Creating a Stronger Strategic Perspective
Mike Brown is a frequent keynote presenter and facilitator in marketing best practices, innovation, and strategic thinking.
Specific topics covered include:
Creative Instigation (Growing your own creative talents and the talents of those on your team.)
Cultivating a Strategic Business Perspective (Approaches to challenge strategic thinking stereotypes and create
stronger strategic alignment & results.)
Taking the NO Out of InNOvation (Perspectives & techniques to awaken the creativity in each of us.)
Branding Fundamentals (Branding lessons for putting businesses, departments, and projects back on track.)
He shares his extensive experience through daily articles on his website, BrainZooming.blogspot.com. Additionally, he’s
written a new e-book called “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is co-authoring and illustrating an upcoming book
titled “Creative Instigation” about spurring creativity in yourself and your team.
His personal branding approach has been highlighted in “Fast Company” magazine and his material has been featured in
publications for the Transportation Marketing & Communications Association, Frost & Sullivan, and the Business
Mike is Vice President – Market Strategy for YRC Worldwide, a Fortune 500 transportation & logistics company based in
Overland Park, KS where he leads the research, business intelligence, interactive strategy, and e-commerce areas.
Contact Information - Mike Brown: firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily Innovation & Strategy Blog: http://brainzooming.blogspot.com
Why is there a Strategic Thinking gap?
CEO’s clearly want to spend more time (along with their senior teams) on strategic thinking and planning, yet it’s not
happening very often. Among the possible reasons:
Something is missing - the traditional views (or stereotypes) of strategic planning don't lend themselves to people
wanting to invest time in the activity.
Somebody is missing - strategic thinking is frequently viewed as the purview of senior management, cutting off the
diversity of external & internal perspectives needed for effective thinking.
Outcomes are missing - strategic sessions that may be viewed (at best) as interesting conversation, aren't translated
into clear outcomes that lead to results.
This gap creates an opportunity for business professionals to enhance their strategic thinking skills to contribute to
What is Strategic Thinking? Addressing Things that Matter with Insight & Innovation.
“Driving a Stronger Strategic Perspective” 1 2008, Mike Brown
What Successful Strategic Thinking Entails
Strategic Thinking’s Goal - Create a willingness to attack challenging issues and to get people using their
imaginations to envision lots of new possibilities, making the best ones into realities.
Understanding the Overall Business and Direction – Strategic thinking should encompass all of these:
Creating growth Managing costs Building momentum
Uncovering surprising Avoiding “giant meteors” for Refining and/or expanding
opportunities the business metrics
Maintaining competitiveness Addressing key issues across
Developing brand strategy all areas of the business
Answers to the following will help focus strategic thinking on what matters to the business:
What’s important to us - past, present, and future?
What have we been trying to accomplish?
What are we trying to accomplish now and in the future?
There Are Various Strategic Viewpoints in a Business - What’s strategic differs on whether your viewpoint is
company-wide, departmental, functional, or personal.
Relevant Insights are Vital - The strategic thinking process should start with relevant insights. These come from
putting information into context - not simply reporting numbers or even changes in numbers. A key is combining &
analyzing diverse information from various sources, identifying relationships that can lead to dramatic impacts.
Consider Lots of Possibilities - One of the best approaches to project future events is to consider multiple
perspectives and think through a full range of possibilities that may develop.
“ . . . by pitting multiple scenarios of the future against one another and leaving many different
doors open, you can prepare yourself for a future that is inherently unpredictable.
Brainstorming pays off. And the more possibilities you can entertain, the less likely you are to
be blindsided.” - Peter Coy and Neil Gross, Business Week, August 30, 1999
Awakening Strategic Thinking
Bringing Together Diverse Perspectives – Awakening strategic thinking in Experience
business depends on having the right mix of people - balancing solid business
experience, broad functional knowledge, and dynamic creative energy within a
Take Time to Think – Great strategic thinking flows from the right perspective. It Thinking
takes time to generate a lot of possibilities, to narrow focus to the best ones, and Creative Functional
then to develop & implement them. Energy Knowledge
The Right Setting - To spur strategic thinking, it helps to create an environment that allows people to selectively turn
off their conventional wisdom and functional knowledge, letting new possibilities emerge to accomplish their goals.
“Driving a Stronger Strategic Perspective” 2 2008, Mike Brown
Use the Rules & Approaches below for effective strategic thinking in its initial stages:
Say what comes to mind – don’t self-censor or censor others. Emphasize quantity.
Use fast, furious, & short brainstorming spurts. Invest your time looking at an issue from multiple perspectives in
short time periods, rather than one longer exercise from a single view.
Set a demanding goal for the number of ideas, and then do 10 more minutes & 40 more ideas.
Say all your ideas aloud. Write them all down on sticky notes with markers; this makes it easier to select,
combine, & prioritize ideas.
Google: Edward De Bono
Strategic Thinking Exercises
Don’t start with a blank piece of paper – use question-based techniques & tools to increase strategic business impacts.
“Who Are Our Competitors?” – Not all future (or even current) competitors will look like you.
Step 1 – Have your team answer the following questions relative to the current competitive set:
What benefits do we deliver? If we didn’t deliver them, who else currently would / could?
Who are the niche players today who could grow in prominence? How might they be defining our
business right now?
Step 2 – Work through answers to these questions to force consideration of more non-traditional substitutes:
What if our company never existed – how would customers satisfy their needs?
What if our industry never existed – what alternatives might develop to satisfy customer needs?
Step 3 – Review the results along with current and planned initiatives, asking:
What are we doing today to slow or block the emergence of competitive alternatives?
In what ways might we address the potential threat(s) through:
Introducing new offerings?
Launching counter attacks in niche and emerging competitors’ markets?
Cannibalizing our own position through alternatives before someone else does?
