Following up Woody Bendle’s innovation rant on  “best practices,” try this alternative approach: instead of cataloging industry best practices in search of new, innovative ideas, look at how another organization with a comparable situation outside your industry would tackle what you’re trying to improve.

We call this Brainzooming strategic thinking exercise, “What’s It Like?”

Strategy Planning with What's It Like?


I was speaking to someone who worked at a hospital during a graduate school class where I was presenting. She bemoaned a recent strategy planning session at her hospital. She said it was clear the doctors didn’t want to be there, the staff was bored, and the strategy planning session ended with no new future-looking ideas surfacing.

To give her a sense of how the “What’s It Like” strategic thinking exercise might have completely changed the dynamics of the hospital’s strategy planning session, I asked her to describe the hospital situation. We generalized the five characteristics she named, describing the hospital as focused on:

  • Fixing things
  • Taking care of customers
  • Employing people
  • Providing opportunities for learning
  • Making money

Reviewing the list for a comparable organization, we decided all five of the characteristics matched The Home Depot.

With the new perspective The Home Depot supplied, we started brainstorming. Ideas began flowing, including the idea of the hospital offering do-it-yourself surgery. While she scoffed at the idea, I pointed out people twenty years earlier would have said no patient would ever perform medical tests. Now, however, think about how many personal medical tests line the shelves at drugstores. Quite frankly, I can see some version of do-it-yourself surgery (assisted with robotics) becoming common within twenty years, even though it was so future-looking as to be laughable within the past few years.

New, Innovative Ideas from Outside Your Industry

What’s It Like is as simple a strategic thinking exercise to use as the hospital vs. The Home Depot brainstorming example demonstrates:

  • Pick your business opportunity or challenge
  • List a variety of characteristics of your business opportunity or challenge, potentially generalizing the characteristics
  • Select an organization facing a comparable situation
  • Brainstorm how the other organization, given its different view of your organization’s situation, would approach things

With What’s It Like, you get away from the idea of industry best practices, and allow yourself to think of completely new, innovative ideas for your organization no one in your industry is practicing! - Mike Brown


If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the free Brainzooming email updates.

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your strategy and implementation efforts.