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

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Confession: I love The Nutcracker. Since the very first production I saw, in 19-mumble-mumble, I’ve been under its spell, all incarnations included. (Even the weird film version (affiliate link), which boasted as its production designer none other than the great Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of beloved kids’ lit like Where the Wild Things Are. affiliate link)

It occurred to me a couple of months ago that my four-year-old niece was probably now old enough to appreciate it. So I got us a pair of front-row tickets, and told her about the show: the dancing! The costumes! Sugarplum fairies! Mice having sword fights with toy soldiers! As I talked, her jaw dropped, her eyes got bigger and bigger, and I thought she would jump out of her skin with excitement. She was so on board with it. Anytime it came up in conversation, she jumped up and down a little. She couldn’t wait.

Photo by oldskool photography on Unsplash

Then, the night before the big event, she sought out my mom, worriedly.

“Grandma, I just don’t think I can go,” she said.

Shocked, my mom asked her why.

“Well…I don’t know very much at all! I only know this and this,” she said, demonstrating the two ballet moves she’s probably learned from watching Peppa Pig, or some such. So dawned the realization that my niece thought she would have to perform the ballet. She was, of course, immediately reassured that no, she wouldn’t be expected to perform–she needed only to sit and enjoy the show.

What pressure! How she must have sweated over it in the weeks leading up to that day!

And it was entirely self-imposed.

How many times has each of us done that — taken on overwhelming tasks because we think it’s expected of us? How often do we assume that agreeing to a pleasurable thing also means agreeing to something arduously stressful? And perhaps worst of all, how often do we say no to a fantastic opportunity because we assume that it will involve something arduously stressful?

The answer, of course, is to clarify. Speak up. Ask for details. Check in with yourself. We get so busy, particularly toward the end of the year, that it’s easy to assume. (And I think we all know what happens when we assume. If you don’t, feel free to email me and I can fill you in.)

Self-imposed expectations are a tough nut to crack. Give yourself and others the gift of clear and managed expectations, so you can sit back and enjoy the show. – Emma Alvarez Gibson


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Emma here. You may remember me as the woman who so disliked conferences that Mike felt compelled to write a blog post for her. And that’s okay if you do — but you should know that I no longer dislike them. Along with all 23 of those helpful tips for introverts in that post, what helped was attending the right conferences. Who knew? The last one I went to was so good I was already looking forward to the following year. (I’m enthusiastic by nature, but that was a new experience.)

So yes, I’ve come around. In fact, I’ve already got a conference lined up for the first part of January, and it’s one that sounds so good I want to tell people about it ahead of time.


First of all, it’s a creativity and innovation conference, and as you know that’s kind of our jam here at Brainzooming. Secondly, the sessions and speakers are impressive (hello, Disney / NASA JPL / Game of Thrones / Westworld / Ewan McGregor and many others). Third, it’s for professionals across industries and from around the world. Fourth: it’s in Ojai, CA, which is a beautiful, quirky, and deeply peaceful place to stay. Fifth, I love this aspect, from the website: This event provides a point in time for attendees to disconnect from a heavily tech-saturated world, disrupt routine habits and patterns of thought and discover new insights to catalyze greater creativity and innovation in their professional and personal lives.

Obviously, with all of that going for it, it’s called EPIC, and I would love to see you there. It’s happening January 10-12, with an optional day trip on the 13th to the Channel Islands.
You’ll want to take advantage of the Brainzooming Community discount rate of $749 — that’s a $500 discount, and includes meals except Friday night dinner. To grab that rate, go to www.epicsummit.com/register and use promo code EPICBRAINZOOMING19.

For the full scoop, go to www.epicsummit.com.

If you decide to go, drop me a line! I’d love to meet up with you.  – Emma Alvarez Gibson

Download Your FREE eBook! Disrupting Thinking - 13 Exercises to Imagine Disrupting Your Brand


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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.”

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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


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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

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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

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