About Paul

Hi, I’m Paul.

Brainstormer, professional problem solver, and remarkable marketer.

I’ve spent the past 20 years building marketing, branding, and customer-experience strategy for The Disney Company, the Aramark Corporation, and Starbucks Coffee Company.

I founded Idea Sandbox in 2005 driven by my passion to help others create remarkable ideas. I blend the skills and lessons I’ve learned through the years to build a sandbox – an idea sandbox.

I help brands solve challenges, grow their brand, think-up remarkable ideas, and create innovation.

I’m a master at local store marketing, restaurant marketing, and developing marketing for experience-based brands. Companies that want to beyond simply delivering “service” and want their customers to have an experience.

I live just outside Washington DC in Alexandria, Virginia.

November 2017

Creativity & Magic Secrets Revealed

By | 2017-11-09T20:36:49+00:00 14 November 2017|Categories: create, SandBlog|Tags: , |

We view those blessed with the gift of creativity with awe. Their imaginative ideas and creative problem solving skills surprise us – the way a good magician works.

How did he do that? We’re left amazed and ooo-ing and ahh-ing.

Creative? Me?! I can’t do that! I don’t have that gift.

The good news? That’s just your perception. A mis-perception.

Some people are more creative than others because they let themselves be creative. They work at it. Practice it.

Creativity is a skill you learn like cooking or riding a bike. The more you do it, the better you become.

Oh, and about magicians? They’re aren’t actually magical.

They’re regular folks – like you and me. They’ve simply taken the time to learn and practice things we haven’t, like hiding rabbits in shirt sleeves.

Their tricks are tricks. A series of repeatable steps that, through lots of practice in front of a mirror, create an illusion.

Wake up that kid inside you! Re-kindle your imagination, and strengthen your creativity skills. Before you know it, you’ll be performing amazing feats of problem solving that will delight and amaze your boss, colleagues, friends, family – and most importantly – yourself.

After all, no one really has quarters stored behind their ears.

Creating Ideas: Think The Way You Think

By | 2017-09-06T12:33:26+00:00 14 November 2017|Categories: SandBlog, think|Tags: , , , , , |

Do you sometimes wish you had an easier way to organize or gather your thoughts? Ever been working on a presentation, proposal, or to-do list and didn’t know where to start or where you were going to go? A map would have come in handy in these situations…

Mindmapping (also known as brainwriting or concept mapping) is a technique which allows you to rapidly organize, gather thoughts, as well as lay out a presentation, proposal, to-do list or anything else you need to think through.

What makes mindmapping especially helpful is it allows you to think in the same way your brain organizes information…. allows you to think the way you think.

How do you ‘mindmap?’

The concept is simple – and you can get as fancy as you’d like.
Here are the basics: (I’ll follow along with a relevant example).


  • Grab a sheet of blank paper and a favorite writing instrument.
  • Start with your central idea, problem, or thought in the middle of the page. Write it down…. like below… items we’ll serve for Thanksgiving dinner…


  • Surround your central idea with sub-ideas. Draw lines radiating from the center to your surrounding sub-ideas. To generate your sub-ideas, ask questions about the central such as… How do we do this? What are the key parts? What are the steps?

And then…

  • Use each of these sub-ideas as a central idea and build additional thoughts.


  • Keep building… add ideas as they come to you… It doesn’t matter where… You may come up with new sub-ideas, want to change your central idea…


  • Whoops, don’t want to forget the apple cider and my pies are going to be pumpkin and pecan.
  • Here’s the finished mindmap for Thanksgiving Dinner. This helped me make sure I didn’t forget any items…


You can get as fancy as you’d like… But, you can just as easily mindmap on the back of a napkin as you can with an expensive piece of software… Here are resources to help you learn and do more..
While there are many choices, Idea Sandbox recommends…

Mapping Inner Space: Learning and Teaching Visual Mapping by Nancy Margulies and Nusa Maalx. An awesome resource if you’re just getting started and think you may use mindmapping often. (Once you get started it comes easier and easier to you).

