May 2007

A Mazing Strategy

2011-04-07T20:43:16+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

The challenge of a maze is to connect the START with the END without running into dead ends… having to retrace your path. The risk is low, making a maze an amusement.

The challenge of managing projects is similar. You must move from START to END without running into dead ends. However, the stakes are higher… making project management less amusing.

Never fear… this scoop of Inbox Sand will strengthen your maze navigation AND project management skills.

Start at the END and work your way toward the START.

Go ahead… Try it. Draw the line backwards from the END point toward the START. You’ll find you will rarely get stuck.

And… now you have a clearly marked path from the START to the END.

Maze Diagram

This backwards maze strategy works just as well for tasks and projects (and eliminates frustration in the same manner). While considered a cheat in completing a maze, at work it is a clever and effective strategy.

Big projects can be daunting to start. What needs to be done? What are the priorities? What resources will we need?

This approach has both logistic and emotional benefits…

Logistically Sound

By creating an image of the future you won’t be hampered why what you have, instead you’ll create what you need.

End Start

Alan Weiss writes about this in his book “The Unofficial Guide to Power Managing

“…If you begin with today and try to turn it into tomorrow, you will be constrained by maximum growth and change permitted by today’s organization and resources. But if you begin with the picture of the future, you can then “work backwards” to determine what has to be changed today in order to reach tomorrow.”

Emotionally Charging

By playing-out the successful result of a project, you create positive emotions of success. These emotions fuel your energy and serve as mental rehearsal for the positive outcome.

The concept “self-fulfilling prophecy” is typically associated with someone who self-destructs his or her own efforts through negativity. The prophecy works for good as well as evil. By focusing on the success you have already envisioned, you will propel success though asset-based thinking.

Recommended Techniques

Write Tomorrow’s Headline – a motivational tool is to write the press release or news article about the success. Write it as if it were in your company newsletter, an organizational announcement of your success, or the lead story in the New York Times.

In his book “Out of the Box” Rob Eastaway suggests starting at “the final chapter, the card you attach to the gift, or the ‘thank you’ speech when you’ve received your award for excellence.”

Hindsight is 20/20 – An aphorism you can put to work for you. After you imagine your success, work your way backward – mapping out step-by-step what got you there. Write down these milestones, assumptions, and tasks.

Whelp, I hope you find this amazingly
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

April 2007

Guaranteed Great Reading List

2011-04-13T23:30:12+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
April 2007

So…you wish you were more creative or a better problem solver? But aren’t sure where to get the information you need to improve?

Today is your lucky day!

The folks at the Idea Sandbox Institute are voracious readers and remove the guesswork out of finding the most helpful books by furnishing this “Guaranteed Great”* reading list.

They have gone deep into the topics of creativity and problem solving… This list truly represents the best of the best.

This first section helps you identify the areas you wish to strengthen. Recommended books are then organized below by category. TIP: Under each book title, click the genre links to find other books of the same/related genre. You will be linked to the Idea SandboxWiki.

Creativity your conundrum?

    Do you not feel that you are very creative? Do you wish you could come up with more ideas?

    These books offer tips and techniques to help you find your creative skills.

Problem Solving got you perplexed?

    Do you wish you had a process to resolve problems and challenges?

    These books take creativity a step further by offering tools to identify a problem and create potential solutions.

Getting Motivated gets you emotional?

    Do you have an idea of what you need to do but are procrastinating? These books help you shift your gear from Neutral to Drive.

Remarkability leaving you speechless?

    Do you want to create ideas that make you or your company radically different than the competition? Want to knock the ball out of the park?

    These are the best books to read if you want to stand out from the crowd. Seth Godin calls this “being remarkable.”


Aha! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas
by Jordan Ayan – 1996
genre(s): Creativity, Neurobics

This is one of the best books I’ve found to help those who don’t feel they’re creative discover that they truly are. This is a great ‘first book’ on creativity.

