August 2012

Seth Godin Says: How To Run A Problem-Solving Meeting

2012-08-18T18:10:16-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , , , |

Here’s a complete rip-off of today’s post from Seth Godin. Great to have Seth playing in my sandbox.

This is a special sort of get together, similar to the meeting where you organize people to figure out the best way to take advantage of an opportunity. In both cases, amateurs usually run the meetings, and the group often fails to do their best work.

Ignore these rules at your peril:

  1. Only the minimum number of people should participate. Don’t invite anyone for political reasons. Don’t invite anyone to socialize them on the solution because they were part of inventing it–people don’t need to be in the kitchen to enjoy the meal at the restaurant.
  2. No one participating by conference call… it changes the tone of the proceedings.
  3. A very structured agenda to prevent conversation creep. You are only here to do one thing.
  4. All the needed data provided to all attendees, in advance, in writing.
    At least one person, perhaps the host, should have a point of view about what the best course is, but anyone who comes should only be invited if they are willing to change their position.
  5. Agree on the structure of a deliverable solution before you start.
  6. Deliver on that structure when you finish.

I agree with Seth when running a problem-solving meeting, save for a few additions:
No. 5 – “Having a point-of-view about the best course” – The best course should be based on goals and constraints identified prior to the beginning of the meeting.

Goals such as: “In today’s meeting we want to conclude with five new potential names for the company.”
Constraints such as: “Names need to be real words. Need to align with our brand. Need to be easy to pronounce, etc…”

When it comes toward the end of the meeting, refer back to these goals and constraints as filters.

August 2011

Four Stages In The Vintage Creative Thought Process

2011-08-11T23:06:34-04:00 Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

When the German physiologist and physicist Hermann Helmholtz was seventy years old [in 1898], he was asked at his birthday party to analyze his thought processes. Later, Graham Wallas, in his [1926] book The Art of Thought, formulated Helmholtz’s ideas into the familiar four stages:

  1. preparation,
  2. incubation,
  3. inspiration, and
  4. verification.


The preparation step consists of observing, listening, asking, reading, collecting, comparing, contrasting, analyzing, and relating all kinds of objects and information.


The incubation process is both conscious and unconscious. This step involves thinking about parts and relationships, reasoning, and often a fallow period.


Inspirations very often appear during this fallow period [of incubation]. This probably accounts for the popular emphasis on releasing tensions in order to be creative.


The step labeled verification is a period of hard work. This is the process of converting an idea into an object or into an articulated form.


Analysis of Creativity

Today’s article is an excerpt from a piece written by Mel Rhodes in April 1961 titled: An Analysis of Creativity. It can be found in the education association journal: The Phi Delta Kappan, (Vol. 42, No 7).

So, I’ve developed the secret recipe for the world’s best brainstorming sessions. I call it the 3Ps: People, Place, and Process. You can read a bit about it here.

In June of this year I spoke at the Creative Problem Solving Institute (CPSI) Conference. When when I submitted my 3Ps topic, they told me there was already a thing called the 4Ps. They referenced this Rhodes article.

I’ve been searching high-and-low for this article and finally found it last month, in bound version, at the great downtown Seattle Public Library.

After reading it, there isn’t that much similarity, Rhodes’ 4Ps and my 3Ps except for the name. However, the Creative Education Foundation (who hosts the CPSI conferences) is specifically mentioned.

I plan to share the entire article on Idea Sandbox, but wanted to share a bit of it with you today. These are “vintage” ideas about creativity tossed around back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The body content below is from the original article. The formatting is mine. Changes are indicated [within brackets].

June 2011

Food For Thought

2012-02-13T21:22:42-04:00 Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , |

You’re nearly ready for next week’s problem solving session…
× Problem clearly defined and the objectives of the day outlined? Check.
× Silly-Puddy, Play-Doh, and Slinkys? Check.
× Flip charts, colored markers, Post-It notes? Check.

But what about snacks, drinks, and lunch?

Hold on before before you order a dozen pizzas, twice as many Red Bull, and a tub of Red Vines… If you really want maximize the most important part of your problem solving machine – your brains… Re-write your menu with this food for thought.


Skip the Skittles, instead try these energy sustaining treats.

  • Nuts and Seeds – Not a can of roasted, salted, honey-coated nuts… but the stuff from nature… Provide pumpkin seeds, toasted soy nuts and natural almonds.
  • Fruits – Serve fresh berries, whole or sliced apples, pears and oranges. Consider dried apricots, raisins and figs. Bananas are good too, for quick energy that’ll last up to two hours. Offer vanilla yogurt with ginger powder mixed in for a dip or side.
  • Vegetables – Offer carrot sticks, broccoli, and slices of red pepper. Keep them on crushed ice through the day for a fresher flavor. Serve with hummus as a dip or side.