Mindmapping by Joyce Wycoff – Joyce does a great job – taking you from the basics through advanced techniques and applications of mindmapping. “Your personal guide to exploring creativity and problem-solving.

While there are scores of software titles out there, I’ll make some recommendations for you. (Click titles for link to software site).

  • Mac/PC: PowerPoint by Microsoft – while not my preferred software-based method, nearly all of us have PowerPoint on our computers.
  • Favorite for PC: MindManager by Mindjet – a flexible program designed specifically for mindmapping. It is worth reading and learning how to use this application as you can capture ideas pretty quickly if you know how to use the software. (Also available on Mac).
  • Favorite for Mac: OmniGraffle by The OmniGroup – diagramming application with a very easy to use interface. Not solely for mindmapping, I find it a breeze to use.

No matter how you use or draw them, I hope you enjoy this technique and you find it useful.

To Be Creative, Keep Feeding Your Mind

By | 2017-11-07T09:33:02+00:00 7 November 2017|Categories: create, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , |

To be and stay creative, keep feeding your mind new ideas and information. Try new things. Visit new places; different parts of the world. Take a different route home from work. Learn a new language. Read Wikipedia entries about topics you know nothing about. Meet and talk to people with different interests and backgrounds.

When you add new knowledge and ideas to your brain you create new neural connections. Our brains are the original world wide web.

The more you expose yourself to different ways of doing things, the more resources you have to solve your own challenges. And, as a bonus, these are the very same behaviors believed to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

September 2017

Don’t Blame The Boomerang When It Doesn’t Return

By | 2017-09-29T14:52:34+00:00 19 September 2017|Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

When I was six or seven years old, my grandfather took a trip to Australia and brought me back a boomerang. While I thought it was the coolest thing, no matter how much I practiced throwing it, it would never come back.

A non-returning boomerang was exasperating since that is the whole purpose of a boomerang. Right?

However, if I were to fill a field with boomerang beginners who lacked instruction, there is an excellent chance we’d come to the collective conclusion that boomerangs don’t work… Could we all be bad at the process? It must be a gimmick, like X-Ray Vision Glasses.

Of course, we could immediately disapprove our theory with a demonstration by a skilled boomerang thrower. And, once shown the technique, we could all be successful.

This boomerang story comes to mind each time someone complains that brainstorming doesn’t work. And each time someone quotes the research* indicating brainstorming doesn’t work.

The research is easy to believe. We all have been in mind-numbing “brainstorming” sessions that waste time and lack innovative output.

But, this too is an example of blaming the device when we’re bad at the process.

I agree, to brainstorm in a group, using only the basic 4-rules created by Alex Osborn in 1939, is not the most efficient way to generate ideas. And, if this is the process you or your team is using – well, it is no wonder you think it sucks.

If you’re frustrated with the lack of great ideas at your company, learn how to lead structured idea generation sessions. Put in place a contemporary innovation process, or hire an expert to help.

Even as a little kid, I knew it wasn’t the boomerang, but my technique.

Don’t let inadequate brainstorming methods be your excuse for not trying effective methods. Don’t let the frustration of poor form cheat you, your team, or your company from creating remarkable ideas.

Three Simple Decision-Making Tools

By | 2017-09-18T23:05:44+00:00 12 September 2017|Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , , , |

We make decisions all the time. Big ones, small ones, easy and challenging. Making the right choice can be obvious, and sometimes it requires time invested in thought. Luckily we have simple tools to help.

(1) Pro & Con

First, the basic Pro and Con list. A list of the good and bad aspects of a particular choice.

If listing alone doesn’t help you make the decision, consider a Pro and Con list with scores.

(2) Scored Pro & Con

You can add a numerical weight of importance to your pro/con list. For example, a pro with a weight of 5 is more important than a pro (or con) of 1.

Scoring your list changes it from ‘which side has more thoughts’ to ‘which side is more critical.’ Add up your scores and see which side comes out stronger.

(3) PMI Method

A third way to examine choices is the PMI Method, invented by Edward de Bono. PMI is an acronym for Plus, Minus, Interesting. It takes the Scored Pro & Con a step further by forcing us to think about “what is interesting” about the choice.

