November 2017

Creating Ideas: Think The Way You Think

2017-09-06T12:33:26-04:00 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.

September 2017

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

2017-09-29T14:52:34-04:00 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.

August 2017

Idea Generation: Great Ideas Are Looking Up

2017-08-28T09:47:57-04:00 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!

July 2011

10 Steps To Take Brainstorming From Good To Wicked Good

2017-08-19T16:17:26-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , , |

Sand for Your Inbox

How many brainstorming sessions, filled with potentially brilliant ideas, have ended up as rolled up flip charts under someone’s desk?

Taking ideas to the next step post-brainstorming can be a challenge. When I get near the end of the brainstorming process, I use a simple filtering process that moves ideas from concept to near-ready to implement.

Here’s how it works…

Step 1: When you’ve finished with the brainstorming stage, put all of your ideas on sticky notes or individual pieces of paper. (Something that allows them to be easily repositioned). Have them all stuck, off to the side, on a wall.

Step 2: Next, determine what qualifiers you (want, need, will use) to filter these ideas and a range. (You may want to have these filters in mind ahead of time, or ask the group to develop them).

Filters and their ranges could include:

  • (filter) Ease of Implementation (range)easy” -to- “hard”
  • Investment – “cheap” -to- “expensive’
  • ROI – “low” -to- “high”
  • The Brand – “builds the brand” -to- “draws from the brand”
  • Time to Market – “implement quickly” -to- “takes a while”

Of course, you’ll have other filters that are important to your company…

Step 3: Create a large grid on a big wall. (Blue painter’s tape works well as it doesn’ mess up paint. Be sure to test it first!)

Step 4: Label the grid using two of your most important filters and the range. (I’ll use ROI and Ease of Implementation for our example).

Step 5: Have the team move and classify the ideas into their proper range within the categories.

Step 6: Now you’ll have a ‘picture’ of which ideas (in this example) will drive the most sales and are the easiest to implement. Items in the upper-right are the best ideas on this chart.

Step 7: More than likely, you need to consider a third or fourth filter. For me, I want to consider ideas that:

  1. “are easy for the customer,” and
  2. “have a positive impact on the brand.”

To accomplish this, we are going to focus on and refine the best ideas in the upper-right section with these additional filters.

Step 8: Grab a few volunteers and have them remove the items that fit the next filter. I’m using “ideas that don’ strengthen the brand.” Have them move them outside of the box.

Step 9: Next (and we’re almost done), have a few different volunteers remove from the box the ideas that don’ fit your next main filter. For me, it’s ideas that “require effort on behalf of the customer.” (If this idea requires the customer to jump through hoops, it’s not a good one).

Step 10: Finally, examine what’s left in that box and you’ve got the ideas that…

  • have a high ROI,
  • are easier to implement,
  • are easy on the customer, and
  • build the brand.

These ideas are ready to be championed and tested.

Instead of ending your brainstorming with simply a bunch of potentially good ideas… you’ve taken action steps and are on the path to execution. You’ve turned a good use of time into a wicked good use of time.

Thanks again for your interest in Idea Sandbox! Let me know if you find this information helpful. And, please let me know what questions you have!

Paul's Name


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Now Is The Time For All Good Brainstormers To Come To The Aid Of Their Country

2011-07-15T14:12:14-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

Mom sent me this text message this morning…

Paulie! The entire country needs your services! Our President called for a ‘brainstorming session’ regarding the budget crisis. Can you give him a call? Mom

brainstorm text from mom

By ignoring Mom’s request, wouldn’t I be breaking the ‘honor your mother’ rule?

Shouldn’t I also honor my country by offering my services?

I texted back to Mom…

I’d even be willing to do it pro bono publico if I could get a referral from the President.

August 2010

SCAMPERing For Innovation

2010-08-23T10:16:39-04:00 Categories: create, grow, SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , |

A great quote found Roger von Oech’s book, ““A Whack on the Side of the Head” reads as follows…

“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else
and thinking something different.

The quote is attributed to the Nobel prize winning physician Albert Szent-Gy&#246rgyi.

You’ve probably heard the expression, “There is no such thing as a new idea.” Discovery suggests, rather, that there are new ways to look at things.

But, how do you look at something different?

One method I recommend is to “SCAMPER.”

Yes, hopping around like a small animal or child *is* fun, but that’s not what this scampering is. SCAMPER is an acronym for a set of techniques that help you see things different.

You can apply this to a problem, a potential innovation, or to explore ways to make your weekly staff meetings more effective. You can filter your challenge through one or all of the following SCAMPER steps.

S Substitute – Replace all or part of your product, service, or process with something else. Change out the people, place, time or situation with something else.
C Combine – Put parts together. Mix and integrate typically unassociated parts. Bring together other ideas and situations. What ideas can be combined? What about a blend? What about an ensemble? What materials could you combine? What else can be merged with this.
A Adapt – How can you alter, change, or use part of another element? Can you change it to meet your purpose? Is there something you could copy? What style could you emulate? What could you make it look like? What idea can you incorporate?
M Modify – What if this were somewhat changed? How can this be altered for the better? How about a new twist? What change can we make in the process? What about changing its shape?
P Put To Other Use – What are other ways you can put your challenge to use?
E Eliminate – What can be taken away? What isn’t truly necessary? What isn’t required for functionality? What if it were smaller?
R Rearrange – What if the order were changed? Where should this part be placed in relation to that? What other layout might be better? What about timing? Or a change of pace?