Stop the pop and sugary drinks and enjoy natural fruit-based beverages. I call them Creative Juices.

We live in a wonderful time when fresh, additive-free juices from around the world are readily available at the grocery store. The shorter the shelf life, the better it is going to be for you. Also drink plenty of water. (And plan a couple more bathroom breaks.)


Hold the lunchmeat. Instead of piling in a big lunch at noon, consider snacks through the day. This will prevent a lull or spike in energy, and the sleepiness when your body tries to process a big meal.

More Ideas…

  • Eat breakfast– You’ve heard it a million times, because it is true. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Oatmeal is tops. Instead of store bought packets, make your own.In a tall bowl, mix 1/4 cup oats, 2 oz water, 2 oz milk (or soy milk), raisins, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, ground flax/linseed, and a dash of cinnamon. Microwave for 3 minutes stirring each minute. Top with a spoonful of honey and enjoy!
  • Get plenty of sleep – Mom was right, you need a good night’s sleep. Before a day of heavy idea lifting, recharge your brain with plenty of rest.
  • This Idea Stinks – The scent of peppermint can make you more alert. Bring in a couple of jars of aromatherapy peppermint oil and encourage a sniff now and then. Have your team put few drops on a cotton ball to whiff once in a while… it’s almost like having a personal spa!

Why does this work?

As described in Eat Yourself Clever by Carol Vorderman, The best fuel for brain power are carbohydrate foods… carbs. It’s about eating good carbs that are natural and unrefined (a.k.a. complex). Complex carbs are found in grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. These are broken down slowly and provide a steady stream of energy.

Refined and processed carbohydrates are those found in processed foods. The body breaks these down quickly, so you do get a quick hit of energy. But this sugar rush is quickly replaced by a sugar crash. As described by Vorderman, “When the glucose is used up and you suddenly feel exhausted and irritable, ‘running on empty.’ And of course, that state is disastrous for your mental focus.”

This is all measured by what is called the glycaemic index, or GI for short. Consider this a speedometer for the pace the body breaks food down to glucose, and enters the bloodstream. Vorderman states, “glucose has a value of 100 and water 0. Any food with a GI below around 50 will thus be a good choice if you want high levels of concentration, focus, and alertness.”


February 2011

Idea Sandbox: Think Tank – 20,000 Leagues Under DC

2018-05-14T23:06:50-04:00 Categories: create, Destination, grow, solve, think|Tags: , , , |

Happy Birthday Jules Verne!

Thank goodness Jules pursued his passion for writing instead of law (for which he attended university). And, had a good publisher friend in Pierre-Jules Hetzel – who helped improve Verne’s writing.

My impressions of Jules Verne have come via Walt Disney, specifically the 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and the Submarine Voyage ride at Walt Disney World in Florida.

In my desire to build a the perfect space to brainstorm, “think tank” came to mind. And, if you’re going to build a think tank, what better location but a submarine.

Brainstorming 20,000 Leagues Under DC

[Click for Larger View]

The secret to brainstorming and strategy-building is a combination of gathering the right people, using the right process, in the right place.

The Idea Sandbox: Think Tank will be the right place. This is one of four spaces, designed – using art and science – for the sole purpose of creative thinking and strategy building.

Aboard Think Tank, is as far away as possible as you can get from the corporate board bored room and tan hotel conference rooms.

In this “right place” I will help you bring the right people, and will lead you through the right process… with the sum greater than the parts – the perfect brainstorms will take place.

This article provides a preview of Idea Sandbox (the place) I’m designing and plan to build in Alexandria, Virginia – just outside Washington, DC.

Idea Sandbox is the antidote to boring, uninspiring, and ineffective meeting spaces.

Idea Sandbox turns brains into idea machines!

The above image was completed today and will be included in my investor pitch materials. After all, without the image – asking someone to invest in a space where brainstorm in a submarine, tropical hideaway, genius lab, or explorer’s library may sound crazy!

Pick Your Place, On Purpose

2012-07-06T10:34:15-04:00 Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , |

The most up to date list of locations can be found on the Places page within Brainstorming Tools section.

You have to love when someone “makes your case” – that is – says or supports something you believe in as well.

Today’s post by Seth Godin makes the case that space matters.