  • Plus are the pros. What’s good about the idea.
  • Minus are the cons, the bad points of the idea. And finally,
  • Interesting. What is interesting? What are the possibilities?

This chart is especially handy when brainstorming and you have ideas that are not a pro or a con. Rather, ideas interesting to think about. To calculate your PMI score add up your (Plus) + (Minus) + (Interesting) scores. Items in the “interesting” column can score as a plus or a minus depending on the implication of the thought.

In the example above, the plus score added up to +13, the minus -12, and the interesting column was +3. Added together this idea scores a +4.

While it is easy to think-up why we like or don’t like something, we don’t usually think about it from the perspective of what is interesting about the idea. Using PMI encourages exploration of possibilities that arise from thinking about it from three directions. It enlarges our view of the situation.

How To Deal With Change

By | 2017-09-06T12:25:48+00:00 6 September 2017|Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

It is vexing, despite the fact that change constantly takes place in our lives, at times it can still throw us off-kilter? So what can we do to not let change get the best of us?

The Facts

NEVER: Change is never going to stop. In fact, they say the only constant in life IS change! So we need to get used to it and make the best of it.

SOMETIMES: While you can’t always control change, you can often change the outcome. By anticipating change, you can ride the wave versus letting it knock you over. And when it does, I recommend following the wise advice from the band, Chumbawamba…

“I get knocked down,
But I get up again.
You’re never going to keep me down.”

ALWAYS: You are always in control of how you act and react to the outcome of change. In fact, the only thing in life you can truly control is you!

More Advice About Change…

Check out this terrific quote by Jean-Paul Sartre…

“Freedom is what you do
with what’s been done to you.”

Anticipate change. Look for signs that change may be on the way so you can be better prepared when it arrives.

Learn to see the upside of change, and make it work in your favor.

Know the difference between things you can affect and the change that you have no control over. You’ve probably heard the phrase:

“Grant me patience to bear the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

Sometimes change simply requires understanding “It is what it is,” and moving on. Acceptance and understanding can take you further than waiting for things to change back.

Finally, don’t forget the way things were. As change keeps ticking, what was considered old often recycles as new again.

Project Stuck? Try Using A “Black Box.”

By | 2017-09-10T18:44:23+00:00 5 September 2017|Categories: SandBlog, think|Tags: , , , |

When a scientist or engineer designs a new process, they run into many unknowns. You can expect that when creating something from scratch. However, they could have so many unknowns, if they tried to solve each as they occurred, they’d get mired in minutia and never finish the project.

To deal with these sticky spots, they put each unknown into a “black box.” The box serves as a placeholder for what they’re missing. They assume what comes out of the black box is what they need to continue the path in the process. This allows them to progress without getting distracted.

Black Box Diagram

They will come back to their black boxes later and figure them out, or find someone who can.

The black box technique can come in handy when us non-scientists get stuck on something.

For example, when working on your marketing plan, you know you should include a social media strategy. But, you don’t know much about social media or the right tactics.

Your lack of knowledge may cause you to:

  • (a) omit this as a strategy, or
  • (b) head off to immediately become a social media expert.

If (a): You may miss a potentially critical strategy.
If (b): You’ve lost focus and spun off into a tangent.

Either way, your plan may suffer.

Instead, insert a black box to represent your social media strategy. Continue with the rest of your plan, and return later to add the missing details.

Next time you get stuck on an idea, try using black boxes. Don’t let a temporary lack of information hold you back.

August 2017

Idea Generation: Great Ideas Are Looking Up

By | 2017-08-28T09:47:57+00:00 22 August 2017|Categories: SandBlog, think|Tags: , , , , |

Ever wonder why great ideas seem to pop into your head at the strangest (and sometimes inopportune) times? Like when you’re… falling asleep, in the shower, or exercising? It’s not a coincidence. These are times when your body is switched to autopilot, and your conscious mind doesn’t need to labor to perform these routine tasks. So the mind creatively wanders and processes other stuff. Processes thoughts and problems that have been churning in the ‘back of your mind.’

