February 2009

Solve Your Problem, Not The Symptom

2015-01-14T18:38:17+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, solve, think|Tags: , , , |

Remember as a child – or perhaps you have a child at home – when asking one question, it often leads to a string of additional questions? How come? Why? Why is that?

This is simply a way of of trying to understand the root answer, the root cause. As adults, this string of questioning can be very valuable in helping identify the root cause of problems at work and home.

This month, I offer a simple method that will help you get to the root of a problem instead of simply treating symptoms.

Ask Why? And Why? Again

Finding the Root Cause

Trying to fix symptoms instead of addressing the core problem can be dangerous. You spend time, money, and resources making the pain go away. However, while things may feel better, behind this false sense of security still lurks the original problem. What’s worse, it may have become bigger and more complex.

An effective way to dig down to the root cause of a problem is to ask a series of “why?” questions. Ask “why?” or “why may this be occurring?” about the challenge, and then again for each of your responses. These rounds of questioning dig under the surface to reveal root issues.

Here, let me give you an example regarding problems I’m having with my premium, fresh-squeezed Lemonade Stand.

Main Issue: Sales are down at my lemonade stand.

First, I will ask “why?” five times about my main issue.

Why are sales down? 1: There is poor visibility.
Why are sales down? 2: People don’t need/want premium lemonade.
Why are sales down? 3: Competitors are selling lemonade for a cheaper price.
Why are sales down? 4: My stand is in a bad location.
Why are sales down? 5: Fresh lemonade is no longer trendy.
Why are sales down? …

So here you can see I’ve identified five potential main issues. (You should keep going until you’re comfortable you’ve sought all the potential issues).

From here, we want to take each to a deeper level. I recommend at least three to five rounds for each of the five problems already identified.

(Yes, it seems like a lot of work, but it’s better to figure it out here, on paper, before spending money. And it is MUCH cheaper than spending money solving the wrong problem).

So, I’ll start working out the first two as an example. This time, I ask why about each previous response.

Why? 1: There is poor visibility.

Why is there poor visibility?
I don’t have a proper sign.

Why don’t I have a proper sign?
I spent the money on the stand not the sign.

Why did I spend the money on the stand?
I don’t really know about advertising.

Root Issue: I lack strong advertising skills, I need to take a class or get some outside help.

Why? 2: People don’t need/want premium lemonade.

Why don’t people want premium lemonade?
It is perceived as too expensive.

Why is it perceived as too expensive?
People are fine to get it cheaper elsewhere.

Why are people fine to get it cheaper?
They don’t recognize the difference between
my premium lemonade and the cheap stuff the competition sells.

Why don’t they recognize the difference?
I haven’t explained my quality message anywhere.

Root Issue: I’m realizing I’m not telling my story well enough.

Now I’ve got a better idea of what is behind some of the problems I am having and know where to focus my energy. If I continue, I may discover additional issues that need to be addressed.

Additional Tips:

  • “Why” is a magic word that will break a problem down into smaller, more workable chunks.
  • Ask “why” at least five times. Or even better, until you hit a wall. The statements at this level will reveal your root issues.
  • To get a fuller picture, instead of just asking “why” only once for sub-issues, ask multiple times. (For example, I could ask ‘Why are people fine to get cheaper elsewhere?‘ a few more times to reveal more than simply ‘they don’t understand lack of quality.’ Perhaps it is about convenience or better selection elsewhere as well.).

Handy Templates:

To help get you started, I’ve created a downloadable template:

I’ve also prepared a completed example:

I recommend you try this approach on a problem you’re facing at home or at work. Let me know how it goes for you!

September 2008

Eleven Tips To Deserve That Promotion

2011-04-14T01:24:40+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
September 2008

Receiving a job promotion is exciting, but adjusting your work-style for the new role and responsibilities can be a challenge.

I provided an email with tips to a friend recently promoted from a manager to director role.

