Transcript of How to Reliably Generate Big Ideas for Your Business
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John Jantsch: Everybody wants that next big idea for your business, but sitting down and thinking up big ideas is kind of a really great way to freeze your brain up. In this week’s episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I speak with Mike Brown. He is the author of Idea Magnets, and presents, really, a great framework for asking questions that lead to those big ideas, check it out.
This episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is brought to you by Asana, a work management software tool that we use to run pretty much everything in our business. All of our meetings, all of our product launches, all of our tasks. I’m going to show you how you can try it for free a little later.
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch and my guest today is Mike Brown founder of The Brainzooming Group and author of a book we’re going to talk about today called Idea Magnets. So welcome, Mike.
Mike Brown: Thank you, John, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and your listeners.
John Jantsch: I interview people all over the world, but today I’m interviewing somebody across town.
Mike Brown: Yeah, we’re close, not too far away.
John Jantsch: Which is always fun. So, let’s start…you know, brainzooming is not an everyday name, in fact you’ve trademarked it. So what does brainzooming actually mean and do?
Mike Brown: Well, brainzooming, the name is probably about 10 years old. Came out of some work I was doing in the corporate world of trying to help people who weren’t strategists be better strategists. And not marketers be better marketers. We’d surround them with exercises and tools, and we were actually doing a session for a class at Baker University, which is in the area. And the teacher wanted four or five exercises within the course of 50 minutes. I was sitting at my desk, and I didn’t really have a name for what we were doing. I was thinking about trying to get all that done, and I just thought, you know, at that point it’s not even brainstorming, it’s brainzooming.
I looked up and said, “Thank you, God. That may be a name.” And googled it, and it was available, I had the URL that night. Basically, it’s really from that start was how you provide structure for people so that when they look at strategic planning, or they look at trying to innovate, that can be a pretty daunting task, but when you give them structure, and frameworks, all of a sudden they can apply what they know about their product, or what they know about their customers, or their markets in a really productive way versus handing somebody a template or a form to fill out and they go, “I don’t know what to put in here.” Started it on the corporate side, and have just started to do it across industries and into nonprofits and educational organizations, community, cities as well.
John Jantsch: Do you sometimes find that it’s kind of hard to explain to people what it is you’re selling unless they’ve really experienced the problem?
Mike Brown: Every time, John. Every time. Particularly if they’re coming to us for strategic planning, so rarely have people ever experienced that where they felt good about it, it’s tough for them to wrap their head around, it could be fun and it could be engaging, and people beyond the senior management team could participate. So we do a lot of things whether that’s workshops or I’m out speaking, or we’ll do community events where people can experience it, and then they go, “Oh, I get it now.” It’s tough to describe for sure.
John Jantsch: Yeah, you’re in one of those categories of business where you’re solving a problem sometimes people don’t know they have.
Mike Brown: Yeah. It’s funny. A couple years ago, I was looking at traffic on our website, and we were getting a ton of hits for a post on fun strategic planning, and nobody is really out talking about fun strategic planning. I’ve discovered over time, if people are out looking for that, and one of our biggest clients, they did a google search for fun strategic planning, and found us. If somebody is looking for that, they’ve already made it way past, “I hate doing strategic planning. I want to get people in.” They know they want something different but typically can’t find anybody who can bring that to life for them. So it’s not only difficult to describe at times, there’s no common category of, “Oh, it’s this demography, and this size company.” It’s a lot more about the leader and their philosophy and what they’re looking to accomplish in the organization.
John Jantsch: So when the book title first came across my desk, Idea Magnet, I’m a marketer I’m thinking, “Oh, this is a way to attract more clients somehow.” Then the subtitle, of course, 7 Strategies for Cultivating and Attracting Creative Business Leaders, made me kind of pause and say, “Okay, so who is this book for then?”
Mike Brown: Yeah, good question. It’s really across almost any business leader, or any leader of an organization where the genesis of it came from, I had a long corporate career, so I was 18, 19 years on the corporate side. I tended to pair up with, particularly for a long stretch, a guy who was just a wildly creative person. He would come up with ideas that you’re just like, “I don’t know how you ever thought of that.” Then I was the person that said, “Okay, let me operationalize that. I’ll figure out how much we can deliver, how we’re going to do it, and carry some of that enthusiasm out to the team.” But I sort of took this role as I’m more the implementer of the big idea.
When I jumped out and started brainzooming eight, nine years ago, I realized I don’t have that person paired up to me anymore, and I had clients looking at me going, “Okay, we want the big ideas from you.” It was … what I did at that time, and I’ve described Idea Magnets almost as a presentation and then a book from the road, I went back and said, “These big creative leaders I’ve worked with over time, what did they do? How did they motivate themselves? How did they energize a team? How did they move this through to implementation?” And really just try to reverse engineer it and say, “That’s not exactly me, but I need to step into that role. What are frameworks? What are tools? What are exercises that can make that happen?” even if that’s not my natural bent.
