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Balloons and Sandbags: a technique to identify things holding down your innovation efforts

Creativity and Innovation

If you are looking for a simple innovation exercise to do with your team, try “Balloons and Sandbags”.

It’s simple.

For this, you will just need a large surface to write on, either a whiteboard, or a large piece of paper.

At the very top, write down the title of the innovation project or ambition you are trying to improve.

Then below that, divide that area in half with a line down the middle, and write “Balloons” on one side, and “Sandbags” on the other.

The concept is based on a hot air balloon: the balloon(s) provides the lift in order for a project to take off and fly, the sandbags are there to add weight and keep it down so that it can’t fly before it is ready.

Finally, as individuals, use post it notes to write down your own list of balloons (what is going well or helping the project) and sandbags (what is hindering or preventing progress) for the project. Do this in silence for about 10 minutes. The important thing here is to be specific, so instead of a sandbag listed as “too slow”, write something specific like “the time it takes the legal team to respond to our requests for approval take 7 weeks!”.

Then come together as a group, and one at a time place your post it notes in the balloons or sandbags area. As a group, then discuss the themes of what people wrote, and group similar ideas together.

Finally, think of some ways to remove some of the specific sandbags, by identifying the root causes and finding ways to alleviate those.

Do this a couple of times, and you might just help your innovation project finally take off and soar.

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