After sending, I realized… not only is this advice helpful for adjusting to a rung higher-up the company ladder, but also great for those seeking a promotion, and as a refresher at any point in your career.

Below is what I shared… Enjoy!

Use this advice if you’re new in your role, or if you want to re-energize your current job.

(1) Earn Your New Title

Don’t feel you’re entitled to the role. Yes, you deserve it… Nevertheless, simply having the title doesn’t make you smarter nor ensure respect… You still have to earn them.

So, “be” the director!

(2) Add Value

Don’t let anything move through you without adding value. I don’t mean to change things for the sake of changing things. However, with everything you come in contact with (from major programs to status reports), ask yourself…

“How can I make this better?
How can I add my touch to it?
How can I improve it?”

It could be as simple as making data easier to understand with a graph or as involved as re-inventing an entire process.

(3) Be Professional

I don’t know how you acted before, but you need to be as professional as possible at work and around your colleagues. If you did it before, you need to quit the gossip and wining about “them” not fixing broken things.

People are going to be looking up to you to set an example. Gossip makes you look weak. And, you can’t whine about what is broken, because YOU are now “them!”

(4) You = Solutions

Don’t let problems getting past you without a solution.

You should no longer talk to your boss about problems you are having without having solutions in mind. (Actually this is advice for ANY level). This doesn’t mean you have to fix a problem that is bigger than you can handle… just don’t show up to your boss with “I don’t know what to do about this problem!” – if you need help, show up with… “I discovered this problem, this is my recommended fix… in your experience do you think this is best?” (This way you show up as a problem solver – adding value – not just a problem finder).

(5) Make a Plan

One difference between a lower and a higher level role is how far you can see toward the horizon. When you’re a manager, you see 18-months out. Longer than that is often out of your control. As a director, you’re planning for a broader future, perhaps 24 to 36 months out. Yes, I know… plans change on a daily basis. Nevertheless, you should establish three or four goals for your department that span 36-months out.

A piece of advice for this longer-term planning… Instead of thinking of where you are today and how you’ll go forward to achieve your end goal, start AT your future goal and work your way backward. Outline the resources that “got” you there. This will prevent you from making too many assumptions.

Finally, refer to this big picture plan to guide decision making and to gauge your progress.

(6) The Big Painting Is Made up of Small Brush Strokes

You will be expected to be more strategic now…. A bigger thinker. Be that. But also recognize that you probably won’t get away from the day-to-day minutia. Thinking the details are below your pay grade is a common misconception.

Reality is, you’re now responsible for both strategy AND the details. The day-to-day is what equals the week… and the weeks the month… and the months, the quarter… So, I “get” that you don’t want to get stuck in the details because it can take away from your big picture thinking… but honestly… you still have to be connected to the details.

I don’t know if you have people reporting to you… if you do, THEY need to manage the day to day details (get the work done), and you are still responsible if those small tasks aren’t accomplished.

(7) Do the Work at Your Level, and the Level Above You

While you need to be yourself, you need to realize that you are at a new level. People will perceive you as more mature in your job when you act that way. The secret is to do the work of your job, but perform like the role above you. So, now you should DO the work of a director, but perform like a V.P. (How do they go above and beyond? How do they think ahead?)

(8) Buy This Book

This book offers the best tips and techniques for managing yourself and others.

Click on the link below, and buy it today.

The Unofficial Guide to Power Management
(Amazon US) (Amazon UK)
by Alan Weiss

No, really. It’s awesome.

(9) Fix What’s Broken, Enhance What’s Not

Figure out what’s broken and fix it. Simultaneously, figure out what doesn’t exist that will make things better.

A good way to plan for this – and I use this technique with Idea Sandbox clients – is to make a list of things to “STOP, START & CONTINUE”:

STOP (stuff that isn’t working), START (stuff that should exist), and CONTINUE (stuff that works you should keep and/or enhance).

