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 2015

“How to Solve Problems” 1947-style

2015-08-05T14:47:12-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

I recently discovered this 8th grade arithmetic book from 1947 on the bookshelves at my parents’ house. It’s got a great collection of images that match the mid-century art style of Idea Sandbox. In addition to the images, I found this piece on page 304 providing suggestions for students on problem solving.
Hot to Solve Problems

[click for larger view]


Before you try to work any problem, read it carefully to be sure you understand it; then follow this plan:

  1. Find what the problem tells.
  2. Find what the problem asks for.
  3. Decide what process or processes should be used and in what order.
  4. Estimate about what the answer should be.
  5. Solve the problem.
  6. Check your work to be sure you made no mistakes.
  7. Check your answer with your estimate and see if it is reasonable.

You can stop reading at this point if you’d like. But I want to go on a bit further and dig a little deeper. How may these math rules apply to everyday problem solving.

1. Find what the problem tells.

In investigating your problem, what do you know about it? What facts do you have? What can you be sure of? What are you perhaps taking as a given or an assumption that may not actually hold true. Gather the facts.

2. Find what the problem asks for.

What is missing? What are you solving for? In math you have an ‘eventual’ solution, for example you know you’re looking for the value of x. Business problems aren’t necessarily that straight forward. So, instead of an ‘eventual’ solution, what are your ‘potential’ solutions? What customers our groups do you need to consider?

3. Decide what process or processes should be used and in what order.

What marketing tools do you already have in place that may help solve your problem? What additional tools should you consider. In business, as in math… If you try to solve a problem using the wrong method you won’t end up with the intended (or correct) result.

4. Estimate about what the answer should be.

I like this step. Before you do any work, think about your intended outcome. An estimate will do two things for you (a) it helps you play out the situation as a dress rehearsal in your mind. (b) It allows you to estimate the outcome. To predict – based on what you know, and where you want to go – what your result will be.

5. Solve the problem.

Ah, working it out. I see this step as crafting your plan. Create the approach. Not launching something at this stage. First build the plan that answers what the problem asks, from step 2, using information, including what you know from step 1.

6. Check your work to be sure you made no mistakes.

Now make that plan bullet proof… weave it out of Kevlar. Did you account for all the things the problem is asking for? Have conditions or assumptions changed since you started building the solution?

7. Check your answer with your estimate and see if it is reasonable.

That makes perfect sense in math, but we don’t necessarily do that every time in business, do we? I like this step. Take the picture of the outcome you painted in step 4 and see if what you have come up with matches that expectation. Nice.

In the end, I see this list as a project management flow. These are key steps that help you ensure you’re not forgetting something important, and proceed with clear expectations in mind. I like it.

What is your reaction?

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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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.”


November 2008

Serious Play: The Link Between Creativity & Play

2010-09-22T22:15:43-04:00 Categories: Destination, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , |

I think you’ll enjoy the below video.

It’s a presentation by Tim Brown, the CEO of Ideo (the innovation and design firm) talking about the importance of play leading to creativity. He spoke in May ’08 at the Art Center Design Conference in Pasadena, California. The theme was “Serious Play”.

One of the secrets to Ideo’s success is creating an environment where people feel safe to play and be creative. From this fearless approach to creativity have come some of the most innovative products and ideas.

Many of the activities we performed naturally as children – playful exploration of ideas (seeing a shipping box as a space ship), building with our hands , and role playing (playing house, shop keeper, or doctor) – are the same activities that help create wicked-good ideas as adults.

By the way, Idea Sandbox is based on these concepts. The sandbox is the classic space where nearly anything is possible. And if you don’t like it, smoosh it and start again. What I call ‘creativity without consequence.’

Enjoy the clip.

(This piece is 27:58 long, and is very work appropriate.)

If you can’t see the film, click here to open the original page. Source:

April 2008

Dive Slate: Shower Idea Catcher

2010-09-22T22:26:49-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve, think|Tags: , , |

Lately, while showering, I’ve had strings of brilliant ideas pop into my head… one after the other… However, they strike so quickly, by the time the third idea comes to me, I’ve forgotten the first!

As a professional problem solver, I have adopted the solution. I’ve purchased a water-proof diver’s writing slate to capture ideas that come to me when I’m in the shower.

Scuba divers use a diver’s slate to jot notes about their dives and to communicate with fellow divers. It’s simply a piece of white plastic with a #2 pencil attached.

You may be able to make out my first thought… “DIVE SLATE POST”

Knowing many ideas seem to come to clarity while I’m” lather, rinse, and repeating” this is the best $7.59 I’ve spent!

What I purchased is 4×6 inches, I’d recommend this larger version.

The only other thing you need is a small-hook suction cup!

March 2008

January 2008

October 2007

Osborn: Creative Problem-Solving Process

2013-01-04T15:00:30-04:00 Categories: Destination, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , |

Alex Osborn is the “O” in the agency BBDO. In 1953, he wrote a book titled “Applied Imagination: Principles and Procedures of Creative Problem-Solving.” He was one of the first – if not the first – to write about the practical application of brainstorming and creative problem-solving (CPS). Here is how he outlines the CPS process…

(begin quote)

The creative problem-solving process ideally comprises these procedures: (1) Fact-finding. (2) Idea-finding. (3) Solution-finding.

Fact-finding calls for problem-definition and preparation. Problem-definition calls for picking out and pointing up the problem. Preparation calls for gathering and analyzing the pertinent data.

Idea-finding calls for idea-production and idea-development. Idea production calls for thinking up tentative ideas as possible leads. Idea-development calls for selecting the most likely of the resultant ideas, adding others, and reprocessing all of these by such means as modification and combination.

Solution-finding calls for evaluation and adoption. Evaluation calls for verifying the tentative solutions, by tests and otherwise. Adoption calls for deciding on, and implementing, the final solution.

Regardless of sequence, every one of those steps calls for deliberate effort and creative imagination.

(end quote)

July 2007

Brainstorm In Your Kitchen… Whiteboard Fridge

2010-09-22T22:10:55-04:00 Categories: Destination, SandBlog|Tags: |

First we had kids drawings, then magnetic poetry… Now you can conduct your next brainstorming session right on your own fridge.

The trend spotters at Springwise recently discovered two refrigerator manufacturers – GE and Whirlpool – promoting a line of refrigerators in Brazil, with a whiteboard-type surface allowing the entire appliance to be drawn on.

Here’s what I would do with one of these sketchable fridges…

This makes the perfect gift for the brainstormer on your list who has everything!