?What If!: How to Start A Creative Revolution At Work
by Dave Allan, Matt Kingdon, Kris Murrin, Daz Rudkin – 2002
genre(s): Brainstorming, Creativity, Leadership Secrets, Management, Motivation

This book may also be found with the title: “Sticky Wisdom.” This book features page after page of creative and problem solving ideas. I guarantee you’ll have a few new techniques to use in this book.

The Imagineering Workout : Exercises to Shape Your Creative Muscles
by The Disney Imagineers – 2005
genre(s): Creativity, Disney

It’s cool to have a behind-the-scenes pass to how the people who build the “happiest place on earth” develop great ideas and solve problems. Great for the Disney and non-Disney fan alike.

Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity)
by Michael Michalko – 1991
genre(s): Brainstorming, Creativity, Management, Problem Solving

This is a terrific book. Not just chock full of techniques, but also dives into the how and why of creativity. One of my favorite aspects of this book is how Michael uses optical illusions and short stories to demonstrate how set we are in our ways of thinking or approaching problems. After he proves his point, he then offers steps to avoid problem solving ruts. Highly effective.

Problem Solving

The Creative Problem Solver’s Toolbox: A Complete Course in the Art of Creating Solutions to Problems of Any Kind
by Richard Fobes – 2002
genre(s): Brainstorming, Creativity, Problem Solving

Richard does a thorough job taking you through the key steps of problem solving – ranging from welcoming new ideas, and exploring alternatives thru taking action. He offers loads of examples and exercises to turn concept into practice. Plus, Richard’s got the coolest index of any book I’ve ever read. Not only does he indicate page number for a topic, but also breaks the page down into a 1 to 10 scale allowing you to know exactly on the page where the referenced item is. Brilliant!

101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques:
The Handbook of New Ideas for Business

by James M. Higgins – 1994
genre(s): Brainstorming, Decision Making, Problem Identification,
Problem Solving

This is one of the first books I ever read about creative problem solving. James covers this topic expertly and completely… but in a very approachable way. This is one of the most useful books you could buy. Brainstorming techniques are provided for the individual as well as for groups (i.e. a good book for the workplace). He also offers excellent techniques for narrowing your ideas to the most appropriate solutions.


Change the Way You See Everything: Through Asset-Based Thinking
by Kathryn Cramer and Hank Wasiak – 2006
genre(s): Asset-Based Thinking, Motivation

Kathy and Hank have created a new language for those of us who prefer to manage life from a “what I have” versus “what I’m lacking” perspective. This book meant so much to me, I literally bought a case of them and gave them to friends, colleagues, and clients. A must for any home or office library.

Rules of the Red Rubber Ball: Find and Sustain Your Life’s Work
by Kevin Carroll – 2005
genre Motivation

Ever feel like you’re running hard and fast, but don’t feel like you’re getting anywhere? Rules of the Red Rubber Ball will inspire you to figure out what will help you leap out of bed in the morning and live with a purpose. Kevin is filled with such positive energy, and it comes through in his book. Buy a copy for yourself and one as a gift!

The War Of Art: Break Through Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
by Steven Pressfield – 2003
genre(s): Creativity, Motivation

I carried copies of this book around with me and gave it to folks who said they were procrastinating, or getting to a project. This is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Steven’s conversational approach helps you to get off your butt and get going. (I’ve never had anyone I’ve recommended this book to do anything but thank me and rave about it).


Free Prize Inside : The Next Big Marketing Idea
by Seth Godin – 2004
genre(s): Marketing Strategy, Remarkability

Seth has a knack of telling us stuff that makes you say, “Geez, that’s so obvious, why haven’t I thought of that before?!” Free Prize offers tips on being remarkable, how to champion a project, and a process called edgecrafting. This is Seth’s technique that pushes ideas further than traditional brainstorming.

Cut To The Chase

If you were to only purchase one or two of these recommendations… with each of the topics equally interesting to you… this is the order we recommend.

  1. Change The Way You See Everything: Through Asset-Based Thinking” — by Katheryn Cramer & Hank Wasiak
  2. The War of Art” — by Steven Pressfield
  3. 101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques” — by James M. Higgins
  4. Aha! 10 Ways to Free Your Creative Spirit and Find Your Great Ideas” — by Jordan Ayan
  5. Free Prize Inside” — by by Seth Godin

*If you buy a book we recommend and it doesn’t live up to the hype, please let me know by sending an e-mail to .