(10) Make Yourself Obsolete

A good leader works to replace herself. In addition to your everyday goals, an additional goal is to develop someone else to replace you. You should be teaching the people below you the lessons to take your job. In X months you should be able to go to your boss and say…

“Whelp, Paul is ready to do my job.
He is fully capable of replacing me.”

Of course you may not really want to say that… However, it should be your goal in 12 months to have someone ready to replace you. If you’ve done the right things to make that happen, more than likely, you will be ready to be promoted yourself!

(11) Have Fun

Yah. Have fun. Make it a fun place to work. You’re the “them” that makes the difference. Work hard, but don’t make it hard work.

Let me know what you think. Any other ideas work for you?

Congratulations in your “new” role,
Paul's First Name

Paul Williams
ready to be promoted
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

August 2008

Unblocking Thinker’s Block

2011-07-27T14:28:04+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
August 2008

Have you ever had “thinkers block?” It’s a problem similar to writer’s block, but instead of words, you’re stumped for ideas.

In this scoop of Sand for Your Inbox, I offer you a technique to get your ideas flowing.

In his book Out of the Box: 101 Ideas for Thinking Creatively, author Rob Eastaway outlines five types of creative thinkers: Child-Like, Problem-Solver, Dreamer, Builder, and Imagineer. He recommends adopting their characteristics and key words to have a more creative attitude.

In looking at this list further I realized… When a specific problem is obstructing your thoughts you can also use these characteristics and key words – like super-strength brain cleaner – to get your ideas flowing again!

Here’s the list from Rob’s book:

Type Characteristics Words
Has the curiosity and confidence to explore ideas.
“Why not?”
Problem Solver
Regards every setback or block as a problem to be solved.
“How to…”
Aspires to what might be, rather than what is.
“I wish…”
Supports other people’s ideas and knows how to build on them.
“Yes, and…”
Is ready to think the unthinkable and explore the unknown.
“What if?”

Next time you’re stuck on a problem, get thoughts flowing again with…

  • Why not?
  • How to…
  • I wish…
  • Yes, and…
  • What if?

Let me know what you think. Do these ideas work for you?

I invite you read other clever ideas at the Idea Sandbox blog!

Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
commercial strength brain cleaner
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

July 2008

Five Tips to Beat Procrastination

2011-04-07T22:29:55+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
July 2008

Ah, procrastination.

I would have sent this e-newsletter sooner, but I did not get around to it. You see, I’ve been procrastinating.

Do you have projects that seem to linger? Tasks that nomadically drift from one day’s todo list to the next? Yah, me too.

Most procrastination cures prescribe productivity tips. However, we both know about productivity, that’s not it…

So, what do we do about it? I have found it is about… momentum.

Newton (Sir Isaac, not Fig) in his first law of motion, declares, “An object will stay at rest or continue at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force.”

(A shout-out to all who have been writing and asking me to weave Newtonian mechanics in my newsletter!)

In plainer English… Unless you add a force to them… things that are still, stay still. Things in motion stay in motion.

Forces To Get You Moving

  • Block Distractions & Interruptions – Do your best to block out or get away from distractions and things that cause you to lose focus. Get yourself to a conducive space.
  • Take Smaller Bites – Trying to figure out how to eat it in one bite? – Break big projects into smaller chunk tasks. You’ll feel the adrenaline when you get that first task done… and the project is now in motion.
  • Figure Out Priorities, Know Where to Start – Perhaps you’ve broken it up into smaller chunks, but it still feels like it is hitting you all at once? Put the first things first. Use the Idea Sandbox Prioritizer Tool to assist. http://prioritizer.idea-sandbox.com
  • Stop Perfectionism – You want to do it perfectly, or not at all, right? Don’t be fooled… This is probably your mind helping you justify procrastination. Try doing it “not perfect” to get something done, and make adjustments in Round 2. “Good enough” is good enough to get started.
  • Keep Yourself Fresh: 48/12 Rule – For each hour, work for 48 minutes followed by a 12 minute break. This really works. The 12-minutes gives you a nice break. The 48-minute push helps you crank through your work. Even if you’re on a roll, still take a refresher break. (Especially if your work requires using a computer screen… the 12-minutes is a nice break for your eyes… and in the end reduces overall fatigue).

