September 2017

Three Simple Decision-Making Tools

2017-09-18T23:05:44-04:00 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.

May 2015

Taking Action: 8 Ways to Classify Ideas

2017-08-19T18:41:00-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , |

A fair amount of writing about brainstorming emphasizes not judging ideas too soon. A plethora of criticism about brainstorming argues it isn’t critical enough. No matter how you think-up ideas, eventually they must prove themselves worthy of helping you meet your objectives.

An excellent way to evaluate your ideas is by categorizing them into what Edward de Bono in his book Serious Creativity: Using the Power of Lateral Thinking to Create New Ideas calls “End Categories.”

Classifying the idea into one of the following eight categories:

  1. Directly Usable,
  2. Good Ideas, But Not for Us,
  3. Good Ideas, But Not for Now,
  4. Needs More Work,
  5. Powerful, but Not Usable,
  6. Interesting, but Not Usable,
  7. Weak Value, or
  8. Unworkable.

Understanding and applying these categories will help you to focus, prioritize, take action, or reject ideas. The last portion of your brainstorming agenda should be dedicated to classifying ideas in these categories.

1. Directly Usable

These are your best ideas. You’ve determined they have value and could be used. These babies are worth exploring deeper and finding resources to support.

2. Good Ideas, But Not For Us

These have value and support your objective, but are not a good fit. Maybe you lack skills or resources, but most often your brand filters eliminate these ideas. In a future round of thinking, you could explore these and ask, “How could these be modified to be a good fit?” But more than likely, these ideas should be discarded.

3. Good Ideas, But Not for Now (Backburner)

These have value and are a good fit – but are not right at this time. Current resources, capacity, or priorities may not allow you to act on these. Put them on the back burner. Revisit them in a month or a quarter.

4. Needs More Work

Ideas with potential, but are half-baked. With more work, you can transform these into Directly Usable ideas. Get some folks working on these.

5. Powerful, But Not Usable

These are usually great ideas blocked by some external force. Factors you can’t control that de Bono calls “regulations, environmental concerns, very high-risk factors, cannibalizing existing products and so on.” As if there is a way to re-work these in a way that eliminates the block.

6. Interesting, But Unusable

These are some of the most productive ideas. Not because they become usable, but because they spark other usable ideas. They often offer new ways of thinking of things. These are the ideas that start as “Hmm…?” and spark “A-ha!”

7. Weak Value

These ideas work, and they fit your organization, but they lack value. The return on the effort invested in these may be disappointing. The danger with Weak Value ideas is that sometimes we accept and implement these just to “have something out there.” They support a “something is better than nothing” approach. Don’t fall into this trap. There may be ways to rework these ideas so that way they work, are a fit, and become high contributors.

8. Unworkable

These are fundamentally impossible. Not even if you worked hard on them. They’re duds—and should be rejected. Period.

Putting This To Use…

Turn these ideas into action by assigning Action Steps to individual owners for each idea. This makes one person accountable for an idea.

  • Begin exploring the Directly Usable ideas.
  • Take a final look at the Good Idea, Not For Now before putting those into short-term storage.
  • Get folks cracking on Needs More Work ideas.
  • Tinker with your Interesting, But Unusable to see what other ideas they could spark.
  • And make everyone promise not to monkey with the Weak Value or Unworkable ideas.

January 2014

Top Posts of 2013

2014-01-22T16:52:40-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , , |

Happy New Year!

As we look forward to creating new content in 2014, it’s fun and helpful to look back and see which posts from 2013 you found most interesting.

Check out the top 8 most-read posts below!

1. Branding vs. Marketing: What’s the Difference?

This “Point-Counterpoint” article from our Crackerjack Marketing Series touches on the key differences (and similarities) between marketing and branding.

2. Tips to Drive Sales At Your Location With In-Store Events

One of the best ways to build awareness, excitement and traffic to a new location is through a grand opening event. Check out this article for our top tips on how to succeed.