Happy Reading!
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
book worm
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

March 2007

Be the Wrong Thing, In the Wrong Place

2011-04-13T23:27:18+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
March 2007

Life often requires that we stand out from the crowd and get noticed…

Perhaps by the boss, by someone you’re attracted to, by a new employer, or by potential clients… These are times when you need to be remarkable.

Achieving this with the advice “be the wrong thing in the wrong place” sounds crazy. It is crazy… crazy like a fox.

The “wrong thing/wrong place” phrase has stuck with me for many weeks now. I heard it, while watching a TV interview featuring Sam Lindo. He was talking about his family vineyard, the Camel Valley Vineyards, in Cornwall, Great Britain.

Eighteen years ago the Lindo family could have planted grapes in France and simply been one more among thousands of vineyards. But Annie and Bob (Sam’s family) chose to plant grapes (the wrong thing) on sheep pastures (the wrong place) of Cornwall… In France, they would have been a small fish in a very large pond. Instead, in Cornwall, they’ve become a big fish in a small pond they created!

Do the “wrong thing” at work

Can you be the creative one in the accounting team? How do you share business data beyond using a spreadsheet? Or how about the analytical one in the marketing team. What about being the pastor using marketing skills? Be the librarian with aspirations to do more than react to patron questions. Be the asset-based thinker among pessimists?

Do business in the “wrong place

Wrong place business ideas could include…

  • Provide chair massage service at a truck stop.
  • Offer upscale crudites at a baseball game.
  • A department of motor vehicle office as comfortable as a living room.

These are all ideas that add potential value by providing the wrong thing in the wrong place.

You Still Gotta Be Good…

With all this said, there is a major disclaimer… You have to be good at this “wrong thing.” The wines from Camel Valley are award winning. If the wines were undrinkable – it doesn’t matter if they were grown on the moon. They have to be great massages at the truck stop, the business data needs to be accurate, and the ball game appetizers need to rock your taste-buds.

Remarkable Reading

I recently posted a series of articles about remarkability. Each featuring a different approach outlined by a different author:

I hope these ideas come in handy next time you need to get noticed. Please let me know if you found this information helpful, or if you have your own ideas!

Take care,
Paul's First Name
Paul Williams
wrong doer
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

February 2007

Your Elevator Pitch

2011-04-07T20:42:01+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

Sand for Your Inbox
February 2007

Ever sat next to a potential client or employer on an airplane flight and wished you had a quick pitch prepared?

Ever been at a loss for the right words while riding the company elevator? A senior exec approaches you with something along the lines of…

“You work on the 8th floor in marketing, right? How’s the Houston Project coming along?”

If it hasn’t happened yet – it will. You need to seize the moment prepared with your “Elevator Pitch” – your short, to-the-point, and engaging blurb.

Okay, so you get the idea, but aren’t sure how to write your own? The folks at the Idea Sandbox Institute have compiled key ideas for you…

Elevator Pitch Basics

CONTENT – What you should include

  • Basics – Introduce yourself. Be sure to say your name clearly.
  • Be Interesting – What’s unique about you? What value are you adding? How are you part of the solution? What’s in it for them?

    “I work in the marketing department.”

    “I’m leading the marketing team that developed the winter campaign customers are raving about.”

    “I own a flower shop downtown.”

    “I’m a specialty florist who deals in rare, South American tropical flowers that bloom in the winter.”

  • Convey Key Point(s) – Be sure they ‘get’ your message. You only have time for one, maybe two, key points. Make sure you convey what they are. When you’ve finished the other person should walk away knowing this about you.