If All Else Fails…

If none of these ideas works for you, I recommend picking up Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art.” I have yet to meet anyone whose butt this book didn’t kick into gear. It’s that good.

Well, I hope these ideas help you. I wish you the best in getting things in motion.

Take care,
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
momentum initiator
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

April 2008

Get Yourself In Order with PRIORITIZER

2011-04-07T22:22:00+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
April 2008

So, you’ve finally made a list of the projects, tasks and errands you need to accomplish… (nice work)

However, your challenge now is knowing which items to accomplish first… your priorities!

You’re not alone… Many of us have struggled with this problem. As a professional problem solver I’ve decided to do something about this…

Introducing, Idea Sandbox Prioritizer!
A free, web-based tool to help you get yourself in order!


Give it a try now… Bookmark it for later!

Quick Instructions

Visit http://prioritizer.idea-sandbox.com

  • Enter into Prioritizer: tasks, projects, errands… anything you need to accomplish.
  • When you’ve finished entering, select NEXT STEP at the bottom of the page.
    Prioritizer pairs items on your list. Click the item that is more important, or that needs to be done first.
  • When you have run through all the items on your list, Prioritizer presents you with your new list, prioritized and numbered!

That’s all there is to it!

With your finished list, Prioritizer offers you the convenience to…

Print It – creates a snazzy format to print or save as PDF.
Change It – add, subtract, or re-word tasks on the existing list. Or,
Start Over – start from scratch.

Prioritizer is perfect whenever you have three or more items that need to be prioritized!


I’m super excited to bring you this tool. I’m sure you’ll find it useful. Please let me know your feedback!

Happy Prioritizing,
Paul's First Name

Paul Williams
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

March 2008

Idea Sandbox: Big Dig

2011-04-07T21:34:25+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
March 2008

Suffering from idea block?

Like writer’s block, you know your idea or solution is just below the surface… but you can’t quite dig it out.

You need an idea shovel. Well, Idea Sandbox has help!

We present to you…

Big Dig is your free, web-based sandbox of ideas. It is chock-full of thought starters and brainstorming tools specifically crafted to help you uncover your needed solution.

Using it is fast, simple, and helpful.
First, have your challenge in mind.

Idea Sandbox Big Dig

  1. Click the above link. (bigdig.idea-sandbox.com)
  2. Click the idea sandbox to reveal your first suggestion.
  3. Use the idea offered, or click again to obtain another approach.
  4. Big Dig is a one-of-a-kind resource, handcrafted exclusively for Idea Sandbox users.

Big Dig has been receiving a load of positive feedback… Please let me know your thoughts as well!

Happy Digging,
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

January 2008

Pave Your Life Roadmap

2018-05-27T10:34:27+00:00 Categories: create, grow, Sand for Your Inbox, solve, think|Tags: , , , , , |

Are you trying to figure out what to do with your life?

What to be when you grow up?

This installment of “Sand for Your Inbox” is a special edition. I have handcrafted a proven technique that will help you answer these important questions. (No, really!)

Some years ago, I was trying to figure this out for myself. I did a bunch of reading, culled my self-help resources, and created a process to create a Life Roadmap. My Roadmap put me on course to launch Idea Sandbox and make key decisions in my personal and work life.

Outlined below is the very process I used from start-to-finish.

There is nothing more satisfying than getting in the driver’s seat of your own life and doing the things you are most passionate about.

Please share your comments in the reactions section at the end of the article.

Happy Driving,
Paul's First Name

Pave Your Life Roadmap

This process will (1) assists you in identifying what you’re most passionate about and (2) help you incorporate those passions into your daily life. By living your passions, you’ll be a happier and more fulfilled person!