3. 275 Most Common Marketing & Communication Venues

This extensive list will help you think outside the box in your next strategy and brainstorming meeting. There are more ways to reach people than eMail or an ad in the newspaper!

4. How Valuable Are Loyalty Programs?

If you’re thinking about launching a customer loyalty program this year, this article is a must-read.

5. What Are The Key Components to Include in a Brand Style Guide?

Depending on the size of your business, your Brand Style Guide might be a few pages or heavy textbook. Regardless of the guide’s size, make sure to include these key components!

6. Why is a Brand Style Guide Important?

Amongst other things, a Brand Style Guide ensures that each employee (from the CEO to the new intern) knows the proper way to represent the brand via various communication channels. It’s the “voice” and look and feel of your brand.

7. Take Your Audience On a Hero’s Journey

After reading Nancy Duarte’s Resonate: Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, Paul shares his tips on how to make your next presentation more like a great story.

8. 3 Simple Decision-Making Tools

Have some big (or small) decisions to make in the near future? Consider consulting one of our handy dandy decision making tools to make your life a little easier!

In 2014, we’ll continue to provide you with relevant, helpful and interesting articles to help you succeed and stay inspired. Stay tuned!

May 2012

Get Quality Ideas From a Quantity Of Options

2012-05-14T08:23:06-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , |

You’re in your neighborhood bookstore looking for a title about “social media.” Do you immediately buy the first book you see, on the first shelf of the business section? Probably not.

You visit a new restaurant for a tasty dinner, do you only read the top menu item and order it – ignoring the rest of the menu? I don’t believe you would.

In both situations, before making a decision, you would first review all your options. You’d scan each of the books in the marketing section. You would read the entire menu. Then, from that full selection of offerings, make the best choice.

We appreciate and expect variety and choice with these decisions, but often when making bigger, more financially critical decisions at work… we deny ourselves options. We thwart our capacity to be innovative.

In the name of efficiency, when faced with problems or challenges at work, we go forward with the first workable option we can think of. Business pressure – to get things done quickly and efficiently – causes us to miss options. This can cause us to miss the best solution.

One Item – If you go with the first, only idea you have, that isn’t decision-making. That’s a last resort. Decisions require choosing from a pool of options.

Two Items – Selecting among two alternative ideas isn’t a decision either — it is only choosing this or don’t do this.

Decisions improve in proportion to the number of interesting, attractive, and doable alternatives you have to consider.

We must pile-up a list of unusable ideas. The more ideas you think up, the more likely you are to arrive at one that is brilliant and remarkable.

Even if you think you’ve happened upon the best idea right from the start, you should think up a few more. Picking one idea from a pool of one isn’t a choice. Don’t stop at the first one that seems to fit. Keep thinking. Come up with at least two more ideas for a total of three to choose from.

If that first idea is the one you go with, you can have the confidence that you’ve made a choice. That you weren’t just forced into using the first idea that popped into you mind.

Choice and options, when it comes to important decisions, isn’t a luxury, but a requirement. The next time you or your team start moving with the first idea that pops into mind, entertain other options. You deserve the right to decide, not simply be forced with an approach due to haste. Brainstorm a few more workable ideas. You deserve choices. Remarkable ideas spring from choices.

April 2012

Hitting Your Innovation Target With A Diagram

2015-01-02T17:15:58-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

Compromise gets a bad rap in the United States. Departing with anything less than the biggest, the best, and the most reflects weakness.

Yet, since most of us work in an environment where different people come from different backgrounds with differing approaches on how to reach a similar goal – compromise is a reality.

There are times when you don’t need to win, but you do need diplomacy. You need “best possible.” To strike a balance. A happy medium. This situation calls for a Target Diagram!

This graph is great for plotting something that falls within a realistic range of choices … The prime space between NONE and ALL. It is what you use when you need the right mix.


It is different from a Quadrant Diagram or “2×2” as it is sometimes called… The Quadrant Diagram categorizes the lows and highs of something. The quadrant is great when you’re pushing for the extreme. To maximize.


This is not that.