STYLE – How to do it

  • Keep It Short – Be able to state your pitch in 30-seconds. The pitch won’t do you any good if it gets cut short. It’s nicknamed ‘elevator pitch’ because you should be able to state in within the length of an elevator ride. (Around 100 to 150 words).
  • Practice, but be Natural – Be rehearsed but don’t sound like it. Learn and rehearse you pitch. Get comfortable with the words. But don’t let it sound rehearsed.
  • Be Genuine and Excited – Express enthusiasm but be yourself. If you aren’t excited, why should I be? If you are not genuine, you will sound like a phony.
  • Provide Your Card – Don’t “pitch and ditch.” If you want them to remember and/or contact you provide the information. Always carry business cards.
  • Multiple Pitches – Create different pitches for different occasions. You probably have more than one audience – therefore more than one pitch. The pitch for the company president will differ from what you say when networking or to a potential employer.

As Seen On TV

Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely places. Many TV sitcoms provide excellent elevator pitches…

A few weeks ago I was watching the opening set-up of the show “My Name is Earl.” The first 30-seconds of each episode quickly explains the show’s on-going plot.

To summarize… Earl used to bad things until realizing karma was punishing him. To make things right, he’s made a list of – and intends to reverse – all his wrong-doings. Each episode Earl rights one of his wrongs.

Hmmm… Sounds interesting.

Many TV shows, especially from the 70s and 80s, use 30-second plot set-ups. To get you engaged and to want more these blurbs are…

  • brief,
  • provide relevant information, and
  • pique your interest.

That’s exactly what YOUR elevator pitch needs to do.

In 30-seconds or less… bring me, or your boss, or potential customers up to speed on what YOUR plot is, pique my interest, and leave me wanting more…

Want More?

See many examples from TV and read “Elevator Pitch: YOUR TV Show Opening Narration,” which inspired this Inbox Sand. For your inspiration, the link includes a whole series of TV blurbs (to read) and the video (to view). Enjoy!

I hope you enjoy and find these tips useful. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments

Take care,

Paul's First Name


Paul Williams
CEO (chief elevator operator)
Idea Sandbox

Idea Sandbox • Seattle | Amsterdam

January 2007

New Year’s Resolution: Comp Yourself

2017-08-20T19:57:08+00:00 Categories: grow, Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: , , |

The beginning of a new year is resolution season.

How do you avoid the let-down, after you have enthusiastically created resolutions for a new year, starting with a clean slate, and by February you’ve stopped working at them?

Here is a New Year’s Resolution… nay… a life philosophy… that you may adopt that I can nearly guarantee you’ll be able to stick to.

Comp Yourself: Do better this year than you did last year.

That’s it. That’s the entire philosophy. YOU determining which areas you wish to focus on.


What does ‘comp’ yourself mean?

Some of us at Starbucks used the term “comp,” a measure of business performance, to gauge our personal job performance.

Many retail companies measure the sales performance of their locations by comparing last year sales with this year sales. They measure comparable (or comp) performance.

If a store did better than last year, we’d say it comp’d itself. It beat its own performance.

To measure our professional growth we would compare how we performed in our jobs this year versus last year.

We asked ourselves questions such as: Did I… contribute more? …do a better job? …take on more projects? …learn more? …get a promotion? …get a pay increase? …receive more praise? …get better feedback from peers? …feel better about my skills?

The measures are up to you… This isn’t the official company performance appraisal, it is your own gauge. There were times in my career when I received praise from my boss, but felt stagnant in my own comp performance. If you feel you haven’t grown enough, put a personal plan together that will get you where you want to be.

You may apply this concept to any aspect of your life. Work. Fun. Home. Personal. Whatever.

Think about where you’d like improvement in your life and work at them. After some time, review and see if you’ve made progress.

Author/blogger John Moore, documents how we practiced this philosophy at Starbucks in a chapter of his book “Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture” In fact, he and I must be on the same wavelength… John provides the entire chapter Always Measure Your Comparable Job Performance on his blog for free.

Same Idea, Alternate Approach

The 1% Solution – Alan Weiss, in his book “Million Dollar Consulting,” suggests…

“Improve by 1% a day, and in just 70 days, you’re twice as good.” An interesting and manageable approach.

September 2006

Keeping Your Battery Charged

2017-08-20T18:45:04+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, think|Tags: , , |

If you’re like me… being tired = becoming cranky (or is it ‘hangry?’) and low energy = low ideas. Avoid being tired and low energy with the collection of practical and realistic ways to help restore and maintain your energy level.

Before Going to Work

Wake to Music: Replace your jolting beep-style alarm clock with a radio alarm clock. Tune to a station with morning programming that gets you going. Or be your own DJ and get an alarm clock for your iPod or that plays CDs. Create your own list of music – starting softly at first and building in volume and pep. Try movie or TV soundtracks… waking up to “Gonna Fly Now (Rocky Theme),” “The ‘A’ Team,” “Mission: Impossible,” or “The Magnificent Seven (Main Theme)” will make you feel you can take on the world.

Breakfast: We know ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ but we still don’t have time to make/eat something. Protein and fiber are secrets to morning energy… (not a coffee and donut). If your mornings are rushed, have a protein shake or smoothie. Worse case, make it the night before and shake it up in the morning!

At the Office

Rearrange Your Space: Recharge your senses by rearranging your space. Seeing the stuff at your desk arranged in new spots will awaken the brain – and your creativity. If possible, change the orientation of how you sit at your computer… if it’s to the one side of your desk, move it to the other. Change your computer’s desktop pattern/wallpaper. Decorate your desk with the color amber. Color therapists say amber beats fatigue. Our bodies get a charge out of newness.

Arrive Early for Meetings: Instead of checking that last email or adding a few more bullets to your presentation, arrive at your next meeting three to five minutes early. Use the time to gather yourself, relax, make or review notes. These few minutes will reduce the pace and stress of your day.

Schedule Buffer Time: Leave room in your daily calendar for the unexpected… schedule “buffer time.” When unexpected personal or work emergencies arise you’ll have the time and energy to deal with them. As an added bonus, on days when you don’t need that buffer time, you’ll have personal time to be more productive.

In The Afternoon

Brush Your Teeth: Get that morning-fresh feel by brushing your teeth in the afternoon. Ahhhh… clean teeth. Your dentist recommends it. Your meeting-mates will thank you (especially after that spicy lunch). Use minty toothpaste. As an added bonus – brush your tongue to wake your taste buds and acupressure meridians.

10 Minute Recess: When your energy sinks in the afternoon, instead of taking a candy bar break, take a walk. Research has found that a brisk 10-minute walk relieves fatigue for up to two hours. The activity increases the flow of oxygen in your bloodstream and causes the brain to release invigorating chemicals such as norepinephrine. You will be perkier AND will be burning calories!

Energy Snacks

Keep healthy snacks handy when you start feeling that afternoon lull. Avoid snacks with refined sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and high fat – they are bad for your waistline as well as your energy levels. Good choices include dried fruit, beef and turkey jerky. Low-fat yogurt and dried soy nuts also provide tyrosine that converts into the feel-good chemicals dopamine and adrenaline and can energize as quickly as a cup of coffee.

Go Bananas – The natural fruit sugar from a ripe banana last up to two hours. Additional bonus: the banana peel may be used for the classic slip-and-fall gag!

Pumpkin Seeds – Our bodies use magnesium to create ATP – the molecule that provides energy to our cells. While found in vegetables and whole-grains, pumpkin seeds are one of the best sources of magnesium. Research has reported that 2.5 oz. or 71 grams a day of pumpkin seeds will give you a much more energy.

Drink Water: The more water in your system, the more oxygen circulates in your bloodstream. Dehydration can make you feel tired. Be sure to get plenty of water.

(There is a debate going on whether eight glasses a day is enough or too much. Additionally, there is debate whether or not the water in soda, tea and coffee count toward fulfilling your water needs).

In addition to these, find more energy boosters in the book “365 Energy Boosters” by Susannah Seton and Sondra Kornblatt.

Happy Energizing!

August 2006

Take Your Inner Child To Work Day

2017-08-20T18:30:15+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

When it comes to curiosity and creative problem solving, kids have the process down pat. They are expert problem solvers. (Only a kid can transform an oversized box into a lunar lander!) Having this imagination around the office can be pretty handy. But how can you make this happen without breaking child labor laws or getting into trouble with school truancy officers? Bring your Inner Child to work.

