Tools | The Brainzooming Group - Part 201 – page 201
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We attend an early Sunday mass that doesn’t have a choir but has an organist. It’s intriguing (okay…annoying) though that she can’t actually play the organ. This was quite evident recently when she couldn’t get through well known Christmas carols without fracturing them – mangled chords, wrong notes, incorrect tempos. Even though all the inputs to playing better are right in front of her (since the organ has every note needed to play songs correctly), she can’t identify the answer and properly execute it.

All of us face similar situations – everything to solve a problem or realize an opportunity is at our disposal, but successfully identifying & executing the right answer eludes us. It’s easy to figure out the organist’s options to improve; it’s tougher when we’re in comparable situations. To help, here are 13 things the organist could do. Next time you’re similarly stuck, see if you can generalize from her potential options and help yourself by:

  1. Getting more training – take lessons or do homework to increase knowledge and skills.
  2. Practicing more – don’t stop preparing until there’s adequate performance.
  3. Simplifying the situation – look for easier answers (i.e. only play the melody) to better execute.
  4. Improvising – change what the possible answers can be (i.e., don’t play a strict melody line, but at least do it intentionally!)
  5. Getting help – have someone more skilled assist (i.e., she could play melody and somebody else the chords).
  6. Using a different tool – identify alternative resources that can help improve the probability of success (i.e., a keyboard with pre-programmed songs).
  7. Rearranging – find an alternative arrangement that’s easier to perform.
  8. Using a different talent – rather than stick with what isn’t working, use another talent to address the challenge (i.e., singing a cappella to provide music).
  9. Doing something less familiar to the audience – in order to alter audience expectations, perform alternatives that are unfamiliar to the audience.
  10. Delegating / finding a replacement – have someone who can perform do it successfully.
  11. Suggesting alternatives – address the underlying need (musical accompaniment) in a better, alternative way (i.e., playing pre-recorded music).
  12. Doing less – work to lower expectations in certain areas (playing several songs adequately) while over-performing in others (only play one song really well, and repeat it as necessary).
  13. Quitting – Accept that you can’t be successful, and move on to other endeavors better suited to your talents.

I do admit that quitting (#13) was the first option that came to mind for her. But the important point is that any of us have more than a dozen options available when we’re beating our heads against the wall without success. Oh by the way, if you can beat your head against the wall at a reasonably steady tempo, please get in touch with our pastor. There may be a Sunday morning gig in it for you!

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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5

I’m a big believer that bold distinctions made between strategic and tactical people are nonsense. The contrasts are mutually perpetuated by “strategic thinking” people who want to seem “important” and by “tactical, action-oriented” people who don’t want to expend the mental energy (or give up the apparent decision making freedom) to do strategic thinking and connect their activities to an overarching business purpose.

For me, there’s a very fuzzy space between strategic thinking and tactical implementation. Strategy is the connecting principle that ties tactics together. Tactics are absolutely necessary to successfully carry out a strategy.

As a result, neither strategies nor tactics can be successful without the other, and business people can’t maximize their contributions & success by paying attention to only one of them.

Here’s Your Challenge– Do you view yourself (and the business world) as either strategic OR tactical? If so, abandon that view and focus on increasing your overall business contributions. Here are a few straight forward tactics you can use to increase your contribution to successful business strategy in very subtle ways:

  • Show up at a meeting with a proposed agenda, suggested topics, and/or relevant information. Often even the person calling a meeting isn’t properly prepared. There have been countless occasions where by showing up with a little pre-thought and something written out, a person not leading a meeting has inserted themselves to set the meeting’s (and the ultimate project’s) direction.
  • Offer to take and report out the notes. Somebody said that “history is written by the winners.” What better way to help solidify a winning business position than by offering upfront to write the meeting’s “history.” This provides the opportunity to shape the messaging and direction coming from the meeting, setting the stage for future steps.
  • Get to the whiteboard first. If you can’t write the history, at least do the reporting. Picking the right time to go to the whiteboard or the easel pad provides the opportunity to visually depict what the meeting looks like. Within the bounds of being an above-board, unbiased reporter, you can choose what goes up for display, how it’s worded, and begin inserting a specific point of view.
  • Volunteer to lead an analytical effort. This can be more challenging and more work, but taking the lead on identifying and delivering insights is an outstanding way to shape its progress and direction.
  • Volunteer to develop a draft hypotheses / business model. Potentially more involved, framing a starting hypothesis or model allows you to influence overall thinking on the effort.