But, what if you could harness this as a skill and use it at will?

It’s probably not realistic to think you’ll be able to tell your boss…

“I just finished lunch and will have some BIG ideas for you later this afternoon! I’ve got to try to fall asleep first!”

So if a midday nap or at-work shower isn’t practical, what else could you do to allow your mind to creatively wonder? Idea Sandbox recommends:

Cloud Gazing


Yep, that’s right. The same techniques you used when you were a kid (i.e. looking up at clouds, inspired by their formations, and seeing shapes… ducks, bunnies, and bears) can be used to arouse great ideas.

So how does it work?

The secret to this technique is to allow your mind to drift – like the clouds – versus concentrating. Take a 15 to 30-minute recess from your project. Get outside, or at least to a big window – and gaze. Toss your (problem, opportunity, challenge) out to the clouds, relax, let your mind wander, and see what forms.

I can’t guarantee every time that the new bottle design you need will reveal itself in cloud shapes. Or that forming clouds will definitely inspire the new customer communication strategy you’re seeking. However, I can assure that you’ll be a bit more relaxed, energized, and focused when you return to your desk.

I hope you give Cloud Gazing a try and see if it works for you. Good luck! And remember… only use your new Cloud Gazing powers to do good!

Delight Your Customers: Be a Sock-Knocker-Offer

By | 2017-08-19T19:45:52+00:00 19 August 2017|Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

Have you ever wished someone… Or perhaps someone has offered you the words of encouragement… “Knock their socks off!”

It means to wow or amaze someone. To go beyond what is expected.

The saying originates from boxing – when you bop your opponent so hard, you nearly knock them out of their socks.

No Socks
Unfortunately – and far too often – experiences are delivered short of expectations.

  • The meal was tasty, but the service was slow.
  • The camera takes great pictures, but the battery doesn’t last very long.
  • I’m having trouble with my credit card – luckily they have a 24-hour service number. When I called it, the recording said it would be a 32-minute wait.

I’m sure you have many similar examples.

As a customer – we love to have our socks knocked off. And, the good news as a marketer, business owner, or customer experience manager is that customers rarely expect it.

However, fixing the restaurant service, creating a battery power system that works, or properly staffing customer hotlines is NOT knocking someone’s socks off. Those actions are simply doing your job… Delivering what you’re supposed to deliver.
Sock-knocking-offing goes beyond.

To knock their socks off, you provide more than the required “AND” – you go beyond with two or three ANDs.

  • The food was great, AND the service was very friendly, AND they knew it was our anniversary AND treated us to free wine and a dessert.
  • With this camera, it is easy to take great pictures, AND the battery lasts forever, AND it came with a cleaning kit and case.
  • The credit card company has a hotline, AND it is open 24-hours, AND you immediately reach a human.
    Here… try to complete the below sentence, and see for yourself.

“We provide ________________ AND ________________, the full experience for our customers. We don’t stop there, however… AND we ________________. That’s how we knock their socks off.”

Is your company being a sock-knocker-offer? Are you doing both part one AND part two – the necessary requirements? Do you go beyond with more than one AND?

Making Better Decisions: The Better Of Many Greats

By | 2017-08-14T13:14:32+00:00 14 August 2017|Categories: SandBlog, solve|

When it comes to the big choices we make – which house to live in, which job to take, which baby name to pick – you never want to be forced to choose “the lesser two evils.” To be forced to pick between two unattractive options. This is a terrible way to have to make a decision.

The BEST way to make decisions is to struggle to pick which of the great ideas is the best. To choose among…

The Better of Many Greats

The way to achieve this is to generate more ideas.

In our faster-than-ever-paced world, we’re often too impatient to invest time in coming up with anything more than a final solution. We think until we come up with a “good enough” idea.

The more ideas, the better the selection. Some idea won’t be feasible. Some won’t be attractive.

And, while life doesn’t always give us a host of glorious options when we have the opportunity to invest some time thinking up and generating ideas – we should.