November 2017

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.

April 2015

Creativity Is More Practice Than Magic

By | 2015-04-15T18:42:45+00:00 16 April 2015|Categories: solve|Tags: , , |

As problem solvers our role is to support companies, clients, and customers by solving their business problems. We’re asked to help drive sales, increase traffic, and build community.

These challenges, and others, are solved through our ability to combine ideas in new and meaningful ways. That’s creativity.

Creativity is sparked by our imagination. Unfortunately, most of us have been conditioned to quell our imagination to pursue lives as “serious adult business professionals.” Deep inside, unheard and hidden lies that imaginative kid who used to ask, “Why not?”

The few “chosen ones” that are creative are viewed with awe like a master magician… Their ability to pull a tagline out of a hat leaves us in ooo-ing and ahh-ing, with golf-claps of delight.

Creative? Me?! I can’t do that! *Gulp*

The good news?

That’s just your perception. A misperception.

That kid is still in there. We need to remember how to play. Moreover, creativity is a skill you learn – like cooking or riding a bike. The more you do it, the better you become.
And the magician?

They aren’t actually magic. They’re regular folks… like you and me. They’ve simply taken the time to learn things we haven’t… Like, how to stuff and hide a rabbit up a shirt sleeve.

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

Check out books and sites like Idea Sandbox for tips and techniques designed to 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, we don’t actually have quarters hidden behind our ears.

August 2014

Creative Problem Solving To Be Innovative

By | 2014-08-25T11:38:23+00:00 25 August 2014|Categories: SandBlog|Tags: |

Whenever we have a challenge – a client problem, trying to generate a new idea, developing strategy – we rely on the key steps below to solve our problem, creatively. We use this creative problem solving process to create ideas that we hope become an innovation.

  1. Stay Informed -Stay Informed of your own business, of your customers, of your industry, of your competitors.
  2. Problem Recognition – Problem Recognition is critical. It is the ability to notice that change is about to take place.
  3. Problem Identification – Once you realize you’ve got a problem the next step is to determine the cause of an issue. Identifying the root cause of a problem.
  4. Brainstorming – Idea generation. Thinking up new ideas.
  5. Decision Making – The process of reviewing all of the ideas generated and measuring them against the objectives of what you’re trying to solve.
  6. Plan Crafting – Writing your planned approach. This is the step where it all comes together.
  7. Be The Champion – Ideas – especially new or those perceived as risky – need champions. Ambassadors to share the benefits of testing and implementing.
  8. Implement – Implementation is where all the pre-work comes together and action is taken.
  9. Return to Stay Informed

The diagram below shows the key steps in the problem solving process. Click on a category to be linked to articles found on the Idea Sandbox website.

Creative Problem Solving

Stay Informed Problem Recognition Problem Identification Implement Brainstorming Be The Champion Plan Crafting Decision Making

We think you’ll find this process helpful for your organization as well.

December 2012

Innovation Is A Phenomenon, Not A Strategy

By | 2017-08-21T16:16:17+00:00 12 December 2012|Categories: create, Innovation, Sand for Your Inbox, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , |

Innovation isn’t something you do; it is something that happens – a result. To be “innovative”, you have to focus on the things that create that result, not the result itself.

We can’t directly control what is considered innovative no more than a director can guarantee their movie will be Oscar Award-winning or an ad agency can get their video to go viral. But, we can do the things that typically lead to winning an Oscar or going viral. A great script, a great cast, great directing, great cinematography, an amazing score, great effects, clever editing, remarkability, etc.

So is it with innovation. If we stop focusing on the result, we can focus on the things that go into “being” innovative and make sure we get them right.

So, what are these things? They are what I call the practical steps to innovation. A flow and process that will make sure you’re doing the things that lead to developing innovations.

Monitor → Notice → Define → Generate → Decide →
Plan → Champion → Implement → Monitor (again)
This process is a chain. An assembly line, where the output of one process is sent to the next… The reason many companies fail at being innovative is because they’re either skipping a step or doing a poor job one of the process stages. And we know any chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Steps

Monitor

Keeping an eye on your business horizon. Continually monitor your company, the competition, your industry, and related industries. Consumer insights, trend reports, industry overseas. All this is your raw data.