Doing a great job on any of these options will start to make your co-workers view your business contributions in a new and different (and probably a more strategic) light. Just make sure that if you pick “getting to the whiteboard first,” you take a moment to select a dry-erase marker!

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 gave up using a red pen while reviewing work several years ago because someone in our department said she felt as if she were being graded in school. Regardless of your pen color though, a critical part of performing & reviewing analysis is the ability to quickly spot mistakes. It helps to have a sixth sense regarding CBR—items that obviously “Can’t Be Right.” In case you don’t have that special power, here are rules you can use to help spot mistakes – whether they’re yours or someone else’s:

  • Before you work on or review analysis, think about what the answer should or will likely be. If the results aren’t in the ballpark, and there’s no apparent reason, do some digging.
  • When reviewing work, start with a “skeptical” attitude – the expectation that something’s wrong – and look specifically for mistakes.
  • Assume things typically won’t change dramatically (or at least outside a typical range). If changes look like big deviations from the norm, investigate why.
  • Try to “break” things—when testing a spreadsheet or program or reading a document, look for ways to make it not work or look for passages that don’t make sense.
  • With a spreadsheet, do the unexpected—put in numbers that you wouldn’t normally expect (i.e., a negative number where it should be positive, change the order of magnitude of important numbers, etc.). As a double check, if a spreadsheet uses lots of formulas, dramatically change some numbers that should make the results change.
  • Do things or read sections out of the natural sequence. This often makes irregularities more recognizable.
  • When reading, repeatedly ask the questions, “Why would I know that? Does it tell me that somewhere else in the document? Is the point consistent within the document?” Be skeptical when you think you have satisfactorily answered these questions.

While it might feel a little better to not use a red pen while marking up analysis, it feels tremendously better to catch a mistake before your boss or client does. Use these rules to help increase that likelihood. And if you have rules that you use successfully, let me know, and we’ll put them in a follow-up post.

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 initial posts on this blog were on closing the strategic thinking gap that develops in many businesses (i.e., a desire to invest significant time on strategic issues, but little time spent in reality). Here are links to the five posts in order:

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

The posts provide an overview of specific approaches that can be taken to improve the quality & output of strategic thinking efforts in business.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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4

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

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

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

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

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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Dear Kids,

Just like your management team at work, Santa’s very busy this time of year, and while he’d love to spend time with each letter, there are only so many hours in the work day.

Want to make sure Santa gets the point of your request so that you’re not disappointed this holiday season? Take a tip from “Winning with the P&G 99: 99 Principles and Practices of Procter Gambles Success” by Charles Decker and send him a brief (one-page at most) recommendation making it clear very quickly to Santa how good you’ve been and what you’d like. Here’s the 4-section recommendation format to use:

  1. Brief Background – Provide a quick overview of the issue that your recommendation is addressing so that your boss (I mean Santa) knows what you’re covering.
  2. Recommendation – Clearly & succinctly state what you think should be done.
  3. Rationale – List the reasons that support why the thing that you think should happen should happen.
  4. Next Actions – If the recommendation’s accepted, list out the next things that have to take place.

Let’s apply the approach (sans the headers that you’d use in a business memo) to our holiday letter:

Dear Santa,

I just wanted to update you on what a good boy I’ve been this year and suggest a gift that would truly be appreciated.

This Christmas, I recommend that you bring me a new tablet computer.

This gift is warranted because I’ve really tried to help my wife more around the house this year, including yard work (which I really don’t like). The tablet computer would allow me the flexibility to work on this blog while away from home, to stay in contact with friends and loved ones, to get work done on airplanes more easily, and to draw cartoons for my presentations.

If you agree that a tablet computer makes sense as a gift, please deliver it on the evening of December 24 in Hays, KS, where we’ll be celebrating Christmas with my family. Thank you, and please let me know if you have any questions.

Sincerely,
Mike

So there you have it kids. In fewer than a dozen lines, we’ve made our recommendation and laid out the best case. Try it with Santa AND try it at the office. It really works in cutting through the clutter and getting to decisions faster.

Btw – if you’re still doing holiday shopping, Amazon lists copies of the “P&G 99” for $1.89. That’s less than 2 cents per principle or practice – you won’t find a cheaper gift that will so dramatically improve your staff’s performance this coming year! Order now!!!

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give this exercise a try at your next staff meeting or planning session, and then go back through your marketing plan to make sure you’re using as many of the tools as possible that you’ve identified.  – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call 816-509-5320 to learn how we can develop an integrated, guerrilla marketing-oriented strategy for your brand.

Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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