How are you supposed to find this kid? At the Idea Sandbox Institute, we’ve discovered the process to reaching your Inner Child in three simple steps…

  • Step 1: Determine the age of your Inner Child.
  • Step 2: Behave like that Inner Child.
  • Step 3: Don’t let Them out of your sight.

Step 1 – Determine the age of your Inner Child

First figure out how old your Inner Child is… The scientific method is to take the first and second digits of your calendar age and add them together… I’m 37, 3+7=10. My Inner Child is ten years old! How old is yours?

Step 2 – Behave like that Inner Child

Now that you know how old your Inner Child is… You need to begin thinking that age. Do you remember how free from responsibility you were? How bold you were? As adults, stress and self-consciousness quash creativity.

Recall the kinds of questions you asked at 5, 8, or 10 years old? You were filled with wonder, exploration, and curiosity! You constantly asked… What if? I don’t get it. I wonder why…? Why not? How come? Ask those questions again… today.

Play! Keep a stash of Play-Doh or Silly Putty in your purse or desktop drawer. (The scent of these alone will transport you instantly to childhood). Get away from your work for 15 minutes. Have recess. Play outside.

Step 3 – Don’t let Them out of your sight

Hang out with your Inner Child. Go to lunch together. Take them to your next meeting with wide-eyed curiosity. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Find the fun.
Your Inner Child plays well at home, too. Your significant other will be pleasantly surprised when you bring home finger painting supplies to create original works of art for the fridge instead of watching another episode of reality TV.

Get big ideas being little…

That’s all there is to it. Start now. This instant. You’re no longer 42, you’re now 6. Birth certificate says you’re 27? Naw, be 9 years old. Cut the crust off of your peanut butter and jelly sandwich and get big ideas being little!

July 2006

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

2017-08-20T18:27:57+00:00 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.

June 2006

Take A Step Back, Then Look For More

2017-08-20T18:19:56+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox, solve, think|Tags: , , |

Often what we identify as a problem or opportunity isn’t the true problem. At times our focus may be too narrow preventing us from solving the larger issue causing the problem.

Let’s imagine we operate a specialty wine, cheese, and bread store.

Our challenge is: Customers don’t purchase our specialty products frequently enough.

Our first reaction may be to create a promotion to drive traffic. Perhaps create coupons, have a product sale, something like that… But let’s ask WHY and see where that takes us…

Customers don’t purchase our specialty products frequently enough.

WHY is that?
A) Because customers perceive these products as something only for special occasions.

WHY is that?
B) Our broad selection of products and prices can be intimidating.

WHY is that?
C) We offer so many choices it can be hard to choose the right product.

WHY is that?
D) Customers don’t want to make a (relatively) expensive mistake and buy the wrong item. They don’t want to be embarrassed in front of their guests for having food items that don’t go well together.

Hmmm… Seems the real problem is that we need to reduce customer risk. It’s not about coupons or discounts.

So we’ve learned a few things by asking why, why, why. Now, we’ll look for potential solutions by asking how, how, how about these discoveries.

Look for More – Ask How

Now take the same comments and rephrase them as HOW questions…

A) HOW do we change the perception that our products are only for special occasions?

Possible solutions include…

  • Hire employees who share and demonstrate the values: “Life is too short to consume crummy wine, cheese, and bread.”
  • Provide recipe cards featuring everyday quick/easy to prepare recipes.
  • Make ingredient labels HUGE. Customers will see the price they pay for the less expensive/common brands are artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives.
  • Make sure your store hours are most convenient for customers. If you need them to make a special trip to your location – make sure you’re open when they need you.

B) HOW do we make selection less intimidating?

Possible solutions include…

  • Create a color scheme for products that taste/pair well. A blue-label wine goes with the blue-label cheese and the blue-label bread.
  • Sell in pre-measured portions: Enough for 1 cup used in a recipe. Enough for your party of eight people.
  • Use shelves that display the products so labels are clear and easy to read.
  • Arrange the product in the store according to common cuisines and specific entrees. This section is: Italian. The meal: pasta with meatballs.
  • These are the recommended wines, cheeses, and breads that complement that meal.