“What Will Have Happened?” – Sorting out potentially big impact trends and issues to focus on the right ones.
Step 1 – Have the team answer the following two questions individually (i.e. ideally in a pre-session exercise):
Suppose we dramatically exceed all of our performance goals three years from now.
What are the three biggest factors that contributed to that outstanding success?
Suppose that in three years we’re out of business. What are the three biggest factors that resulted
in our business failure?
Step 2 – Record the answers to each question identifying the factors senior leadership believes will drive
outstanding success, pose the greatest threat, or both.
Step 3 – Review the results, asking the following questions:
Do the results match up with our stated list of priorities?
Are we investing our time addressing the biggest issues that we’ve identified?
“Driving a Stronger Strategic Perspective” 3 2008, Mike Brown
“Who Else Faces This?” - Go to school on others smarter or better than you are to solve similar challenges.
Step 1 - Identify the characteristics of your situation or challenge.
Step 2 - Ask yourself questions about your situation in order to generalize it:
What is this really trying to accomplish?
How would I describe this situation in 5 – 7 words?
What’s this like in other businesses?
Step 3 – Use the answers from Step 2 to describe your situation / challenge in a generalized fashion.
Step 4 - Identify who else faces a similar situation to your business challenge and how they’re solving it:
Who else faces this?
How are they addressing it?
What would it be like if we addressed it similarly?
Additional Strategic Thinking Questions
“How Could We Transform Things?” – Use Trait Transformation to push the boundaries of your team’s perspective. It’s
a great exercise for generating lots of ideas in a relatively short time.
Step 1 - State your business objective.
Step 2 - On the Trait Transformation sheet in this handout, identify conventional wisdom or the most
prominent attributes of an opportunity / challenge / objective and list them in the left hand
Step 3 - Using your stated objective as the goal, for the shaded cells on the Trait Transformation sheet,
apply the corresponding “transformer” to the characteristic listed in the far left column. The goal
is to change the way you typically view that characteristic. Within 15 minutes, try to get at least
5 ideas for each shaded cell on the sheet.
“Driving a Stronger Strategic Perspective” 4 2008, Mike Brown
Applying Strategic Thinking to Drive Results
Ask fundamental questions to draft a plan – Answering these questions will help create a solid strategic plan:
+ How can we accomplish it? = Strategy & Tactics
What do we want to achieve?
+ How would we quantify success? = Objective
Prioritizing & Developing Ideas – Prioritize ideas, ensure they’re feasible, build a model, make a solid plan &
recommendation, and get started on implementation.
Constructively Challenge Ideas – This is an important step in shaping & prioritizing ideas, since perhaps 8 – 15% of
ideas in a strategic thinking session have real near-term potential. Ask “how” and “what” questions to better understand
What is interesting in business? In life? - Look beyond strengths and weaknesses. Turn minuses into interesting
stuff. What’s fascinating about your foibles? Use a PMIR evaluation to solicit multiple, different perspectives.
Plusses How can you CHANGE these to be EVEN BETTER?
Minuses What’s FASCINATING about these?
Interesting What’s SUPRISING about these? What can you LEARN?
Recommendations What RECOMMENDATIONS would you make?
Use a solid framework to quickly prioritize concepts & ideas – While there aren’t many simple-revolutionary ideas,
they’re naturals to embrace right away. Complex-revolutionary ideas may develop into future sources of competitive
advantage (and they may take longer for competitors to copy).
Near term tactics to Just do it!
Simple pursue if they’re on
The seeds of
Complex Why bother? future competitive
Get Going! - Create an artifact soon to see how an idea might work (and how it might not).
“Driving a Stronger Strategic Perspective” 5 2008, Mike Brown
Make recommendations & clearly present your rationale. Be able to communicate your ideas in multiple ways–
words, numbers, flow charts, pictures, video, music, etc. – finding the most appropriate way for your situation.
Here’s a suggested recommendation memo format:
• Brief background (Your boss is busy & inundated with information.)
• Recommendation (So present your recommendation at the front of a document.)
• Rationale (This addresses the main issue right away & improves clarity, focusing attention on support for your
• Next Actions (Try this approach on your next recommendation – and keep it all to one page!)
Use Whole Brain Metrics – The left side of the brain is analytical and processes quantitative metrics. The right side is
creative and processes images & emotional appeals. Use both types of metrics to measure and convey results.
Quantitative (Left Brain Metrics) Qualitative (Right Brain Metrics)
• Business activity vs. benchmarks • Participant Comments
• Surveys – pre & post event • Plus – Minus – Interesting – Recommendation (PMIR)
• Counts of participants & activity Evaluation
Be a cheerleader for strategic thinking - Pause to celebrate success!!!
Post Session References
http://brainzooming.blogspot.com (Daily Strategy & Innovation Blog)
“Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” by Mike Brown. (Perspectives & techniques to awaken the
creativity in each of us.) To receive a copy of this e-book, email email@example.com.
“75 Cage Rattling Questions” by Dick Whitney & Melissa Giovagnoli, McGraw-Hill, ISBN: 0070700192. (Rich
source of challenging questions to stimulate strategic thinking.)
“Made to Stick” by Chip Heath & Dan Heath, Random House, ISBN-10: 1400064287. (Great insights on the
key elements to incorporate to make your ideas take off and continue to live.)
“?What If!: How to Start a Creative Revolution at Work” by Dave Allan, Matt Kingdon, Kris Murrin, and Daz
Rudkin, Capstone Publishing Limited, ISBN: 1-84112-068-5. (Setting the stage for an innovative culture.)
http://creativeinstigation.blogspot.com (Daily Creativity Blog by Jan Harness)
innovation creativity techniques brainstorming tool
“Driving a Stronger Strategic Perspective” 6 2008, Mike Brown