It is almost like a Venn diagram—where the two or three circles meet representing the perfect blend.

venn_diagramBut, it isn’t that either.

The target diagram is a great way to gauge you’re within established boundaries. Not too high or too low. The business equivalent of what Goldilocks was after at the Bear’s house—”just right.”

To try it, put your two sets of opposing forces at either end of the axes. In my example, I’m balancing website design between what we really want, and what we need to do to meet logistical needs. The goal is to find ideas that comes close to the middle of the target.

Next time your ideas need diplomacy, try graphing them on a target diagram.

This article was originally published on the Marketing Prof’s DailyFix website.

September 2011

Decision Making, Like A Fighter Pilot

2015-01-02T16:40:30-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , |

When operating a company, to stay innovative requires constant observation of your industry, competition, and your own company.

When you’re a fighter pilot, to stay alive requires constant observation of what is happening around you as well as with your own aircraft.

With that said… Let me ask you… If there was a decision-making framework that allowed a fighter pilot to make smart choices, while flying at near supersonic speeds, and while being shot at, wouldn’t you want to put that to work for your business?

I can see you nodding your head “Yes!” as you read this…

There is a decision making tool fighter pilots use called the OODA Loop.

It is also known as the John Boyd OODA Loop after its inventor who was a United States Air Force fighter pilot from 1951 thru 1975 and a military strategist.

OODA stands for:

  • Observation – collecting data with your senses
  • Orientation – analyzing and synthesizing the information to form a perspective
  • Decision – choosing a course of action based on that perspective, and
  • Action – taking action on that decision.

It is a repeating cycle, thus ‘loop’ in the name. You observe, gain orientation, decide on your plan, and act. Then, you start observing again, &c,.

A key to victory – whether fighting in the air, or innovation within your company on the ground – is to create situations where you can anticipate, adapt, and make the right decisions. The OODA Loop helps accomplish this.

You can read more about the OODA Loop and Jack Boyd on Wikipedia.

The illustration I’ve rendered here is a slightly simplified version of the diagram created by John Boyd.

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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April 2011

Making Decisions With A Coin Toss

2011-04-08T10:26:15-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

While it may be a nice way to choose who gets the last cupcake or which side of the field your team starts on, the coin flip can seem like a pretty flimsy way to make important decisions.

But, what do you do when you’ve gathered all the possible data and know all the possible facts? At some point, it becomes counter productive to spend additional time and money seeking additional insight.

As Seth Godin explains in his post today, “When there isn’t enough data, when there can’t be enough data, insist on the flip.”

What Seth doesn’t write – but is part of his current messaging – is that seeking additional data until the cows come home is a way to procrastinate. The problem isn’t so much lack of data, but fear of taking action.

Sometimes we hide behind ‘needing the facts’ so we can keep putting off what we don’t want to do.

Here’s a slightly shortened version of Seth’s post with more details…

Insist On The Coin Flip

Very often, we’re challenged to make decisions with too little information. Sometimes, there’s no information–merely noise. The question is: how will you decide?

Consider the challenge we faced when setting the pricing for a brand of software we were launching in 1986… Should these games cost $29, $34 or $39 each? My bosses and I had one day to finalize our decision for the salesforce.

…We had no graphs, no history, no data. We were the first in the category and there was just nothing significant to go on… We talked for an hour and then did the only intelligent thing–we flipped a coin. To be sure we had it right, we double checked and flipped two out of three. The only mistake we made was wasting an hour pontificating and arguing before we flipped.

This is also the way we should settle closely contested elections. We know the error rate for counting ballots is some percentage–say it’s .01%. Whenever the margin is less than the error rate, we should flip. Not waste months and millions in court, we should insist on the flip. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

Or consider the dilemma of the lucky high school student with five colleges to choose from… Once you’ve narrowed it down and all you’re left with is a hunch, once there are no data points to give you a rational way to pick, stop worrying. Stop analyzing. Don’t waste $4,000 and a month of anxiety visiting the schools again. The data you’ll collect (one lucky meeting, one good day of weather) is just not relevant to making an intelligent decision. Any non-fact based research is designed to help you feel better about your decision, not to help you make a more effective decision.