C) HOW can we help reduce the challenge of decision-making?

Possible solutions include…

  • Reduce the variety of products we carry – fewer of each type of bread, cheese, and wine.
  • Only carry wine or cheese or bread, not all three.
  • Break the store into three little stores – one section for each product type.
  • Pre-package a wine, a cheese, and bread together as one item. The customer knows bundled items taste great together.

D) HOW do we reduce customers feeling that they’ll make mistakes and help them avoid embarrassment?

Possible solutions include…

  • Offer and promote a money-back guarantee. If you’ve purchased something you didn’t like – we’ll cheerfully replace it with another choice – no questions asked.
  • Offer a website where customers enter flavor likes/dislikes as well as the specific meal they are serving. The site prepares a printable list of suggested wines, cheeses, and breads that complement the meal.
  • Allow customers to taste anything in the store before they purchase.
  • Hire someone to walk around the store – dedicated only to answering customer questions and providing taste samples.

Nice work. Keep going until you really feel you’ve exhausted all the options. Push to extremes.

Next time you have a challenge, dig deeper into the real issue behind your problem by asking a series of WHY questions. Then, develop solutions by asking a series of HOW questions.

May 2006

Idea Generation: Let Mother Nature Provide Solutions

2017-08-20T17:51:09+00:00 Categories: Sand for Your Inbox|Tags: |

A time-tested technique for problem-solving is to take your challenge out of context and look at it from a different perspective. One context we all can relate to is nature. Mother Nature offers much for us to learn.

To generate solutions with the help of Mother Nature, ask:
“How does nature deal with a situation like this?” Or,
“How do plants and animals address this situation?”

Here is a list of some common business challenges:

  1. Your company’s product or service has low awareness.
  2. You are bored or lack growth opportunity in your job.
  3. You have items in your store (or home) with high potential for theft.
  4. Sales have been declining in your product line-up.

So, let’s take a look at how nature reacts in these situations and how we may apply the analogy.

1. CHALLENGE – Your company’s product or service has low awareness.

What do nature’s awareness-builders do?


The firefly uses her light to attract a mate.

Perhaps your customers are the ones in the dark, and you need to provide illumination and let them know what makes your product special.

Birds use their song to defend their territory. Perhaps you need a new advertising approach. Or maybe even a jingle – your bird call!

2. CHALLENGE – You are bored or lack growth opportunity in your job

What happens when something is outgrown in nature?


When the hermit crab begins to outgrow his shell, he looks for a larger one and leaves the old one behind.

Perhaps you need to get out of your old shell. Is there a different opportunity within your organization that will provide you with new challenges? Or maybe you need to find a new place to work altogether.

3. CHALLENGE – You have items in your store (or home)
with high potential for theft.

How does nature protect things from being targeted?


Oxen organize themselves so that the stronger oxen are on the outside of the herd and the weaker within. They respond to a threat by forming a circle with the females and young in the center.

In your store, consider putting high-theft items in the center of your store where they can be easily monitored by the surrounding sales team.

Treebark shields the tree with protective layers of dead tissue that lack nutrients.
Plant-eaters rarely consume dead bark on a standing tree.
At home… Protect valuables by putting them within items that look like they lack value by using a ‘diversion safe.’ You can buy a book safe and common household product decoys with secret compartments to protect valuables.

4. CHALLENGE – Sales have been declining in your product line-up.

How does nature create efficiency?


Natural forest fires kill invading weeds, release nutrients, and reduce competition allowing existing trees to grow larger.

You may have too many products. More isn’t necessarily better. Eliminate products that, like weeds, are invading your stronger products. This will release resources and reduce competition allow existing products to grow larger.

Next time you have a challenge; ask yourself how nature manages in similar situations. The analogy doesn’t have to be a one-to-one match, but use it to inspire solutions you may not of otherwise have thought.