Seth Godin, in his book Free Prize Inside, recommends a process called Edgecrafting to create remarkable ideas. He suggests pushing an idea to the limits – the edge – and seeing what can be created. SCAMPER is the perfect tool to help with Edgecrafting.

When you’re needing to make a discovery or innovation, or just come up with an idea… consider the techniques of Scamper and find new ways of thinking about the challenge.

SCAMPER Background

For those interested, SCAMPER was created by Robert Eberle using Alex Osborn’s 1953 book, Applied Imagination. It’s an often recommended strategy found in most creative problem solving books. (So even SCAMPER itself was Robert’s way of thinking something different from Alex did about these ideas).

By the way, I’ve incorporated SCAMPER (and other related methods) in a tool called Big Dig. You may enjoy checking it out.

October 2009

Swim Lane Diagram:
Dive Into Complex Decision-Making

2017-03-01T11:56:20-04:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , |

Some weeks ago, I shared a decision making method that utilized a Two-By-Two Diagram to rank/filter ideas using two key parameters.

While I received positive feedback, I was asked what to use when you need to rank/filter ideas that involve more than just two parameters.

For this, I recommend using a “swim lane” diagram. (It involves parallel rows akin to lanes in a pool). This diagram allows you to rank an unlimited number of ideas by an unlimited number of qualities.

How It Works (The Basics)

Let’s say you and I have come up with three really great ideas that will help build awareness and excitement for our winter product line. They are summarized as…

  • Idea A,
  • Idea B, and
  • Idea C.

We have also determined that there are four key parameters by which we want to judge these ideas. They are…

  • Ease of Implementation (challenging to easy),
  • Investment of Money (expensive to cheap),
  • Brand Fit (erodes to strengthens), and
  • Investment of Time/Training (high to low).

Let’s plop these into a swim lane diagram. We’ll make the lefthand side the “undesirable” qualities, and the right the “desired.” The “better” ideas will score more to the right.

Next we’ll plot our three ideas where they fall in each lane.

Finally, I’ll connect the lines.

Now we can see how these how these ideas rank according to our key parameters.

  • Idea A is difficult to implement and requires a lot of training, but doesn’t require a lot of cash.
  • Idea B is the easiest to implement, but is fairly expensive.
  • Idea C is expensive, but helps build the brand and doesn’t require much training.

At a glance, I would say Idea C may be our best bet.

I know… I know what you’re thinking… this isn’t very scientific. AND if we had any more ideas or parameters to plot, it would be unclear how the ideas rank.

If the basic method isn’t robust enough for what you’re working on, I recommend these additional steps.

How It Works (Advanced Method)

Let’s allocate an Importance Score – a value between 0% and 100% – for each parameter. 0 will indicate lowest importance. 100 will indicate highest importance.

We’ll then multiply the parameter score by the importance %. (The parameter score for “ease of implementation is 1, multiplied by the importance score of 100%… and so on).

Finally, we’ll do this for each idea and see which has the highest weighed score. THIS is the idea that is our best bet.

Using this advanced method, I was able to confirm my initial assessment that Idea C would be our best bet.

With more parameters and more ideas to plot, this advanced method will provide reliable results.

Finally, I’ve added a hand-drawn version of the swim lane diagram below. I don’t want the fact I used a drawing program to make this look like a complicated exercise. You can use a white board, flip chart, or the back of a napkin and do this process in just a few minutes.

After you’ve given this a try, please share your success stories!

This article was originally published on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix blog.

July 2006

Idea Generation: Be An Explorist, Let Your Get-Away Inspire You

2017-08-20T18:27:57-04:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: , , , , |

Traveling offers a perfect opportunity for creative inspiration. Experiencing out-of-the-ordinary sites, sounds, tastes, people, and culture helps stimulate out of the ordinary thinking and ideas.

Get the Inside Scoop

Before you leave for your destination, consult insider/underground guides for the places you are visiting. These guides often provide more insight than tourist guidebooks and share the gritty aspects of local life.

Connect with Locals

Talk to everyone you meet. Talk with shopkeepers, concierge, taxi drivers, roadside vendors, and others. Listen a lot. These locals will proudly direct you to places off the beaten path.

Start with the “Cheesy” Tour

Take the tours that locals refuse to attend. The double-decker bus, the land/water tour, or the sightseeing van. (You know which these are, similar to those you refuse to do in your town). These tours cover vast areas of the city, highlight key landmarks, and provide a broad overview of an area. They provide an excellent starting point and allow you to become more familiar with the layout of a city. Use these tours to determine which parts of the city you will later explore.

Hero Hometowns

Walk in the footsteps of one of your heroes. Visit their birthplace, see where they grew up, went to school, and visit the places that inspired them. Don’t have a particular hero? Adopt one and explore the path a great inventor, famous artist, or great leader – you’ll be surprised how what you learn will inspire your own life.

Next adventure you take, augment your travel plans so you may go beyond being a tourist… to being an explorist.