So that’s where people who are wildly creative, it may not be the first pick for them in a book, because that just comes from them naturally, but I think maybe we all hit those creative dry spots, that could help them. But for somebody who feels like, “Wow, there’s a lot of pressure in business, and we’ve got to grow, we’ve got to do different things.” Ideally, it’s going to be targeted at them where it will be a resource to help them step up into that role and be more successful with it on a more predictable basis.
John Jantsch: Yeah, there’s certainly a lot of people out there, leaders of organizations or departments that probably suffer from that, “I’m just not very creative.” I think part of what you’re saying is that you just don’t have a creative process.
Mike Brown: Exactly. Often when somebody says they’re not creative, they’re thinking about, “I don’t draw, I don’t write, or I don’t make music.” But you say, “Well, what’s your favorite thing to do?”, it’s, “I love to fish.” “Tell me how you fish?” Then they have all kinds of ideas, and hacks, and ways that they’ve discovered. I always say, “There’s your creativity. Apply those same lessons to other things and all of a sudden you’re creative.” So getting to that inspiration in the tools, the process, the structure, it just lights people up that, “Well, I can do this, I can do this predictably.”
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So, and you don’t have to go through these one by one, but anytime somebody comes up with, “Seven strategies for something,” you know, it begs to say, “Okay, explain a few.” So I’ve got them listed out here, but maybe pick your favorite couple that could give people a flavor of what they might find.
Mike Brown: I think number three is attracting opposites is one of my favorites. The heart of that is really that easy to put ourselves into a box and say, “Well, I’m an implementer.” Or, “I come up with ideas. But then I hand them off to somebody else.” The thing that I saw in the Idea Magnets I work with, and continue to meet is they’re both of those things. They come up with ideas, but they know how to implement them. They can generate a bunch of ideas but they can also make really good decisions and prioritize. There was a, since we’re both from Kansas City, there was a billboard a couple years ago in the Waldo area, and it was all these pairings of contrary perspectives, and it was a company saying, “We want all those people.”
I think that’s what Idea Magnets embody is they’re not just one, they’re really good end thinkers and end people in how they approach business. I think another one I really like, again, maybe based on my background is number six, which is implementing for impact. That it isn’t just fine to come up with 20 ideas, or 100 ideas, or 1000 ideas, you’ve got to weed through them and be able to bring them to fruition. Whether that’s a business objective, or a personal objective, or an organization you’re involved with. Ideally, you’re also pulling on number five, which is encouraging other people and their ideas as well.
I’ve always loved that idea of a diverse team, I think you get better thinking and I think you get better implementation. You’re just more successful whether it’s a formal team in an organization, or even if you’re a solopreneur, who are those other business people that you’re surrounding yourself with who can give you a different kind of perspective than you have. That’s two or three that are personal favorites of mine.
John Jantsch: I mean, in some ways, as I hear you describe those, it’s almost like you’re saying these are attributes that you need to develop or these are talents that you need to find in other people. I mean, it’s almost like there’s nobody that’s going to be all seven of these things, I don’t think, but they can work on some of [inaudible].
Mike Brown: Exactly. You’re right at the heart of that, John, that nobody is equally good at all those things, and in some of them you’ll excel at, some of them you’ll rely on more directly or more frequently, but you’re working to develop the others. As you said, you’re surrounding yourself with people, whether it’s organizationally, or more informally, that you know you’ve got gaps, but other people can step in and help fill in those gaps and help create success for you, but importantly create success back for them, growth opportunities for them as well.
John Jantsch: So, one that you didn’t touch on, so I’m going to bring up one more. Because I’d love to hear how…your take on how this actually works in a creative leadership role, that’s embodying servant leadership. I’d love to hear how, I think I know what the opposite of that does, but I’d love to hear maybe how you apply that.
Mike Brown: Yeah, I think for a lot of people, I think of sort of the classic command and control leader of somebody’s articulating the direction and the vision, and then everybody follows. I guess I grew up under leaders who were much more open to the idea of we need to collaboratively come up with this vision. You know what? Somebody who’s on the team, even though they may be the most junior person, can help shape that or have an insight that can change that in a material way. You’ve got to be open to that. I think about it as servant leadership and the idea that an idea magnet isn’t in it just for themselves. Yeah, they have personal aspirations, they want to grow, they want to make money, but they realize they’ve got to work with other people and other people are going to help the team, or help the organization be more successful.
We had a video that we were doing just as an example that sort of came to mind. We were doing a video at our corporation, it was the leadership as young kids. None of us who were in senior roles wanted anything to do with it. It was like this could be bad. There was a guy on my staff, he stepped up, he helped write the script. He helped in the casting, and really shaped it like three levels through the organization because he was the person that was inspired by the creative vision. So leaders can use chain of command, but I think they can be so much more effective if they reach beyond organizational ties to the people who really light up with ideas and bring them in no matter where they fit in an organization.
