative to typical facilitation. But coupled with the wide depth and variety of tested strategic thinking exercises we bring to the table, it works very differently, and it works wonders.

Are you thinking about next year’s planning yet?

If you’re already thinking about next year (and we know SOME of you are) and would like to get a huge head start that will even benefit your current year results, give us a call or email. Let’s see how we can work together.

Now is definitely the time to get started! – Mike Brown

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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 info@brainzooming.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.

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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Love-IdeasIt’s easy to fall in love with a new idea you have hatched.

It’s yours (which makes it seem great right off the bat), and the more time you spend with it, the more you can become completely enamored with your creative thinking.

It’s helpful in most cases, however, to challenge your own creativity before you start loving your new idea TOO much.

Creative Thinking and 6 Challenges to Consider

How to challenge your creative thinking in healthy ways? Here are six possibilities:

  • Share your creative thinking with someone else to get their reactions.
  • Start over with the original objective and a different creative thinking approach, seeing if you come out with the same idea or something different.
  • Consciously begin adding other elements to your idea that fit strategically to see if it can work better.
  • Scale back your idea by 50% to see what you would keep and what you would scrap.
  • Expand your expectations for the idea by 2X and see if it holds together.
  • If a competitor were to implement your new idea, would it look different, and if so, how would it look?

The point of challenging your creative idea isn’t to turn you into being a “NO” to innovation.

It is simply to provide an opportunity to strengthen your creative thinking before loving your idea too much blinds you to weak spots it may have.

Once you have challenged your creatie idea sufficiently, and it holds up, you can get on with loving your new idea way too much as you start implementing it! Mike Brown

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The past eighteen months, I’ve participated in several life changing Bible studies produced by Jeff Cavins.

The point of this blog, however, is not to share the impact they’ve had on me. The objective is to share intriguing learnings about visual thinking and the value of organizing content and infographics the courses have taught me.

Visual Thinking and Organizing Content

Bible-Timeline-InfographicAt the heart of Jeff Cavins’ “Bible Timeline” series is a visual thinking and teaching method.

He organizes the books of the Bible based on the type of literature each represents. To help readers understand the “story” the Bible contains, Cavins focuses on fourteen narrative books. These books span twelve specific historical periods. Other books are slotted to fill in details or expand understanding of what happened during each period.

To visually communicate this multi-faceted content, Jeff Cavins developed a color-coded infographic. The Bible Time infographic illustrates multiple patterns within the Bible’s content.

Cavins creates additional insights into the content by highlighting and organizing content in multiple ways. These include the following organizing concepts:

  • Sequential – A beginning to end arrangement of selected content to create a story
  • Chronological – An earliest to latest historical timeline of broader events
  • Thematic – Specific related message and content grouped together
  • Purpose / Function-Based – Arranging pre-existing content in new ways to highlight more subtle patterns (i.e., geographic movement within the Bible)

I had an opportunity to see Jeff Cavins present in November 2013 and videoed part of his talk where he discussed the strategic thinking behind developing the Bible Timeline infographic.

If you’re interested in creating visual thinking insights from complex content, it’s worthwhile to view Cavins’ discussion about organizing content and using an infographic to communicate his message.

While you may think this is far afield, if your organization has a wealth of content that’s been created by multiple people at various times for different purposes that would benefit from SOME type of organization to make it easier to use, there’s a lot to learn here.

As a blogger with more than a half million words written (vs. the Bibe’s nearly 800,000 words), I definitely think about the lessons learned in creating the Bible Timeline and how they apply to adding value to our Brainzooming content.

What about your organization? What lessons are there here for organizing your content to better tell your story? – 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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