The key steps to crafting your Roadmap are…

  1. List Your Passions – Make a list of all the things you are passionate about.
  2. Identify Values – Group your passions into themes.
  3. Set the Situation – Determine what conditions should exist for you to feel you’re fulfilling your Values.
  4. Reveal Action Steps – Identify what daily activities you should be doing to fulfill your Values.
  5. Visual Report Card – Draw a graph to visualize and assess your current status. (Don’t worry, no drafting tools required).
  6. Take Action / Follow Your Roadmap – Now that you have the keys. Get behind the wheel and follow this plan to drive your life.

Tips as you start…

  • Get yourself a stack of small sized note cards, or a notebook, or a journal… Whatever works for you to have something can come back to.
  • Take your time with this project, but give yourself a deadline. You should give yourself time to reflect, but not so much time you forget and don’t follow-up and complete your plan.
  • Don’t try to do this in one sitting. Plan on starting and coming back to each step. Letting each stage incubate in the back of your brain will provide you with better results.

Find a comfortable chair… here we go!

Step 1. List Your Passions

Objective: Create a list of things you are passionate about.

Make a list the things you are passionate about. If you’re using index cards, put one passion per card. Keep going until you’ve reached 100 passions.

Ask yourself…

  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What excites me?
  • What would I love to spend more time doing if I only had the time?
  • If I could only do one thing for the rest of my life, what would that be?

Forget your responsibilities at work, home, or with family. This isn’t a ‘have to do’ list, this is a ‘wish I could do’ and ‘love to do’ list. There are no right or wrong answers – these are all you.

If you know how and like to ideamap, they are very helpful for this step.

Step 2. Identify Values

Objective: Discover commonalities and group passions into recurring themes.

Next, review your passions and group them into common themes. Look for recurring topics and lump these together. (This is where index cards come in handy).

The book To Do, Doing Done by Snead & Wycoff has a great list of values, including:

Achievement Adventure Beauty
Career Growth Community Family
Financial Security Freedom Friends
Frugality Fun Generosity
Growth Health & Fitness Honesty
Inner Peace Joy Leadership
Learning Love Music
Nature Organization Personal Development
Productivity Spirituality Travel

While you may have loads of interests and passions, combining into value groups helps you narrow your focus on what truly matters most.

Don’t worry if it seems you have too many themes for your VALUES. After you’ve created the first round, you can pare down and combine. I had 19 different themes and finally ended up with 10.

My key values are Security, Relationships, Organization, Personal Growth, Fun & Entertainment, Contribution, Entrepreneur, Passion, Creativity, and Health.

Here is an ideamap I created to view and group my own Values.


Handwritten Map


Using Template

Identifying values is key. They represent activities that you care about most. If you do things that match your values, you will feel more fulfilled.

Step 3. Set the Situation

Objective: Determine what circumstances (new and existing) will allow you to fulfill your Values.

Now we’ll figure out what situation or circumstances you should find yourself that will make you feel like you’re fulfilling your Values. These are performance indicators. Their existence indicates you’re performing in your Values.

Answer this question:
If I had a life filled with [your theme here], I would: _____________.

The last part of the sentence will reveal these performance indicators.

For example, for my theme “CREATIVITY” my five performance indicators are:

If I had a life filled with CREATIVITY, I would:

  1. Think up new ideas
  2. Solve problems
  3. Create neat ideas that work
  4. Create new ways of doing things
  5. Express myself with art, music, and/or writing.

I recommend coming up with at least five (5) answers. It is okay if these match up with your original list of passions… But push yourself. There may be a big difference between what you are doing and what you should be doing.

Step 4. Visual Report Card

Objective: Gauge how we’ll you’re currently satisfying your Values. Determine which values you should focus on first.

Now we want to compare your values and see which you’re fulfilling and which need focus.