This supports what I call the 3Ps of brainstorming and strategy meetings: people, process, and place. The most successful and productive meetings are a result of pulling together the right people, using the right process, hosted in the right place.

People and process? Most of us prepare for this. Being even more deliberate will improve our meetings. But the majority of us are way off when it comes to place.

We don’t consider the space. We don’t pick the place on purpose. When hosting an off-site, we get the space for free at the hotel where we book our rooms.

Conference space is provided when you buy the food package. Instead of booking rooms from people in the catering business, why not from people in the idea business? The strategy business? In your business?

Here is a partial list of places you can pick. Here in the US, in the UK, and some great spots in Holland. These are places that put the meeting and atmosphere first.

Purposeful Places

Destinations conducive for problem solving.

This list doesn’t include meeting space in hotel and convention centers. While they offer physical space, I have yet to find a hotel venue that is very inspirational.

North America

East Coast


(NYC, NY) – Dedicated space in New York where creative and business executives can gather to re-imagine their business.” Opened, 2008.


(NYC, NY) – Offers many locations throughout the NYC area suited for meetings, photo shoots, videos and movie sets. Contact: 212-431-8224 or


Catalyst Ranch

(Chicago, IL) – Eva Niewiadomski’s place. Five rooms of fun. A well known – perhaps the most popular in the US – creative space for rent. Opened in 2002.

Eureka! Ranch

(Cincinnati, OH) – Doug Hall started with a mansion, and upgraded to a whole ranch. He has perfected the science of innovation. Opened in 1992.

Idea Loft

(Kansas City, MO) – Chuck Dymer’s PeopleWorks location. Because space matters.


(Chicago, IL) Gerald Haman founded SolutionPeople a creativity and innovation training and development firm in 1989 and his creative meeting space – the Thinkubator.


(Columbus, OH) – Mark Henson, chief imagination officer, offers space and programs to help businesses be more creative. He offers a great newsletter. And a surprise hidden on his voicemail system.
(Hint…. push "6"). Opened in 2000.



(Calgary, Alberta) – As the site reads… “Welcome to a different kind of creative thinking space. Headspace aids in the exchange of ideas by providing the most flexible, supportive meeting space in Calgary. By removing physical and organizational barriers, Headspace promotes dialogue, ignites collaboration and inspires creativity. The best thinking always happens when you’re in the right Headspace.” Opened in 2011.

United Kingdom

The Boardwalk

(Manchester, England) – a ‘light, airy, spacious, urban’ location. Managed by ?WhatIf!

The Old Laundry

(London, UK) – “At The Laundry you won’t find any hard backed chairs, grey Formica tables or migraine inducing florescent strip lights – we believe that to be the kind of setting which saps your creative energy.” Managed by ?WhatIf!


The Netherlands – Amsterdam

Heineken – The City

Book an inspiring room in the heart of Amsterdam. Heineken the City is the ideal location for a day of brainstorming, team building or meetings in inspiring surroundings. Our spaces each have a unique interior and their environment and offer you the newest in multi-media facilities. They have three rooms:

Hub Amsterdam

A membership-based work and meeting space. Located near Amsterdam’s Central Train Station. (No membership fee necessary). Hub has many locations across the world. (Click on “Go To Hub” from the site’s menu for other locations).

SPACES: Amsterdam

Spaces offers office space for rent in inspiring surroundings in Amsterdam. At Spaces you not only rent square meters, but supporting services of all kinds of your choosing, such a reception service, office equipment, technical assistance, and catering of your meeting. All at reasonable prices.  Spaces also has a restaurant, coffee bar and plenty of seating for an informal conversation. Rooms for small and large groups.

The Netherlands – Den Haag

Future Center – The Buitenhuis

Billed as an inspiring, creative, and innovative location to work on policy and organization issues.

(If you run a space I haven’t listed, I’ll be happy to include it in the Places section of Idea Sandbox.)

Below is Seth’s post today, in full.

The space matters

It might be a garage or a sunlit atrium, but the place you choose to do what you do has an impact on you.

More people get engaged in Paris in the springtime than on the 7 train in Queens. They just do. Something in the air, I guess.

Pay attention to where you have your brainstorming meetings. Don’t have them in the same conference room where you chew people out over missed quarterly earnings.

Pay attention to the noise and the smell and the crowd in the place where you’re trying to overcome being stuck. And as Paco Underhill has written, make the aisles of your store wide enough that shoppers can browse without getting their butts brushed by other shoppers.

Most of all, I think we can train ourselves to associate certain places with certain outcomes. There’s a reason they built those cathedrals. Pick your place, on purpose.