John Jantsch: So a lot of my listeners are solopreneurs, very small businesses. I think when you start talking about things like chain of command and strategic planning, you know, they’re like, “Oh, you’re not talking to me.” How does the idea of an idea magnet apply to that very small solo business.
Mike Brown: Yeah. I think in a couple of ways one is, as I said in Brainzooming, is small business. I have people that I reach out to that are very close, but through social media, or through net working, or just personal connections. Try and surround myself with people who have very different perspectives than I do. So, again, it may not be formal, but it may just be informal of if you’re an entrepreneur, you know it too, it’s tough to just go that road by yourself. You need to be around other people. So I think that’s a way to start to apply that idea of I’m reaching out to other people who can help me along this path. It doesn’t have to be somebody who write me a paycheck too, or giving money for it. It may just be informally as well.
The idea of strategic planning is funny too. Because I actually went through that last week. I had one of my collaborators was putting me through strategic planning because I’ve said, “I can’t plan for myself. I need somebody else’s outside perspective.” It doesn’t have to be, and it shouldn’t be 75, 80 pages of a document, because who’s going to use that? I think it’s in our world using questions and structure. So you’ve thought about your objectives, you’ve thought about your direction and in the world of what we do have had conversations about it, so it becomes sort of almost an oral tradition for the organization. Yeah, strategic planning shouldn’t be scary, it should just be basically saying we’re trying to look ahead, focus on what matters with some insights and some innovation to how we’re doing it.
John Jantsch: I always tell people for me the best part of strategic planning is deciding what not to do. I think that’s the other aspect…it’s really easy to come up with 19 priorities for this quarter.
Mike Brown: Exactly, [crosstalk] right now.
John Jantsch: But whittling it down to three, now that’s a harder job isn’t it?
Mike Brown: Absolutely. Absolutely. We see that when we work with bigger organizations or even just smaller organizations. They’ll come up with the ideas, then they’ll put 90% of them into the next six months, and I always say, “You’re not going to do that. It’s fine to load them up, but be prepared to have those spread out, because we just can’t tackle all that stuff at once.”
John Jantsch: So, I’m going to do to you what…When I go out to speak so often I’ll talk for an hour, and give lots and lots of ideas and inevitably somebody comes up at the end and says, “Okay, that was all really good. But what’s the one thing that if I did that everything would change?” So what’s the one thing in Idea Magnets that you want small business owners to take away?
Mike Brown: There’s questions throughout that book, John, that if you’re trying to come up with bigger ideas, there’s questions that you can use. If there’s ways that you’re trying to think about your business in unexpected ways, maybe a fresh perspective, there’s questions. I think that to me is [inaudible] take away that I’ve learned over the course of a career that really started as a researcher is the power of very targeted questions. I think as an entrepreneur, as a small business person, put together that list of five, six, seven questions that tie to what’s going to be important for you in the year ahead, or the years ahead.
You can keep coming back to those questions in new situations and come up with new ideas, new perspectives. All of us, if we know what the different ways we want to look at our business are and have a set of questions like that, can be tremendously effective.
John Jantsch: Speaking of questions, you’ve got an ebook for our listeners, why don’t you tell us about that?
Mike Brown: Yeah. We’ve got special one, it’s called 49 Idea Magnet Questions for attracting big ideas. I always tell people the worst question you can ask is, or the worst thing you can demand is, “Hey, let’s come up with big ideas.” Because typically people shut down. What we try and do is say instead of big ideas, use big questions that stretch your thinking, stretch your perspective, and the ideas will come and a lot of those will be big. We’ve got this ebook, it’s free, and we’ve got an excerpt of Idea Magnets in that, and specifically for your listeners can get it at ideamagnets.com/dtm, for Duct Tape Marketing, it’s out there, and it’s free. It’s a great start of questions that they can use in the year ahead to improve how they address opportunities, tackle challenges, and maybe stretch themselves and their organizations in new directions.
John Jantsch: Of course, we’ll have as always a link to that in the show notes at Duct Tape Marketing. Tell people where they can find the book, Idea Magnets, and anything about Brainzooming.
Mike Brown: Ideamagnets.com, it’s out on Amazon. You may have to search a little bit, you may get some kitchen magnets, but Idea Magnets is out there, you can also get it at Ideamagnets.com. The Brainzooming side of things, which is [inaudible] strategic planning, innovation is at Brainzooming.com. We’ve got, I don’t think I have as much writing as you, John, but about 2500 blog posts out there, not about how we do stuff, but tools, frameworks, the types of things that show up in Idea Magnets. Where you can focus in and use those to improve your business prospects.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Mike, thanks for joining us, and a lot of times I end this show by saying I hope to run into you out there on the road, but I guess I’ll say, I hope to run into you out there at the grocery store, or the pub, or something.
Mike Brown: Absolutely, John. Thank you so much for the opportunity, I really appreciate it.