Notice Situation

You don’t monitor only for the sake of monitoring. Try to spot changes, shifts, indicators, and emerging trends. News of relevant upcoming technology or report of a change in consumer preferences should get you excited and alert. This is making meaning of all the data.

Define Objectives

When you notice a change, problem or opportunity, you should put it in perspective of what it means to you.

Generate Ideas

Using the objectives defined above, pick existing solutions or generate new ideas to meet the goals.

Decide On Solution

Hopefully, you’ve got at least three options generated above. Choose which best satisfies the objective.

Craft Your Plan

Write down the milestones, actions, and tasks as well as the leads and budgets needed to successfully carry out the solution.

Be the Champion

“Ideas are only as fragile the backbone behind them.” You’ve got to create a culture where different and novel isn’t considered scary or too risky. (Else your big ideas get whittled down to wimpy improvements). You’ve got to guide these innovative ideas through to funding, support, and implementation.

Implement

I know it sounds obvious… but this is doing it. And, doing it properly. Implementing is also about sticking with a project or program and seeing it through. Don’t let the lack of patience be misinterpreted as lack of success. Too often, we don’t see an overnight result and declare it a failure.

Monitor (again)

Now that you’ve got a program going, you need to add it to the things you’re tracking. Sometimes you’ll notice you need to course correct. That’s great – monitoring will allow you to make those minor adjustments versus sitting back and finding out that you’re not successful, and it’s too late to do anything about it.

To Put Too Fine A Point On It

These ideas need to go beyond creating an improvement – that is simply making something better. They need to be different. They also need to be more than invention – simply creating something. Innovation is better and novel. Innovation is remarkable – literally worth being remarked about.

By following each step you: see changes as they come proactively move to action; build and implement a plan around an idea that is different, better, novel and remarkable.

While declaring something an innovation is ultimately up to the audience, in using this flow, you will have performed all the right steps to generate the right conditions to create an innovation.

August 2012

Tips To Be More Creative And Better At Problem Solving

By | 2012-08-27T14:18:11+00:00 27 August 2012|Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , , |

I hope your week is off to a great start. I thought you might like to read two recent interviews featuring Idea Sandbox and our approach to creativity and problem solving. They were conducted just a few weeks ago. I hope you’ll be able to take a few tips from these articles to put them to use yourself.

Creative Practice Logo
Kira

The first was hosted by Kira Campo from The Creative Practice. Her calling is to help activate creating thinking skills in others.

Kira hosts a series where she highlights some of the ways creative practice can impact professional practices.

Since Idea Sandbox is all about being more creative, this was an easy interview!

Check it out here:
Practice Profile: Paul Williams

Among other things, I share tips on remembering ideas, and how farming methods helped an ad agency fix a problem.

While you’re visiting Creative Practice, poke around and explore Kira’s site. She’s got some great content. Kira’s handle on Twitter is @T_C_P

The second interview was conducted by Emily Wenstrom at Creative Juicer as part of her Creative Careerist series.

Creative Juicer Logo
Emily

Emily explores the creative process in art and career. She interviews successful creatives about what their work looks like, and their own creative process.

Here’s the article:
Creative Careerist: Paul Williams

Among other tips, I shared with Emily the “board of directors” I’ve assembled to help think-up ideas, as well as thoughts on how I get myself unstuck, creatively.

Emily’s site is full of great reads specializing in creativity and writing. Find her on Twitter: @EmilyWenstrom

Big thanks to Kira and Emily for being interested enough in Idea Sandbox to warrant conducting an interview. It is an honor.

November 2011

Difference Between Artistic & Creative Ability

By | 2011-11-20T19:16:24+00:00 21 November 2011|Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , |

Sometimes we confuse artistic ability with creativity.

If I can’t paint or draw, I’m not creative.

Artistic ability includes skills and talent to create fine works of art: painting, drawing, sculpting, musical composition, etc.

Creativity ability is the skill and talent to use our imagination to create and solve.

A better artist is creative. But, you don’t have to be an artist to be creative.

Brainstorming Icon

We’re creative all the time and don’t realize it.

  • When mom or dad ad-libs lunch for the kids, pulling together something yummy when it seemed there were no ingredients in the fridge.
  • When the radio announces traffic is stopped on our route home and we figure out a route taking the back roads home.
  • When the company Christmas Party invitation had a typo and you added the missing punctuation with a Sharpie – and no one knew the difference.

Each of these examples required use of imagination and experience to apply a creative solution to a problem or challenge.

We’ve got to stop selling ourselves short. We artificially hold ourselves back by giving up on imaginative thinking because we’re not portrait artists.

What’s cool, when you let yourself be creative… the more you think and act creatively, the more creative you become. Like exercising muscles, the more you use them, the stronger they become.

Resolve to yourself… Flip that switch in your mind about the way you think of yourself… beginning right now, and when you finish reading this article – to simply “be” more creative.

If you want a bit more guidance, check out the following books…


Aha! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas
by Jordan Ayan

101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques: The Handbook of New Ideas for Business
by James Higgins

June 2011

Better Brainstorming Mad Lib

By | 2011-06-10T11:20:51+00:00 10 June 2011|Categories: create, SandBlog, think|Tags: , , , |

Leonard Stern, the inventor of the “World’s Greatest Word Game” Mad Libs, passed away today at the age of 88.

In his honor, I’ve created an “Better Brainstorming” Mad Lib.

Mad Libs – as a creativity tool – always provided immediate benefits of being creative and imaginative. I loved that about Mad Libs. The more creative you were with your words, the better the pay-off with the final story.

Download

Download this Brainstorming Mad Lib and play at the office! [PDF, 228kb]

Background

Mad Libs was a fun part of growing up. It was a treat mom would buy to help pass time while we were taking family road trip vacations.

To think up the silliest (and most gross) nouns, verbs, and adjectives would always create explosions of laughter.

Today’s New York Times story reports how Stern, a writer for TV comedy shows in the 50s came up with the idea working with Price.

Mad Libs was conceived in 1953, when Mr. Stern was writing a script for “The Honeymooners.” As he recounted in interviews afterward, he was casting about for a particular word. His friend Roger Price, a humor writer, happened by.

“I need an adjective,” Mr. Stern said.

Mr. Price obligingly supplied two: “clumsy” and “naked.”

Mr. Stern laughed out loud. The word was intended to describe the nose of Ralph Kramden’s boss.

December 2010

The Person With The Best Imagination Wins

By | 2010-12-03T10:36:22+00:00 1 December 2010|Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , , |

Einstein once said, “imagination is better than knowledge.” It is more important to see possibilities than to know the facts.

Dan Roam, in his book Unfolding the Napkin, wrote:

“Problems don’t get solved by the smartest or the fastest or the strongest; they get solved by the one who sees the possibilities.”

Dan also added…

“Yes, we need to have the intelligence to pick the best option; yes, we need the speed to get it done on time; yes, we need the strength to make it happen and stay on course. But the hardest part of all – finding the solution – depends only on our ability to see what’s in front of us and imagine as many ways as we can to deal with it.”

The above images, from Dan’s book, inspired this post.

The skinny, smart kid used to get sand kicked in his face by the big, strong hunk. But, the smart kid has the ability to imagine what the lunk-head can’t. As you can see – creative-pants found away around the wall instead of trying to crash it down.

Here are some ways you can be more of a creative pants…

9 Tips To Improve Your Imagination

  1. Believe it can be done. – Allow the impossible to be possible – just for a few minutes.
  2. Get in the habit of thinking-up ideas. – As with nearly everything in life, you get better at it with practice. We give up too soon sometimes hoping for an instant solution. Rarely do great things come instantly.
  3. Keep an idea journal. – Don’t lose your ideas, write ’em down. Then, later on, review these ideas. Don’t just write them down – make a habit of returning to them and reviewing them.
  4. Look for better ways to do things. – Make a habit of thinking-up ways to “plus” things, ideas, products, systems… From the belt system at the grocery store to raking leaves… Keep your wheels turning. Is there a way to add-value in the projects you work on. How they depart your desk in a better when then they arrived?
  5. See problems as opportunity. – We can get hung-up on the word ‘problem.’ Problems are perceived as impenetrable walls – something that gets you stuck. (Like the stick figure above). Assume a problem is a positive challenge that, with enough poking around, has a solution.
  6. Relax – Allow yourself to daydream. To think up goofy ideas. Lighten up. The more you relax, the more access you get to your subconscious.
  7. Think Young – Be playful. Be a kid again. Don’t do this all day of every day, but at least once day.
  8. Be Curious – Think in the world of possible. Start sentences with: “Could this…” and “What if…” and “Let’s try…”
  9. Inspire You – Move. Go somewhere else. Do something physical. Listen to music.
Illustrations by Dan Roam, found in his book “Unfolding the Napkin: The Hands-On Method for Solving Complex Problems with Simple Pictures.” (The sand-kicking cartoon is from a Charles Atlas ad.)

August 2010

How To Manage Problems You Can’t Fix

By | 2011-04-14T01:55:47+00:00 3 August 2010|Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , |

Problems. Challenges. Opportunities.

Whatever you call them at your company, we want them fixed. Our gut reaction is – come hell or high water – to find a solution. However, there are times when there is no fix… You’re stuck with it.

For example, your business may be experiencing a challenge with the current “economic condition” in the United States. The challenge with the downturn/recession is that as an individual business there is not a lot you can do. You have to deal with it and wait it out.

Another time when we face challenges beyond our power, is when doing SWOT analysis. You can manage the Strengths, and Weaknesses and you can exploit the Opportunities. However, the Threats are out of your control… you’re stuck with their reality.

So, what can you do?

Your options are to…

  • find a way to live with the problem, or
  • find ways to flip the situation so it is seen as an asset versus a deficit.

(1) Living with the Problem

At first, this sounds fatalistic; not a ‘victory’ situation. However, the realization that you can’t fix something can be liberating. It frees you to focus resources on things you can change. You manage recognizing the problem is simply part of your playing field.

(2) Flip from Deficit to Asset

A second option is to find a way to work the problem to your benefit. Change the deficit to an asset. This is called asset-based thinking.* Okay, so customer traffic has slowed at your business, maybe this is your opportunity to shift your model from a focus on quantity to quality. Instead of relying on new customers from new traffic, perhaps you should look at your existing satisfied customer base. Can you reconnect with them and create higher satisfaction and incremental sales? There are a slew of approaches once you turn the problem on its head.

Brian Clegg and Paul Birch in their book Instant Creativity recommend examining your situation in two stages to “make your problem state desirable.”

Ask first:

  • How could you change the world to live with this problem?
    (This creates your first set of solutions)

and then:

  • How could you change the world so the problem goes away?
    (This creates a second set of solutions).

They recommend taking the results of these two questions and combining to determine potential ways to manage the situation.

While not all problems can be fixed, at least you can reduce your angst and find a way to flip the problem to benefit from it.

*Incidentally, you can learn more about asset-based thinking at the “Asset-Based Thinking” website of Kathy Cramer and Hank Wasiak.

July 2010

Hop Aboard The Brainstorming Roller Coaster

By | 2010-10-06T16:09:03+00:00 19 July 2010|Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , |

Thought you’d like to see this sketch I found in my picture folder.

It’s a simple (if not silly) way to plot how, during the brainstorming process, there is shift up and down between gathering many ideas to narrowing to fewer ideas.


[click for larger view]

The technical terms for these thinking styles is divergent production (going in different, many directions) and narrowing ideas is called convergent production (closer, coming together).

These terms were coined in the 1950s by US psychologist, Joy Paul Guilford as part of his “Structure of Intellect” theory.