For each value, you’re going to ask yourself…
“Self, on a scale from 1 to 5, (5 being the best, 1 being the least), how am I currently doing in fulfilling these performance indicators?”

Repeat for each value and mark your scores on a radar diagram. A radar diagram is a round graph with spokes that measure each piece of information. (It looks like a radar screen). It is helpful to see how consistent or balanced your information is.

The values marked with lower scores need focus. A score of “5” represent values you are fulfilling. Theoretically, when you mark scores of all 5’s you’re at the height of following your passions.

You can download a blank template here (PDF), or create your own.

Here’s my completed radar diagram. My personal assessment is shaded in orange. The green area represents all 5s. So you can see I feel pretty good about my Entrepreneur, Relationships, Personal Growth, and Fun Values, but want to work on my Contribution and Organization Values.

Step 5. Reveal Action Steps

Objective: Determine what you should be doing on a daily basis – enabling activities – to satisfy your values.

If this life plan were a business plan, your values would be your objectives and performance indicators your strategies. Now we need to figure out the tactics, the enabling activities. Tasks to do on a daily basis.

Using your radar diagram as your guide, start with the value you indicated most needs improvement and the corresponding performance indicators.

Figure out what tasks you need to do to bring to life the performance indicator.

Take a look at my value of CREATIVITY as the example.

As I listed earlier, the performance indicators I have identified for this value are:

  1. Think up new ideas
  2. Solve problems
  3. Create neat ideas that work
  4. Create new ways of doing things
  5. Express myself with art, music, and/or writing.

The last one is the one I want to work on: “Express myself with art, music, and/or writing.”

I’ve narrowed the focus of this one to art and writing. I’m able to exercise my passion for writing through this newsletter, in my blog posts, and other writings. But, I want to be a better writer. So enabling activities could include one or all of the following:

  • Sign up for a writing class,
  • Get feedback from my English teacher friend,
  • Buy a book on how to improve my grammar.

The art part? I majored in art in college and love drawing and painting. However, I haven’t painted in years. For Christmas, I asked Santa for art supplies. I received an art easel and new supplies to do pen & ink drawings and watercolor. I’ve already started to enjoy using them and feel better.

When I brainstorm with clients, I often draw images instead of simply using words. Also known as graphic facilitation. This helps make topics easier to understand AND feeds my passion for drawing… This also influenced how I built Idea Sandbox, and is part of what makes my job so much fun. See how this all comes together?

To help work this step out, I created a document. In fact, the below document along with your radar diagram constitutes your entire Life Roadmap.

This document along with the radar diagram serves as my daily guide.

This link, Life Roadmap Plan, will allow you to download this as a Word template. Enjoy.

Step 6. Take Action / Follow Your Roadmap.

Objective: Perform enabling activities. Use your LifeMap as a guide.

Incorporate these enabling activities into your daily life. Put them on your calendar, to-do lists, whatever. (If you don’t have a system, start one now!)

Use your LifeMap as a guide for making life decisions and see how your choices affect the ability for you to engage in your performance indicators. When you’re faced with life choices that give you angst, it is because they affect your passion areas, your values.

Radar Diagram

Be Your Own Career Counselor

What I’ve provided so far will help you do the “things” that will fulfill you… But what if you’re trying to figure out what a fulfilling job or career could be?

That list of passions you built-in Step 1 contains all the specifications you need in finding a job you’ll find rewarding.

The hard part is to ignore whom you “think” you are today and dig into what you’ve written. Your passions outline your job description, you just need to translate

For example, my list of passions includes that I enjoy…

  • helping people, serving as a leader, passing knowledge onto others, finding inventive ways to simplify complex ideas…

What types of jobs would allow me to do these activities? I can come up with…

  • Teacher, Politics, Counselor, Sports Coach, Life Coach, Corporate Trainer…

If I take a look at my other passions and other factors… I don’t think I’d like to deal with bureaucracy, so politics may not be the role for me… I’m not a huge sports fan so sports coach probably won’t suit me. But, I’d have a blast teaching kids or helping them make better choices, and life coach and corporate trainer are worth looking into.

