- Part 5 – page 5

Were you bombarded with emails in the last week all about coming up with your special focus word, personal exploration, or individual success plan for the new year?

EVERYONE seemed to be on the same program based on our anxiety about hitting the ground running with the simplest way to focus our attention throughout the year. One email even offered an automated word-of-the-year generator, just in case you are unable to imagine a word to shape the next 12 months.

creative thinking questions can target your focus areas for the year

The reason I don’t immediately unsubscribe from these emails? When it comes to focus and preparation exercises, it’s a numbers game. You look at a lot of them, a couple resonate, you follow up on maybe one or two, and you hope that something sticks from the reflection you do. The more of them you have hitting your inbox, the more likely you are to do SOMETHING beneficial, even if it’s basic.

How about Creative Thinking Questions?

What are we suggesting for looking ahead this week to map your professional horizons for the year?

Planning we did in December for Idea Magnets helped identify what I thought might be valuable. Since it’s tough for planners to do their own planning, I turned it over to Tara Baukus Mello to pick the approach we used to plan.

To prepare for the in-person planning, Tara forwarded creative thinking questions that looked out from today to more than a decade into the future. It was twenty pages of questions. While the document was daunting, working with a fresh set of questions forced me to think about completely new opportunities and issues. And that’s always the goal with strong set of creative thinking questions: to push you to explore important (often overly-familiar) areas more deeply and with fresh thinking.

8 Creative Thinking Questions to Focus Your Year

Tara’s exercise prompted me to adapt the eight questions below from our free eBook, 49 Idea Magnet Questions to Attract Amazing Ideas. This subset provides a helpful way to focus in particularly on what’s important for the year ahead.

Spend a few minutes with the questions and record your initial thoughts. Come back to them early next week to see if you’d expand or modify your answers.

  1. If I’m always working with the same people, what can I do each day to increase the diversity of individuals I interact with to stimulate new thinking?
  2. What is something that everyone in our industry has known for years would provide great value for customers that nobody has ever done that we can do in 2019?
  3. What are the boldest moves I can imagine challenging ourselves with in 2019? (Are they bold ENOUGH? Just checking.)
  4. What can we do to reduce by 1/3 or 1/2 the list of projects and activities that seem important but are genuinely blocking greater future success?
  5. What’s stopping us from asking for favors and help from people that we have no business trying to talk to?
  6. How can I better address a big problem by undoing the problem instead of putting another fix on a previous fix?
  7. What scary and risky things did we say Yes to in 2018? Which ones do we need to say Yes to in 2019?
  8. If I wrote the year-end recap for 2019 right now, what dramatic expectations would it point to that we need to address this year?

What’s Next?

After you’ve completed a couple of passes through the questions, then what?

That depends on what will work best for you to stay on top of goals and strategies.

I recommend placing the list in as many places (physically, electronically, and/or mentally) as necessary so that you regularly and frequently see your answers for a quick read. Doing this helps to refresh your memory without trying to be overly beholden to early January thinking that may very naturally need to change over the course of 2019. Yet even if it does, you’ll have a sense of the direction you started with at the start of the year!

If you want the OTHER 41 questions, grab your free copy of 49 Idea Magnet Questions to Attract Amazing Ideas for questions you can use and return to throughout the year. – Mike Brown

FREE Download - 49 Idea Magnet Questions for Attracting Amazing Ideas

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 surprised a CMO the other day, telling her something she was NOT expecting to read in an introductory email. Here’s the story.

A long-time friend was making an introduction between one of her current clients and me. The focus was her firm needing to develop its brand strategy. Following up the initial email exchange, I shared this:

“If you are looking to accelerate branding development, we use a streamlined process that is highly collaborative. This lets you, as the brand owner, actively participate in shaping the innovative, on-target strategy and implementation plan. Our approach isn’t tailored for every company. Should you want to explore how our branding development approach might work, we’d welcome a call to explore possibilities, if you see that as a logical next step.”

She emailed back within minutes, wanting to clarify if I REALLY meant to write that our approach ISN’T for every company. If that were the case, she said she was very intrigued.

Brainzooming Isn’t for Everyone

I responded to her question:

“Our approach to fun strategic planning ISN’T tailored for every organization. Let me explain.

“I created what became Brainzooming while I was on the client side. We wanted to be highly-engaged with our outside strategy partners. They wanted to maintain a black box approach, however, sucking all the information from us, then retreating by themselves to dream up “creative” branding ideas. We wasted significant time briefing agencies on our strategy only to find our knowledge about customers and markets didn’t translate to the branding work they presented. Then, we’d have to redo what they’d done.

“Because I grew up on the client side, we have tremendous respect and appreciation for the insights that exist within an organization. That’s why our approach is all about collaborating with a client’s management group, broader team, and even outside audiences to build on their understanding. We bring our experience, tools, and time-efficient process to the table. Combined with the brand’s initial insights, it’s a potent combination for on-target strategy.

For organizations that valuable broad collaboration, we deliver fantastic results. For management teams that simply want an outside partner to go off and come up with all the ideas and pitch them, we aren’t a good fit.”

A Fun strategic planning process isn't for everyone.

Why am I sharing this?

I don’t typically write much about what we do for clients because I realize that’s not why you read Brainzooming articles.

Yet, many executives have been beating their heads against the wall trying to more actively engage their employees and customers to shape strategy. They can’t find partners who get that vision and want to collaborate to make it happen. We know that, because that initially describes almost EVERY Brainzooming client.

This probably doesn’t sound like your exact situation.

If it does describe your frustration with being unable to develop strategy in a new way, then you owe it to yourself to contact us for a chat – sooner than later.

Helping executives engage their most important audiences in developing better, more on-target, and highly actionable strategies is at the very heart of what we do very well. We can end your frustrations. Plus, it will be fun for you – and your team. I guarantee that! 

You can email me at [email protected], call me at 816-509-5320, or reply here. Let’s start making your vision come to life – now!


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

Yes, your strategic planning process 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.”

Download Your 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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Sometimes the people who are major influencers in your life don’t want a lot of attention brought to that fact.

My mother, Phyllis Brown, is one of those people. She would prefer to go unnoticed. Being the center of attention is her least-favorite place. That’s why I don’t write about her much.

Today, though, it’s time to recognize her turning 85 and share some of her motherly lessons.

motherly lessons

9 Motherly Lessons for Mom’s Birthday

For the first eighteen years of my life, my mother shaped my perspectives, attitudes, and life view very directly. As a stay-at-home mom, we spent many, many hours together. To celebrate her birthday, I want to share nine motherly lessons I learned from my mom (one for every decade) that remain with me today:

1. Use questions to discover things about people.

Showing genuine interest and giving someone room to talk is an outstanding way to get to understand them better.

2. Listen openly.

This goes along with the first, although that’s not always the case with people. So many people over the years sat at my parents’ kitchen table as they shared their hopes and unburdened themselves of their challenges. Through it all, mom listened with an amazing lack of judgment.

3. Always maintain your inner circle.

Because mom has never been one to go out and meet lots of new people, keeping a tight group of confidants (typically, close relatives) is something she has always done.

4. Exhibit intense constancy and faithfulness toward people.

Whether knowing my dad for 80 years, being married for 63 years, or still checking in with high school classmates, mom doesn’t easily let people slip away. I try to do the same with people.

5. In any relationship, someone must provide the foundation.

Motherly Lessons

My dad was the one in the family with the big plans, speculative investment ideas, and go-up-and-talk-to-anyone attitude. With a big thinker like that, it helps to have someone who is ALWAYS going to be grounded. That was Mom.

6. As best you can, don’t over-celebrate the highs or wallow in the lows of life.

Always taking a reserved approach to anything that happens keeps you on the even keel.

7. Wear long sleeves and stay out of the sun.

For those of you who wonder why I wear a sport coat to Walmart, please refer to this lesson. Seriously.

8. You needn’t blatantly show your smarts.

My mom was at or near the top of her high school class (she won’t say which one), kills at Scrabble, and is sharp as anything. Nevertheless, you’re NEVER going to hear her say a word about any of that (Dad was always the one to report his own daily trouncing at Scrabble).

9. A competitive spirit is a tremendous way to motivate yourself.

And if a little competitiveness is good, an intense competitive streak is even better. (Thus, the Scrabble trouncing streak Dad endured.)

Happy Birthday, Mom, and I hope you have MANY, MANY MORE!!!

Mike Brown


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 has been a year of so much learning about the business and what it takes to be successful. Many of the things I’m learning seem as if I should have been learning them years ago.

Being so late to learn makes me think about missed opportunities. That is why thinking back over the new learning occurring this year (and even in the last few days) is top-of-mind for me right now.

9 Ways to Unlearn Faster than You Are Now

9 ways to unlearn faster than you are now

The drive to realize future opportunities more quickly prompted me to think about how I (or you) could unlearn faster to be able to learn new things more  rapidly. Here are nine ways to unlearn that occurred to me right away:

  1. Wait to be proven wrong.
  2. Surround yourself with one or more people who will joyously call B.S. on you.
  3. Strip away as many of your personal best practices as you can without imploding.
  4. Stop EVERYTHING (or at least some things) and do completely the opposite.
  5. Go off into a new environment where you absolutely MUST start over.
  6. Force fit practices from someone who views the world (and acts) completely differently than you.
  7. Turn over control to someone very different than you.
  8. Immerse yourself in EVERY experience that will challenge your thinking.
  9. Accept that everything you know is wrong.

These ideas vary in difficulty for me. I do some of these more (and more readily) than others. Based on how they’re ordered, if you can only manage number 1, you’re not going to unlearn without a lot of real world setbacks and days of reckoning along the way.

Where are you most comfortable within this list? Where are you spending YOUR time trying to unlearn? And, are you unlearning as quickly as you want to and need to do? – Mike Brown

Download Fast Forward Today!

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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It’s near year’s end. Many organizations are wrapping up planning. If your organization is like most, your new plan calls for some combination of major innovation, significantly improved processes, strong cost reductions, and dramatic growth in the year ahead.

What is the common denominator behind accomplishing ALL of these expectations in next year’s plan? Stronger creative leadership to identify productive tactics, make better (and faster) decisions, and successfully implement with a major impact.

If all that causes you look at your team and wonder where the creative leadership will come from to accomplish next year’s plan, we have a great way to make it happen: cultivate Idea Magnets throughout your team!

The Answer to Boosting Creative Leadership within Your Team!

Idea Magnets easily generate tons of creative ideas, embrace strategically-driven innovation, and naturally turn ideas into results.

And the best strategy to boost their creative leadership talents is to get copies of Idea Magnets: 7 Strategies for Attracting and Cultivating Creative Business Leaders for all your team members. This Brainzooming book demonstrates the value of stronger creativity. It also spells out seven actionable strategies and shares numerous creative thinking questions, tools, and exercises to inspire every team member’s creative energy and business impact.


There’s time now to order Idea Magnets books for yourself and your team ahead of next year. If you have a large team and need more than fifty copies of Idea Magnets, contact us for special large-group packages.

Buy Your Copy of Idea Magnets TODAY!

A Creative Leadership Workshop Maximizes the Innovation Impact

To further boost the creative leadership impact for your team, you can schedule an Idea Magnets learning workshop for 2019. Workshops include:

  • Idea Magnets – 7 Strategies for Cultivating & Attracting Creative Business Leaders
  • Disruptive Thinking – Unexpected Connections & Polar Opposites that Energize Creativity
  • Positively Charged – Conducting Big Breakthroughs from Ordinary Ideas
  • Idea Magnetism – Charging Your Organization for Success
  • Generate! Making Tried & True, Improved & New Ideas Flow

Since the release of Idea Magnets, we’ve delivered unique creative thinking workshops for companies such as Farmers Insurance, Cerner Corporation, and Amsted Industries. We’ve also created Idea Magnets workshops for a number of nonprofit and early childhood educational groups. You can get an overview of the Idea Magnets strategies in the video below from the Leadership Institute!

What’s great about booking an Idea Magnets workshop NOW? You can take advantage of your use-them-or-lose-them budget dollars from this year to maximize your team’s performance in the coming year.

Idea Magnets: It’s the actionable, high-impact creative leadership resource for your 2019 success! – Mike Brown

Your Go-To Resource for High-Impact Creative Thinking!

Creative Leadership Questions to Generate Big IdeasWant your own ready-to-go supply of creative thinking questions? Download 7×7 – 49 Questions to Generate Extreme Creativity. This new creative business leadership eBook offers seven extreme creativity questions for EACH of the seven Idea Magnets strategies:

  • Generate Inspiration
  • Embody Servant Leadership
  • Attract Opposites
  • Make Unexpected Connections
  • Encourage People and Ideas
  • Implement for Impact
  • Recharge Creative Energy

All in one place, the forty-nine questions in 7×7 provide an actionable creative formula. 7×7 will inspire you and your team to amazing creative thinking success.

FREE Download 7x7 - 49 Questions to Generate Extreme Creativity

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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Here is something I do not remember ever seeing before to call out a change in traffic regulations: a NEW sign pointing out a recently-installed stop sign at a street intersection.

Change management strategy and pointing out what is nw

I noticed the sign, on Main Street in Kansas City, Missouri, as we drove to an after-mass breakfast one Sunday. While I’d never paid attention to the absence of a stop sign at the intersection pictured in the photo, I guess one wasn’t there previously.

The NEW sign to point out the new stop sign is a wonderful reminder of something that is easy to overlook in a change management strategy. Whenever you anticipate and implement change, consider ways to highlight the change for audience members. Through doing this, people impacted by the change can perform as well as possible, as soon as possible.

6 Questions to Highlight the New from Change Management Strategy

How do you identify opportunities to ensure your change management strategy and support for high performance align?

Use this list to identify instances where you are:

  1. Changing a situation with which people are very familiar
  2. Creating an unusual or unexpected condition
  3. Breaking a pattern
  4. Varying a routine that people are in
  5. Creating a situation which now has potentially high non-performance impacts
  6. Creating a situation with new risks from non-performance

There are more situations where you need to account for supporting audience member performance. These six are top-of-mind because each one could apply to the new stop sign.

So, whenever you start changing things, make sure you do everything reasonable (or maybe even everything possible) to ensure your change management strategy is not the cause of suddenly reduced performance. – Mike Brown

What’s Your Implementation Strategy for Uncertain Times?

Things aren’t getting saner and more calm. Are you ready to pursue an implementation strategy that works in uncharted waters?

The Brainzooming eBook 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times will help you examine your strategy foundation, insights, profitability drivers, and decision making processes when few things ahead are clear. We share suggestions on:

  • Using your organization’s core purpose to shape decisions when things are changing
  • Reaching out to employees with valuable insights into what to watch out for and what to expect
  • Sharpening your command of cost and profit levers in your organization
  • Implementing processes to focus and sharpen decision making

4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times is a FREE, quick read that will pay dividends for you today and in the uncertain times ahead.
Download Your FREE eBook! 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times

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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There is one breed of strategic planner that cares more about the format of the strategic business plan than its content. This type of strategic planner spends more time making sure every cell, form, and template is completed EXACTLY as they envisioned. Whether things are filled out in a way that moves the organization forward is nearly incidental.

Brainzooming subscribes to the idea that there is no one-way-fits-all approach to a strategic business plan. The right strategic business plan is the one that moves your organization forward, improving your success now and in the future. If a plan does not readily transfer to implementation, it does not count for much.

3 Strategic Business Plan Criticisms to Avoid

We find many executives have bought into the misguided idea that a plan must look a certain way for it to be right. Their frustrations typically surface because of gaps they perceive between their current plans and what THEY think a strategic business plan should be, include, or look like.

We tell them to give themselves a break.

If you are prone to this self-criticism and are saying any of the following about YOUR strategic plan, we suggest you set aside your concerns and move into implementation:

Self-Criticism 1. “There’s too much in this strategic business plan.”

A strategic business plan shouldn't include everything in its first year

A company president said this about a particularly meaty part of his strategic plan. I reminded them that the section he thought was too big addressed company culture. The company’s executives said it was critical to preserve the company’s culture as it tries to grow aggressively. Originally, they thought that meant not changing anything about the culture. We pointed out that maintaining the culture amid significant other changes requires considerable activity. It requires adapting and nurturing the culture as they grow. The plan’s time horizon is also three years, so not everything needs to be addressed right away.

For Your Organization: Make sure you don’t have too much activity bunched up in your plan’s first year of implementation. For a three-year plan, maybe, 50% of the tactics fit in the first year. Even that may be too aggressive. Give yourself some space and inject realistic timing into your plan.

Self-Criticism 2. “It’s not specific enough. There aren’t sufficient details.”

Many executives work with detailed project plans in their daily activities. They expect a project plan, given its shorter time horizon, will be detailed. While it may be a familiar planning structure, a project plan is NOT a strategic plan. A strategic plan should lay out an overall direction. It should highlight big buckets of coordinated activities with a high probability of moving the organization in the intended direction. The Strategic plan won’t incorporate every implementation task.

For Your Organization: Don’t hold yourself to project planning levels of detail in your strategic plan. Ideally, you’re providing clear direction. Leave it up to implementation teams to review the plan early in their activities. Provide them the latitude to spell out more specific implementation steps. This creates ownership and helps those closest to implementation to shape the strategy work.

Self-Criticism 3. “Some things are in the wrong place or are there multiple times.”

Everything in a plan should make sense, fit in the right order, and identify who owns implementation. There is a place for actively reviewing every detail of the plan to clean up obvious overlaps and move things to where they most naturally should live. There may be good reasons to make significant changes to how activities are grouped together. At some point, however, editing needs to give way to implementing.

For Your Organization: Implementation will never look exactly like it is spelled out in your strategic plan. You create a plan with your best sense of the future. Things will develop and change as you implement. Despite trying to get everything just so in the plan, implementation is never just so. It is typically messy and complicated. Far better to start and plan for flexibility and adaptation. That will lead to greater success than strategic planning precision.

Take a Break from Looking at the Plan, Too

At some point, you may have spent too much time looking at your strategic plan to even make good decisions about its organization. Take a break from it for a day or two. Think about what you really need the plan to accomplish. Then apply these three suggestions, and you should feel a lot better about your strategic plan! – 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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