Lateral Brain Teasers

September 18, 2006

Creativity is often about solving problems with non-linear thinking. One of my favorite techniques for warming up the brain is the use of “lateral” brain teasers. These are questions that can not be solved via traditional logic. Rather they require you to surface and challenge assumptions. Here are ten lateral brain teasers to get you started. After you have answered all ten, click the link at the bottom to get to the answers. No cheating! Have fun and don’t take it too seriously.

1. A sun dial is the time piece with the fewest moving parts. What is the time piece with the most moving parts?

2. A man walks into a hardware store to make a purchase. He can buy 6 for $6, 12 for $12, and 24 for $12. What is the man buying?

3. How could a baby fall out of a 20 story building and live?

4. In a town in ancient Greece, there was a law stating that all men must be clean-shaven and that no man might shave himself. The only person allowed to shave these people was the licensed town barber. Since the barber was bound by the same law. Who shaved the barber?

5. Back in old England, the rich poured the tea into the coffee cups first, followed by the milk. The poor did it the other way around, pouring the milk in the coffee cup first, followed by the tea. Why?

6. Train A and train B are crossing the country, from coast to coast, over 3,000 miles of railroad track. Train A is going from east to west at 80 miles per hour, and Train B is going from west to east at 90 miles per hour. Which train will be closer to the west coast when they meet?

7. Take two apples from five apples. How many do you have?

8. Do they have Fourth of July in England?

9. What was the biggest ocean in the world before Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean?

10. A dog is tied to a 15 foot leash. How can the dog reach a bone 20 feet away?

Ready for the answers? Click here.

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Tips from Tom Peters’ Brand Manager

September 11, 2006

I am the Vice President of Programming and the President Elect for the New England National Speakers Association. I held my first meeting in this role the other day, with Erik Hansen, Tom Peters’ Brand Manager, as our guest speaker for the day. Erik had lots of fantastic ideas that he shared with the group. Here is my list of his top tips.

Business Basics and Branding
1. People Love Lists – Use numbered lists as a way of sharing ideas. That’s why I am creating his tips as a list.

2. “Screw Around Vigorously” (SAV) – Have a bias for action and “just do stuff.”

3. Use Rapid Prototyping – Rather than analyze everything to death, take action and learn from your failures. Fail often and fail quickly.

4. Building the Brand Creates the Brand – He quoted John Moore, author of Tribal Knowledge, “Contrary to what you may have heard or thought, Starbucks never sought to create a brand. Instead, the company passionately sought to create appreciation for a better tasting cup of coffee.”

5. Your Brand is “What People Say It Is” – Someone from the audience asked Erik to define a brand in 5 words. The brand is not your logo or marketing materials. It is what the public says it is.

6. Brand You, Not Your Business – There was much discussion on what was more important to brand – you or your business. In the case of speakers, Erik felt that since you are the product, you are the brand. Based on this recommendation, I am going to rework all of my websites (,, and others) into a website. Goal-Free Living, 24/7 Innovation, and my other work are just projects. I am working on an umbrella theme, such as, “Steve Shapiro, the Guy Who Helps You Get Out of Your Own Way.” Or something like that.

7. When Branding You, Find a Common Anchor – Erik talked about how the “!” on Tom Peters’ materials has become his icon that everyone remembers. This did not create the brand, but rather reflected the brand. Find a similar mark and use it on all of your websites, books, presentations, etc.

8. It’s All About Connections and Conversations – Your brand is the conversation that people are having about you and your products/services. And the more you can stimulate these conversation on the internet, the more buzz that gets created.

Content, Conversations, and Connections
9. Blog – Erik said that the five most important steps are, “1) Do good work and lots of it, 2) Blog, 3) Blog, 4) Blog, and 5) Blog” Do you think he likes blogging? He believes this is a great way of generating buzz, links and connections.

10. You Can’t Write Too Much – Tom Peters is known for writing volumes of content on his blog. To date, he has roughly 400,000 words. Given that the average book is 50,000 words, his blog contains as much content as 8 books.

11. Give People a Reason to Visit Your Website – If you don’t have compelling content, no one will visit. And no one will link to your site.

12. Promote Other People – On Tom’s website, he has his “Cool Friends.” This promotes other people in addition to Tom. Of course if you include content other than your own, this gives people more reasons to visit your site. And it gives more people reasons to link to your site. In fact, I am one of Tom Peters’ “Cool Friends.” Here’s the link.

13. Use Guest Bloggers – If you write a blog, get others to also write blog entries. This serves multiple purposes. It creates more content and more reasons for people to visit and to link. And, if you are like most people, you will want to take vacations from your blogging. If people see your blog is not updated regularly, they will stop coming back. Guest bloggers can create content when you don’t want to.

14. Share Everything – Instead of hording your intellectual property, give it away. This attracts more people, more buzz, and convinces buyers that you really know your stuff.

15. Place Comments on Other Blogs – Search for other blogs that might have similar topics. If you write about leadership, search for leadership. Comment on blog entries on other sites and include links back to your site. HINT: Leave comments on my blog; it’s a start.

16. Seek Out People With Similar Interests – Did you read a book on a topic that is related to yours, or maybe just of interest? If so, call them and start a real conversation. These people may become advocates, business partners, or idea generators.

17. Use Link Websites and External Websites – Look into sites such as technorati,, and others that can help bring more links to your site. Also take advantage of YouTube, Flickr, and others places where you can post pictures and videos, with links back to your site.

Other Ideas
18. Google Search Yourself – Go into Google and search for yourself every week. This gives you an idea of what others are saying. It also helps you determine if your marketing efforts are working.

19. People Love Cards – Tom created a number of “flash cards” that he sells and uses in his workshops. One set of cards were designed by IDEO.

20. Try New Things – Go for things you don’t normally go for. Read magazines you don’t normally read. These will give you new and different insights/perspectives.

21. “Aspire to be The Dumbest Person in the Room” – Quoted from Cool Friend Sally Hogshead’s book Radical Careering. Surround yourself with bright people. And, always look for the nuggets in what everyone is saying. There is gold everywhere.

22. Be Controversial – Tom’s book, Re-Imagine, gets 5 star ratings and 1 star ratings. Not much in the middle (personally, I love it). If you try to please everyone, you will please no one. In your speeches, say something provocative as a way of engaging the audience.

23. Minimize Friction – Make it easy as possible for people to get to you and your content.

24. Be Real - Before posting, I asked Erik to review the list. There were 23 tips on the list I sent him. So I suggested that if there were two more tips, it would round to 25. He wrote back, ” I like 23. 23 is a real number, unlike 25, which is a number that everyone would use. If I see that someone has 25 tips, I know that they worked it to come out to 25, meaning that there are some repetitive ideas in there. Whereas 23 is 23. You don’t try to come up with 23 tips. It just so happens that you extracted 23 tips from what I said. Therefore 23 is a lot more real than 25. So, I’d prefer to stay with 23.” And with that last tip, we have 24. Another real number.

Thanks Erik!

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Making Decisions: The Rock, Paper, Scissors Way

September 8, 2006

Back in July I was a keynote speaker at the Creative Problem Solving Institute. While there, I met Russ Schoen, a fellow creative-type who shared with me a simple, yet powerful technique for making decisions. I am sure that most of you are familiar with the childhood game Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS). Although I have typically use d this as a means of determining which of two people must complete an undesirable chore, Russ adapted this “decision making” tool to help individuals deal with more significant “life decisions ” . If you are unfamiliar with this game, you can find the rules here.

Here’s how you use it to make decisions that are meaningful to you.:

Step 1: Identify a decision you have been struggling with and boil it down into two distinct options. For example, perhaps you are struggling with how you should proceed in your current relationship. Your two options may be (option 1) continue to date your boyfriend or (option 2) end the relationship

Step 2: Next, find a friend to play RPS. At the conclusion of the game, should YOU win, choose option 1. Should YOUR FRIEND win, choose option 2. For discussion sake, let’s say you win. In our example, the decision would be to continue the relationship.

Step 3: Now, sit with that decision, as though it were a done deal, for 10 minutes. See how you feel. Are you relieved? Do you find yourself saying, “That’s what I really wanted?” Or do you find yourself secretly wishing that the other option were selected? Were you really looking for an excuse to end the relationship? Whatever your gut is telling you during those 10 minutes of sitting with the decision, MAYBE that is the decision you should make.

Step 4: Make a decision. Use whatever method that makes the most sense to you. The RPS approach is not right for every decision. Regardless, it may help nudge you in a particular direction if you are paralyzed by indecisiveness and give you insights into deeper feelings.

The second secret in Goal-Free Living is “Trust That You Are Never Lost.” No matter what decision you make, it is the right decision, if you truly commit to it and never look back. However we often question our choices or avoid making them for fear of choosing incorrectly. For the more “risky” decisions, many opt for the more painful method of straddled the fence, suspending a decision and remaining immobile. The RPS method gives you a fun and simple way of listening to your inner voice getting you off the fence and back into the game of life.

As I like to say, “Although all paths are equal, some paths are more equal than others.” Many of us often find ourselves on paths that bring us success in certain areas of our life. But this success may keep us from recognizing and finding greater opportunities in other areas. Always be open to the possibility of an ‘even more right path.’ Remember that when something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learn to ask yourself forward-thinking questions and trust your inner voice; it can provide a wealth of insight for moving forward in a powerful way.

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