While working on this piece there are two other resources you should consider checking out…

  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – You may find Myers-Briggs helpful, the MBTI tool is online. For a $60 investment in yourself take the assessment. The feedback will also help you gauge what you may enjoy.
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths by Clifton & Buckingham – This book focuses on maximizing your strengths rather than trying to “fix” your weaknesses. When you buy the book, a code printed on the front cover gives you access to their Strength Finder website. (They have a new, updated book called Strengths Finder 2.0)


That’s the program! It is intense, but your return on investment is colossal. Follow these steps, be honest with yourself, and I can guarantee you will have results.

Send me an e-mail if you have questions.

I wish you the best!

Your Life Roadmap is paved with a series of VALUES formed by groups of PASSIONS that manifest themselves through PERFORMANCE INDICATORS and are brought to life through your ENABLING ACTIVITIES.

Here are resources I originally used to build this process…

  • The Franklin-Covey method of defining Values, Roles, and Goals.
  • To Do, Doing, Done by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff
  • First Things First by Stephen Covey
  • Franklin-Covey Mission Statement Builder
  • Ben Franklin 13 Virtues – Ben Franklin was one of the first self-improvement gurus (although he didn’t know it yet). In 1726 Ben Franklin created a list of thirteen virtues to guide his life. He used to keep a daily journal to note how he performed in keeping to virtues. (He openly admitted challenges with keeping to them).

September 2007

Bricks, Walls, Cathedral

2011-04-07T20:55:47+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
September 2007

One method is to examine your problem from both narrower and broader perspectives…
Is your problem a wall? Or is this problem really about smaller, contributing factors – the bricks. Or is it actually a symptom of a larger issue – a cathedral.


To determine what may be contributing to this problem – the bricks – ask these questions…

  • What is stopping us from solving this?
  • What else is stopping us? (repeat)

If you end up with a list of answers, your actual problem will be found in these underlying issues. Spend energy solving these issues and your original problem should be solved.


The wall is the perspective most of us start with when we begin to work on a problem.
Use the brick and cathedral questions to try to narrow or broaden the nature of your problem. If you can’t, then you have your problem identified. Nice work. Now, fix that wall.


To determine if your problem may actually be part of larger issue – a cathedral – ask these questions…

  • Why do we want to solve this problem?
  • Why else? (repeat)

With this question, if you end up with a list of answers, your problem is more than likely a symptom of some larger issue. Focus on the larger, big picture challenge.

Next time you’re faced with a challenge, use these questions and be sure to solve the right problem.

Best results,
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

August 2007

Fail Intelligently

2011-04-07T20:49:28+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
August 2007

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to.

Instead of allowing these let-downs get you down, you can learn from them.

Let me elaborate…

It’s happened to us before, and it’ll happen again. Failure.

Something didn’t go as planned or as expected and you’re in a spot where you didn’t want to be.

We don’t like failure. We’re taught failing suggests character flaw. A weakness. Nevertheless, it is inevitable. Sometimes it is your fault. Often it is not.

So, what do we do about it?

The secret to failure is to learn from it. To “fail intelligently” as James Dale puts it in his book: “The Obvious: Everything You Need to Know to Succeed.” He offers…

“Every failure is an MBA on how to do it better next time. Failure doesn’t lead to success. It leads to knowledge, which leads to success.”

Don’t believe me?

Look at this list of failures James mentions in his book:

Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear on his first automobile.

Albert Einstein’s parents were told he might be mentally retarded.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.

Elvis Presley didn’t make the glee club.

Napoleon finished near the bottom of his military school class.

The Beatles were turned down for a recording contract by Decca Records.

John Grisham’s first novel was rejected by sixteen agents and a dozen publishers.