One last example: if you know from experience that checking job references in your industry gives you basically random results (some people exaggerate, some lie out of spite), then why are you checking?

When there isn’t enough data, when there can’t be enough data, insist on the flip.

By refusing to lie to yourself, by not telling yourself a fable to make the decision easier, you’ll understand quite clearly when you’re winging it.

Once you embrace this idea, it’s a lot easier not to second guess your decisions–and if you’re applying to college, you’ll free up enough time to write a novel before you even matriculate.

(From Seth Godin’s post “Insist On The Coin Flip” published 8 April 2011)

August 2010

Nothing Worse Than The Wrong Problem Solved Properly

2010-08-26T15:43:53-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , |

“There’s nothing worse than
bad coffee brewed properly.”

That’s a quote by Tim Kern. He was a coffee guru at Starbucks Coffee. A long-time employee who was caught a the lay-off sweep a couple of years ago.

The artwork is from a notebook Starbucks handed out to participants in a leadership conference. The notebook was sprinkled with quotes provided by partners (employees).

Tim’s point… Garbage in equals garbage out. You can have the highest quality, best machine in the world, but if you fill it with bad coffee – you’re going to get a bad product.

This is a challenge that happens with problem solving. The best people, using the best process, in the right place won’t made headway when they’re addressing the wrong problem.

Sometimes we don’t spend enough time identifying the root cause of a problem. As a result, we do a really good job fixing the wrong thing. It ends up wasting time, money, and effort. Worse – thinking the problem is indeed fixed (a false sense of security) – the root problem has a chance to deteriorate further.

The return for ensuring you’re addressing the root cause is worth the investment.

Tips to Find Root Cause

Here are a few articles I’ve posted in the past that will prevent you from properly solving the wrong problem.

November 2009

Making Better Decisions

2011-04-07T17:42:19-04:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: , |

Sand for Your Inbox
November 2009

It is great to have so many choices in life… from what to be when you grow up to what cereal to buy for breakfast… lots of choices.

The drawback is that so many options can make decision making confusing, sometimes leading to ‘bad decisions.’

It isn’t a big deal with low-risk decisions… For example, which toothpaste to buy or what movie should be next in your Netflix queue. However, the big decisions – where to go for vacation, which car or house to buy, or which new product to launch – need more rigor than simply ‘going with your gut.’

Making Better Decisions

To help with this process, I’ve created an spreadsheet-based Decision Making Tool. It is a matrix that allows you to:

  • Declare the decision you’re evaluating,
  • Identify and prioritize the qualities of the decision,
  • Enter a selection of potential Options or choices
    (what you’ll ultimately choose), and
  • Rank those options on how well they satisfy your needs.

The spreadsheet uses this information to provide a weighted score for each. The Option with the highest score is your most desired choice.

You will find this Decision Making Tool helps at home and office with any decisions you need to make. Using it, you will have more confidence and feel better about your decisions. Not bad for free, huh?!

Click to download the tool and get started:
Idea Sandbox Decision Making Tool (Excel Spreadsheet, 28 kb)

A Bit More Detail…

What makes this approach helpful is that it requires you to identify decision criteria – the values and qualities – you use to compare one option to another.

If you’re thinking about buying a car, what are the qualities or the values you are using that will help make up your mind? Perhaps you’re considering: safety, fuel efficiency, comfort, space for 3 people and +1 dog, payments at a certain level, etc.

At work, your team may be debating which new product to launch in the Spring. Qualities you may consider for this decision may include: being market ready, ease of implementation, seasonally appropriate, minimal training required, etc.

This tool is technically called a “Weighted Criteria Decision Matrix” and is used by professionals to make decisions using both quantitative (measurable) and qualitative (subjective) information.

I wish you only the best decisions.


Paul's Handwritten Signature


Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox
Twitter: @IdeaSandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam