Look, I know it’s almost February. The new year is marching ahead like crazy.

One way I can tell?

Seeing Facebook friends posting last week as they bemoaned the impending end of January. Others responded about how they are only NOW working on their planning for this year’s business goals and strategic initiatives. After THAT, they’ll start launching new programs.

You have to be ready to launch strategic initiatives in new ways if you get off to a slow start.

This feels like a year that thinks it is calling the shots and running roughshod over those of us trying to lead organizations.

And, we totally get that feeling.

In fact, due to travel, vacations, conferences, family health problems, and a focus on long-term projects, we felt like our team hadn’t really had a collective new start to the year.

That’s why we declared January 21 as our January 1. We restarted the clock on the new year.

Did we really re-set the new year?

Of course not.

Did it at least make us feel like we had a fresh start to improve the collaboration and coordination that was suffering in the new year’s first three weeks?


Getting Ahead on Strategic Initiatives

If you feel as if you and/or your organization are still in full-on pre-launch mode when it comes to strategic initiatives, then, so be it. We have a resource that can help you play catch-up faster and more effectively. It’s the 10 Questions for Successfully Launching New Programs eBook.

We compiled this actionable resource to help everyone get started more productively with new strategic initiatives. It will help implementation teams ensure they understand new programs’ overall directions AND explore ways to increase the relevance of strategic initiatives.

Download 10 Questions for Successfully Launching

Working with 10 Questions for Successfully Launching New Programs will help you get the right people, resources, and alignment to launch your new initiatives more efficiently and effectively – even if it still feels as if you are coming back from an early year deficit! – Mike Brown

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On a recent Thursday I left my house at dark o’clock in order to get to the EPIC International Summit in time for check-in. The location: a college-prep boarding school in Ojai, California, surrounded by acres and acres of beautiful nature, and all the clean, sweet-smelling air that I tend to forget exists at all when I’m going about my daily life near the Port of Los Angeles.

I’ll be honest: my expectations were high for this innovation-focused conference, and I was doing my best to manage them. On the one hand, it sounded amazing. On the other hand, this was its inception, and all too often, first-time events don’t go as expected.

Location for the Epic International Summit

The EPIC International Summit, however, did what it says on the tin. Far and away the finest conference I’ve ever attended, it was epic for several reasons.

First: the workshops, keynotes, deep-dives and panels were excellent.

Speakers and presenters included professionals from around the globe; educators, actors, consultants, special-effects supervisors, directors, musicians, and others. Topics ranged from entrepreneurship to leading creative teams, from being cognizant of one’s news sources and information suppliers to the factors that make up a creative mindset. The hard part, honestly, was deciding which sessions to pick.

Second: the serene setting, a stark contrast to the typical hotel or convention center setting.

We were surrounded by the natural beauty of the area, which lends itself well to the shedding of masks. Adding to that: there was a no-electronics rule in effect. While it was primarily enforced via the honor system (and an email/text area had been designated in one of the buildings), most attendees successfully disconnected. This, of course, created a breathing room most of us no longer have in our daily lives, and along with it, a sincere yearning to connect with others. (It’s possible I’m speaking just for myself here, but I doubt it.)

Third: the meticulously-arranged details.

From the signs along the rural highway directing participants where to go, to the tasty meals included each day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner, save the Friday evening that was left open for newly-forged acquaintances to break bread together in town, if desired), to the scale of the event (any larger and it might have felt impersonal; any smaller and it could run into issues of claustrophobia), very little was left to chance. It all felt incredibly thoughtful, which is a surprising way to describe a conference.

And that seemed to be the general consensus. Even cynical types were openly surprised at the insights and learnings. One woman said, “I don’t believe I’ve ever used this word before, but I feel so…enriched!” Another attendee was heard saying, “My brain is full!” There were sessions where everyone smiled through the entire thing; sessions that ran long because people were so engaged they didn’t want to leave; sessions where I found myself cracking jokes with one of my fellow attendees, only to find out later that they were, for instance, the founder of a huge global organization that everyone has heard of, if not actually used at one point or another.

That’s the open-hearted, egalitarian environment that EPIC fosters. It was what I’d imagined, as a child, that college would be like: a big group of friendly people who are genuinely excited about learning and doing good in the world.

What’s Next?