If these folks hadn’t learned from their upsets, chances are we never would have heard of them. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back. Life won’t always go smoothly. When it doesn’t, learn from it.

May all your failures be smart ones.

Take care,
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox

June 2007

Regain Lost Time In Your Day: Result-Based Agenda

2011-04-13T23:44:13+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
June 2007

Meetings, Meetings, Meetings…

How often do you review your planner to see your week riddled with meetings and wonder when you’re going to get your own work done?

What’s worse… So many end up a poor use of time and adjourn without accomplishing more than taking an hour out of your busy schedule.

Just because meetings are necessary, doesn’t mean they necessarily have to be bad.

In this installment of “Sand for Your Inbox” we share secrets to preventing hours lost to non-productive, inefficient meetings.

It almost sounds too good or easy to be true. How can an agenda make that much of a difference? Take a look at this agenda. It may look like a meeting you attended this week…

Promotion Update Meeting

9:00 am Review agenda Nancy
9:10 am Department Updates Tim – Product
Lynn – Creative
Chris – Operations
10:00 am Winter calendar dates All
10:20 am Address questions All
10:30 am Adjourn  

Points should be awarded simply for having an agenda… But there are a few flaws. Let’s take a look…

  • My agenda is a list of static items. What is point A, and where is point B? What’s being resolved?
  • How do Tim, Lynn, and Chris know what to prepare? Participants don’t know what to expect or what’s expected of them.
  • More than likely, because we’ve booked 90-minutes, we’ll end up filling 90-minutes.

Here’s our recommended approach…

Promotion Update Meeting

Goal: Finalize outstanding product, menu, and incentive issues for Fall Promotion. Set dates for Winter.
Pre-Session Work: Please read the notes provided by Tim, Lynn, and Chris and be prepared to discuss their recommendations. Bring key dates for the Winter promotion.
Starting Time: 9:00 am | Ending Time: 10:30 am

Results / Objectives:
Finalize timing of new product launch to coincide with signage delivery. Tim / Nancy 5-10 minutes
Review new menu board options. Make selection. Lynn 15-20 minutes
Select sampling incentive program and review/finalize goals. Chris 10-15 minutes
Plot Winter promotion dates on calendar and establish deadlines for Winter promotion. Nancy 10-15 minutes
Identify priorities, accountabilities, and next meeting date (if required) All 5-10 mins

Post-Session Work:

  • Product launch/signage delivery dates provided to production team.
  • Menu board finalized, creative team to create mock-ups for walk-thru presentation.
  • Incentive program and sampling goals sent to implementation team.
  • Winter promotion team to distribute calendar to departments for feedback.

With this second approach, I define exactly what we plan to accomplish. The goal atop describes the specific purpose and each agenda item is a result. Those accountable and the other participants know what to expect and what is expected of them.

At most, this meeting could last 90-minutes, but has flexibility to finish in as early as 45 minutes. Ah, the gift of time!

Finally, list the steps that follow this meeting as post-session work. Participants can see what the work of this meeting will lead to and be reminded of any follow-up expected of them.

Summary / Tips

  • Prepare an agenda for all of your meetings. Distribute well in advance to allow participants to arrive prepared.
  • Include the purpose or goal statement for each meeting.
  • List any preparation you require from participants.
  • Instead of a task list, establish results and outcome. Finish the statement: “At the end of this part we will have accomplished…”
  • For accountability and to set expectations, assign a person with each result. People will be happy to know what is expected of them.
  • Provide a flexible time range for each agenda item.
  • Outline what is to happen after this meeting and before the next.
  • Use this approach for ALL of your meetings. Have a status update with your boss? Won’t she be pleased when you show up with a result-based agenda!
  • Create a “no agenda, no meeting” policy.

I can guarantee, by adopting a result-based approach to your meetings you will be more productive and more efficient. You will make meaningful use of your, and your participants time. In short, you will be a superstar.

Best results,
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
professional problem solver
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam