January 2017

Avoid Problems By Preventing Them

2017-03-01T11:44:15-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, TWAW|Tags: , , |

An excellent way to solve problems is by not letting them happen in the first place, through prevention.

Prevention is why we bring our cars in for maintenance, visit our doctor for an annual exam, and have a mid-year check-in with our boss.

We want to avoid surprises and discover potential issues while they’re forming to prevent bigger problems in the future. We examine something, monitoring it comparing now to the past looking for any changes.

How would you like to be ahead of your colleagues in knowing what’s happening in your industry with your products, and among your competition? Oh… and for free without the investment of a research marketing firm?

Your Secret Tool: Google Alerts

A great free tool to let you monitor your business is Google Alerts.

Just enter your search terms, your email, and frequency of delivery and Google searches the internet for this information. When it finds a match, it will send you an email with links to relevant content. It is free and only takes a moment to set-up.

A great way to track your company, your competition, and your industry.

Sample searches include:

  • your company name,
  • your product(s) name,
  • your industry, or
  • your competition.

Combine those words with other keywords such as:

  • your company name + “trends,”
  • your product category + “developments,”
  • your industry name + “legislation,” or
  • your product category + “innovation.”

Before you read another email or visit another website, right now, create a few Google alerts for yourself. Here’s the link: Google Alerts.

These alerts are an effective and efficient way to stay informed and get the latest information and trends. I promise you very few of your co-workers have these set-up. Get ready to impress your co-workers!

December 2012

Innovation Is A Phenomenon, Not A Strategy

2017-08-21T16:16:17-04:00 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


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.


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

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.

June 2009

Take Charge Of Your Life With Problem-Solving

2017-08-19T19:14:56-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , , |

One of my favorite books about problem-solving is Ken Watanabe’s best-selling book, Problem-Solving 101.

In this article, I outline Watanabe’s lesson for finding the root cause of a problem – a key concept. But,  before I get into the details, let’s first talk big picture…

What Is Problem-Solving?

What the heck is problem-solving or creative problem-solving anyway?

It’s simply a process of key steps to help – when you have a problem – to understand the problem, think-up potential solutions, and make a decision.

We are problem solvers every day of our life, from parallel parking to figuring out ways to trim your FY’10 budget. Many of our problems are small and involve little risk. For these, we can instantly perform problem-solving steps in our head.

However, when greater risk is involved… for example when it involves big sums of money, significant impact on an organization, or irreversible consequences… these problems need to be “worked” and broken into smaller chunks and run through a step-by-step process. That process is taught in Problem Solving 101.

While different people break the steps into different chunks, the 4-steps Ken outlines are:

  1. Understand the situation.
  2. Identify the root cause of the problem.Idea Sandbox focuses on brainstorming and decision-making in order to have great ideas for your plan.
  3. Develop an effective action plan.
  4. Execute, and modify, until the problem is solved.

The benefits of having a process for problem-solving? As Ken states in the book, “Rather than feeling as though your life is out of control, you can take charge and shape the world around you. Your dreams and goals will seem less out of reach. And you’ll be better able to accomplish whatever you’re passionate enough and imaginative enough to conceive and pursue.”

Problem Solving 101 Cover

The book was originally written to provide kids in Japan with better problem solving and decision-making skills. However, it quickly became a huge success among adult, business leaders.

Translated into English the book is still the perfect read for a younger audience, but also happens to be one of the best primers for adults who need to strengthen their problem-solving skills.

Who needs this book?

This book will be helpful if you’ve got this kind of person at work or school…

Ken could have easily done what most other books do…
Present sample case studies featuring Company XYZ selling their widgets. Describe to us their challenges in building awareness and driving sales. And he would have used a generic image like below…

We’ve got problems with the widgets, Ted.Instead, he chose – for one example – a school band wanting more students to be aware and attend their concerts with original illustrations by Allan Sanders.

While some may say this book is too basic for US business leaders… I’ll argue… If Who Moved My Cheese can be a #1 best seller with the annoyingly simple parable featuring the complainers Hem and Haw, and the smart mice Sniff and Scurry, there is a place for Problem Solving 101.

Lessons from Problem Solving 101

One of the models Ken presents is how to determine Root Cause Of Problems, and how to overcome them.

Determining Root Cause

Step 1: Diagnose the situation and identify the root cause of the problem.

  1. List all the potential root causes of the problem.
  2. Develop a hypothesis for the likely root cause.
  3. Determine the analyses and information required to test the hypothesis.
  4. Analyze and identify the root cause.

Step 2: Develop the Solution

  1. Develop a wide variety of solutions to solve the problem.
  2. Prioritize actions.
  3. Develop an implementation plan.

If you’re not familiar or need a refresher into using the problem-solving tools (below), this books is for you.

  • Logic Tree
  • Yes/No Tree
  • Problem-Solving Design Plan
  • Hypothesis Pyramid
  • Pros and Cons; Criteria and Evaluation

Problem-Solving 101 is a great step-by-step process that is easy for anyone to follow.