I’m so glad for this experience and cannot wait for next year at the Epic International Summit. In the meantime, I’ll be sharing some of my takeaways from conference, here on the blog. Here’s a sneak preview:

  • Deep knowledge of the values of a project, plus trust and freedom, are the “measure twice, cut once” of creativity.
  • Common language is crucial — clear and accurate communication is so much more difficult than we think it is.
  • We need to ask ourselves: how does information come into our daily lives? What are our filters? How do we know?

Sit tight! There’s lots of other good stuff coming soon from the Epic International Summit. – Emma Alvarez Gibson

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Find New Resources to Innovate!

NEW FREE Download: 16 Keys for Finding Resources to Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy

Accelerate-CoverYou know it’s important for your organization to innovate. One challenge, however, is finding and dedicating the resources necessary to develop an innovation strategy and begin innovating.

This Brainzooming eBook will help identify additional possibilities for people, funding, and resources to jump start your innovation strategy. You can employ the strategic thinking exercises in Accelerate to:

  • Facilitate a collaborative approach to identifying innovation resources
  • Identify alternative internal strategies to secure support
  • Reach out to external partners with shared interests in innovation

Download your FREE copy of Accelerate Your Innovation Strategy today! 

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Last fall, Emma and I saw Beth Comstock, the former vice chair of General Electric and head of its GE Business Innovations unit, keynote at the Inbound conference. Ever since, I’ve been carrying around five quotes of hers pulled from the talk. While the conference featured stronger keynotes, these innovation strategy-focused quotes and action items from Beth Comstock resonated with me.

Quote 1. “Strategy is a story, well-told.”

One Thought: Strategy shouldn’t be complex, jargon-filled, and nonsensical to anyone beyond the top executives. Employees can better implement strategies when they connect in a meaningful way. Stories are a powerful, age-old way to share information, highlight important truths, and teach lessons that move people to understanding and action. Sounds exactly like what you want organizational strategies to do, doesn’t it?

Take Action: Sources differ on what elements a story must include. Yet, to turn your strategy into a story, consider focusing on:

  • The theme that best describes the strategy’s intent
  • Which people are integral to bringing the strategy to life along with who will enjoy its benefits
  • A sense of the steps and movement you will use to implement the strategy
  • Where the strategy will play out
  • A hint of the emotional impact that will accompany its success

Incorporating these five elements will provide a strong start toward making it easier to communicate and act.

Quote 2. “To open communication with someone, start by asking, ‘What is something you need to tell me that I don’t want to hear?'”

One Thought: No matter how accessible executives try to be, employees talk behind their backs. Part of that chatter is about what to never discuss with them. Beth Comstock’s suggestion is intriguing. Unless the people on the other side of the table feel they are on equal footing, though, it will likely take several reiterations for team members to trust this opening.

Take Action: Want to make strides toward opening the way for your team to deliver bad or challenging news? Let them know in a non-threatening setting that you’re going to introduce this question (or something similar) into interactions. Introducing this new communication tactic in a group setting where no one is expected to immediately respond is a positive way to set the stage. It lessens the concern and apprehension that this question could trigger when it’s a surprise without any context.

Quote 3. “When you hear someone tell you, ‘No,’ process it as them saying, ‘Not yet.’ At a minimum, try to sell your ideas three times, but do it a dozen times if the idea warrants it.”

One Thought: Never give up quickly on what’s valuable and important. Perhaps the audience isn’t ready for it now. Maybe you aren’t clearly communicating your idea. The no could contain a valid challenge or contrary view that you need to step back, consider, and incorporate. A negative response might also suggest a new possibility that you have yet to consider.

Take Action: Identify the people you expect will challenge your idea, and the areas where negative responses are likely to arise. Invest time in developing a communications strategy that supports you in selling in your idea. What is your most compelling message? How can you appropriately and honestly adapt it for specific audiences? Who will you approach to help you practice communicating your idea (because any no message will not be a directive to stop)? Finally, every time you pitch your idea, experiment with improving your messaging, to learn what could work to sell it effectively the next time.

Quote 4. “Failure is the F-word of business. If failure isn’t an option, then neither is success.”

One Thought: It’s easy for organizations to say they expect failure. The official message may be that failure is necessary for a successful innovation strategy. Giving that message credibility with employees, so that they will take risks, requires more than talk. It demands clear, consistent, and long-term demonstrations that people who fail (and learn) as they pursue important innovations will not be punished.

Take Action: At your next management meeting, take a few moments to list notable failures from the last twelve-to-eighteen months. Along with each failure, identify the main person associated with it. Note, as objectively as possible, changes in the organization’s perspective on each of the people experiencing failures. How many are viewed more favorably now than before? How many are viewed with greater skepticism? If you aren’t celebrating and advancing the people taking risks and failing, what management actions in the next year will change that and bring new life to your innovation strategy?

Quote 5. “What’s a risk you will give yourself permission to take?”

One Thought: If you’re cheering on others in the organization to embrace risk, make sure you are also taking visible risks.

Take Action: List the risks you took over the last year that made you uncomfortable. How many are there? How uncomfortable did each of them really make you? What are you going to do this year to increase your risk-taking behaviors?

Five Quotes and Do This!

If you are trying to innovate more, and more effectively, marry the messages and the actions that tell the stories and celebrate the successes and failures of those embracing and acting on smart, innovative risks. – Mike Brown

Conquer Fears of Business Innovation!

FREE Download: “7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears”

3d-Cover-Innovation-FearsWhether spoken or unspoken, organizations can send strong messages saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t screw around with it” in a variety of ways. Such messages make it clear that good things do not await those pushing for an innovation strategy involving any significant level of risk.

This free Brainzooming innovation eBook identifies seven typical business innovation strategy fears. For each fear, we highlight strategy options to mitigate the fears and push forward with innovative strategies. We tackle:

  • Whether facts or emotional appeals are ideal to challenge fear of innovation-driven change
  • When it is smart to call attention to even bigger fears to motivate progress
  • Situations where your best strategy is taking business innovation underground

Download your FREE copy of 7 Strategies to Conquer Your Organization’s Innovation Fears today!

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Conventional wisdom suggests you are better off keeping an executive naysayer away from helping developing new concepts.

We don’t buy that perspective.

We advocate involving a challenger early in a project and making them an integral part of the development team.


Because we’d rather hear all their challenges earlier than later. Hearing a challenger voice all their issues early allows us to address the concerns. Later, it’s well, too late. Plus, if during the process the naysayer didn’t raise any concerns, you can call B.S. on them later if they DO object. In response to a too-late challenge, you can ask, “Why are you criticizing something NOW if you didn’t say a word all the way along?”

Make an Executive Naysayer Earn Those Ongoing Complaints

There IS a catch, though, when it comes to a habitual naysayer.

A habitual naysayer must EARN the right to keep challenging. They don’t deserve a free pass to only poke holes at the ideas, work, and progress that other people are trying to make.

When an executive naysayer raises an issue, it may be out of fear of progress or change.

A client project team member prompted this realization, although it SHOULD have been obvious before. The client project is months in development. One participant does little beyond challenging, raising issues, and registering indifference to the work that OTHERS are doing. When we’ve requested this naysayer share work product to move the project ahead, there’s no response. All we get are further challenges to what others are suggesting.

I reached the end of my patience for this behavior the other day. We’re nearing an in-person workshop, and this executive is STILL challenging and complaining, despite shared personal responsibility for the outcomes.

The executive naysayer’s freedom to challenge at this late stage comes about because of everyone’s collective deference to the complaints at every step. This includes tolerating every challenge (including misdirected ones) AND the naysayer’s total lack of effort to contribute or share anything constructive to advance the work.

That’s when a moment of clarity surfaced: If an executive naysayer wants to keep challenging, he or she must EARN that privilege. This is especially true when an executive naysayer has zero seniority or authority over the other members of the group.

If you find yourself in this type of situation, you need to push back on the executive naysayer sooner than later. They might get a few challenges for free. After that, they have to earn them! – Mike Brown

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We originally published the Brainzooming strategic thinking eBook, 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times in 2017. The release date coincided with the change in the US administration. Two years later, uncertainty is in decline. In many ways, unpredictability continues to settle in for a long run in Washington and all over the globe.

How are you viewing uncertainty in your organization?

Is your organization dealing with uncertainty by using the right strategic thinking skills to keep moving forward?

Do you see things becoming clearer and more predictable, or are you uneasy because things continually make you feel feel unsettled?

We bet more of you would place yourselves in the latter strategic thinking camp versus the former one.

4 Strategic Thinking Keys in Uncertain Times

If uncertainty is confounding your ability to craft and implement a dependable strategy, you need to:

  • Predict as best you can
  • Gather the data that applies
  • Take the best advantage of your expertise strategic thinking to chart a successful course of action

Uncertain times demand specific strategic thinking skills

Beyond that, you need to grab your free copy of 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times ASAP.

It provides multiple strategic thinking approaches. They will help you address what you know, what you don’t know, and how much you need to predict to balance risk and progress.

Download 4 Strategies for Implementing in Uncertain Times and keep moving forward! – Mike Brown

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I mentioned teaching a strategic thinking skills workshop for a client’s newly-formed department leadership team. As always, I learn many new things when I deliver a workshop. The learnings frequently come from:

  • Questions that participants ask
  • Comments and observations that participants share about their perspectives on strategic thinking
  • Seeing what stories, frameworks, and interactions work best with the audience

This strategic thinking skills workshop was no different.

Strategic Thinking Skills and Better Conversations

Our client made an interesting observation about the all-important question: What do you want to achieve?

She said her team tends to stop before completing the question. They too often ask, “What do you want?” and omit “to achieve.”

Answers to the shortened question too frequently send them down wrong paths. They deliver things that are too much or too little of something compared to their client’s optimum solution. She emphasized that using the full question will provide the opportunity to improve performance.

Another comment she made involved the idea of being too comfortable with being comfortable. Her challenge to the team was how they’d make being comfortable a lot less attractive. Her comment prompted the image below.

Better strategic thinking skills will make hiding out and being safe and uncomfortable more difficult to do.

Finally, the group’s answers to my early question about their expectations suggested the need for a new eBook or content compilation on conducting strategic conversations. They expressed interest in learning how to apply the strategic thinking skills they were learning to daily business situations. I pointed out that many of the strategic thinking tools I taught them were sets of questions for having conversations. Structured conversations will help lead to delivering better results.

We offer eBooks with many lists of strategic thinking questions and others that go deep into big questions that lead to amazing ideas. We don’t have a single collection, though, that covers the best ways to initiate, conduct, and deliver results from strategic conversations.

If you think an eBook on strategic conversations would be helpful, drop me a note. If you do, we’ll add it to the list of content we need to create.

And, if your team needs to work on its strategic thinking skills, contact us. Let’s put something together for your team to improve THEIR performance this year and beyond! – Mike Brown

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Today, I’m with a fun client, teaching a half-day Idea Magnets workshop on strategic thinking in leadership.

The audience? Their newly-formed leadership team.

The challenge? I have THREE days of Idea Magnets-based content about strategic thinking in leadership that I’d love to share!

As a resource for them (and for you), here is a mega-compilation post on strategic thinking in leadership.

Strategic Thinking in Leadership

From our perspective, strategy and strategic thinking are different.

Strategic leadership in thinking has a greater impact with many strategic leaders on your team.

We define strategic thinking as addressing what matters with insight and innovation. Its goal is to create a willingness to address challenging issues and to inspire people to use their imaginations as they envision many possibilities, turning the best ones into realities.

While setting strategy may be the responsibility of senior management, we FIRMLY believe and readily share an important idea: strategic thinking and leadership need to happen throughout any organization.

Here’s how we contrast these two important business functions.

Strategy involves:

  • Setting the organizational direction
  • A subset of people with responsibility for determining it
  • Specific time windows where it is reviewed and determined

Strategic Thinking & Leadership involves:

  • Shaping & implementing the strategic direction
  • Engaging everyone in the organization to participate
  • Daily attention and focus

What Is Strategic Thinking in Leadership?

Using the three-part strategic thinking definition and four important elements of strategic leadership, here is the workshop’s content:

Strategic Thinking Focuses on What Matters

Strategic Thinking Depends on Insights

Strategic Thinking Leads to Innovation

Leading Strategically

Quick Decision Making

Engaging Employees

Anticipating Forward-Looking Change

Delivering Consistent Performance

We conclude the workshop with an important idea: ultimately, all you can control is the integrity of your effort. That, in many ways, is your one job. Everything else springs from this. – Mike Brown


Engage Stakeholders & Improve Results

FREE Download: “Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact”

Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-Book

Leaders need high-impact ways to develop employees that can provide input into strategy and then turn it into results. This Brainzooming mini-book, “Results – Creating Strategic Impact” unveils ten proven lessons leaders can use to boost collaboration, meaningful strategic conversations, and results.

Download this free, action-focused mini-book to:

  • Learn smart ways to separate strategic opportunities from the daily noise of business
  • Increase focus for your team with productive strategy questions everyone can use
  • Actively engage stakeholders in strategy AND implementation success

Download Your FREE Results!!! Creating Strategic Impact Mini-book

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