Why brainstorming is a 2 step process.

Recently I was working with the PO2 team to begin the process of redesigning an element of our site.  I realized that at Power of Two we have developed an incredibly effective brainstorming strategy based on the skills we teach in our marriage program for win-win shared decision-making.

When people come together to brainstorm they often make the critical mistake of thinking that they’re only doing one thing – coming up with great ideas to solve a problem.

In reality, at the beginning of a brainstorm, the problem is often understood differently by all of the stakeholders, because each person is bringing their own experience to the table – designers, techies, biz dev, etc.

So really, an effective brainstorm has 2 parts.

  1. Brainstorm “underlying concerns” (to understand the problem better)
  2. Brainstorm “potential solution sets” (to satisfy all of the underlying concerns)

Underlying concerns are all of the factors in the problem that you’re trying to solve.  So for example, if your doing a marketing campaign the underlying concerns could include stuff like the need to stick within a limited budget, or the need to meet a short deadline, as well as stuff like the desire to make something memorable, the need to avoid offending customers, the need to have the product price easily visible, or the need for a clear call to action.

My point is that there are an infinite number of ways to solve all of these problems.  When the team moves to the 2nd part of the brainstorming process though, you want to make sure everyone’s working on solving the same multi-faceted problem.  And by separating out the two steps, we find the process is far more efficient and effective.

One more comment.  Usually after the first pass at steps 1 and 2, it’s often helpful to take a step back and ask if anyone has any more underlying concerns to add to the table.  An easy way to do this is just to ask, “How does everyone feel about the solution we’ve come up with?”  If there’s a missing underlying concern, people often feel it in their belly before they recognize it in their head.


Helping Military Families

Power of Two has been very active reaching out to partners who are committed to promoting happy, loving marriages.  Right now, we’re reaching out to organizations that help military families in particular.

In February we’re going to be the featured marriage program on the Army Wife Network (AWN) radio show.  In preparation for that, we’re offering 10 FREE memberships to military families.  Checkout the FB post about it on the AWN Facebook wall: http://www.facebook.com/ArmyWifeNetwork.

- Jacob


Contractors: Friend or Foe?

Working with outside consultants, contractors and vendors has lots of advantages, but it’s not easy.  Here’s my analysis of what to watch out for.

For us, we like working with consultants because:

  • We get to choose the best person or team for each situation. For example, different designers have different styles that fit specific situations better than others.
  • We can scale up and scale down as needed without locking in long-term cash flow commitments.  For example, when we want to build out a new feature on our site, we want to get it done as soon as possible, and we’re willing to pay to get it done right.  But when we’re trying to evaluate a new feature, and listen to our customers to figure out what direction we ought to move in next, we don’t want to feel like we need to come up with work for programmers just because they’re on our payroll.
  • If a relationship isn’t working out, it’s easy to move on to someone new.  Swapping out employees is much harder.

At the same time, each new relationship has its ramp up costs. Here are some examples we’ve experienced:

  • As excited as we are about a new partner, it always takes a while to navigate cultural differences, expectations around how much process is needed to keep projects moving smoothly, etc.
  • There’s also technical information transfer, which always takes longer than we expect.  That’s things like getting everyone on the same IM chat system, and access to the same joint work space.  Making sure programmers have access to the right repositories and understand where certain files they’ll need are kept.
  • And here’s the one that’s always hardest for me personally.  Consultants, by the nature of their business, tend to be nervous about where their next meal will be coming from.  No one wants to be sitting on overhead liabilities with no work to do.  So, they tend to overbook themselves.

When a contractor tells us they’ll be able to give us 10 hours of work in the next week, and they only manage to do 3 hours, it doesn’t matter how amazing the work is.  It kills us.

Consultants often dramatically underestimate the external costs they cause to projects when they deliver their part late.  I’d usually prefer working with a less spectacular talent who always delivers what they promise on time than a superstar that never gets the work done.

More than once contracts have ended up costing us two or three times what we were paying the contractor in external consequences of their slow turnaround.

So what have we learned about mitigating these issues?

1.  It’s great to work with the same contractors that you like, once you’ve found them!  We do our best to treat them nicely and keep them happy.

2.  Take the time before starting a new relationship to brainstorm everything you’ll need to have ready to hit the road running.  For example, have you thought through what resources you’ll need to make available to your contractor and have you created usernames and passwords for them in advance?

3.  Start relationships with frequent touch base meetings, like twice a week, until you feel like everyone’s got aligned expectations.

4. And, write everything down.  Write down your meeting agendas.  Write down your “action items” during you meetings with what everyone’s agreed to do before the next meeting.  And make sure everyone orally signs off on the deliverables they’re claiming.

In time, the relationship can become less formal.  But it’s always easier to start with too much structure and oversight, than to wake up 3 weeks into a partnership and realize you’ve got totally different expectations.


  • Consultants and contractors can be extremely cost effective and empowering for a small team.
  • Beware of consultants over promising without being realistic about how much they’ve already got on their plate.
  • Take the time before your first project meeting to make sure you’ve done everything you can to prepare for a smooth kick-off.
  • When you find a contractor you like, do your best to keep them happy!

Mistakes: One of our most valuable assets

In this blog, I often write about the similarities between building a great marriage and building a great start-up.  In both cases, two or more people are working as a team and their success is interdependent.  And in both cases, people are bound to make mistakes and not live up to their own or their partners’ (the business kind or the lover kind) expectations.

As everyone knows, mistakes, accidents, and failure are part of life.  At Power of Two, we try to focus on how to get the most out of our mistakes.  If something goes wrong, we want to make sure we maximize our learning – especially because we’ve already paid for it!

We’ve got two main processes that help us out:

1.  We make time for examining how we’re doing, so that we catch issues as early as possible.

In the future, I’m hoping to write a whole blog post about our “Agile” iteration process for project management.  In short though, we operate everything in our company on a two-week iteration schedule.  Every two weeks we stop everything, and everyone takes a few minutes to look back on his or her plan for the previous iteration.  We each evaluate how we’re doing and how the company as a whole is doing.

For example, I recently wrote in my “iteration close out” that I didn’t feel like I’d managed to call as many of our new customers as I had planned in the previous iteration.  I like to call customers regularly to find out how we can continue to improve our program.

Because I took the time to stop and acknowledge that my previous two weeks hadn’t been as productive in this dimension as I’d hoped, I was also able to take the next step and figure out why.  I came up with two structural problems.  1) I hadn’t sufficiently set aside time at the right time of day to catch new members on the phone.  So by the time I got around to making calls, I’d missed my window.  And 2) the system I was using to track what I learn from calls was taking me too long.  So next iteration, I’ve asked for help improving our system’s backend so that I can make and record notes from my calls significantly faster.

My point is – reflection takes time.  You have to schedule it like every other task.  And if you do, you’ll catch problems earlier and save time and money in the future.

(BTW – in the Power of Two curriculum, we discuss studies that have shown that couples in happy relationships spend 10-15 hours each week together.  It takes real time to “stay on the same page”.  In addition to having fun and catching up on each other’s lives, part of those hours together should be time to stop and ask, “How are we doing?”)

2.  Rather than blame, we try to give everyone in the company the benefit of the doubt. We assume everyone intends well, and that when things aren’t working, it’s everyone’s job to figure out what’s happening.  We expect stuff to go wrong all the time, and we try to focus on the “misses” instead of the blame game.

In the Power of Two communication skill set, instead of fighting, we encourage couples to focus on the “misses” – miscommunications, misunderstandings, mistakes, misinformation, etc.  The more a business team or an intimate couple understands why things got derailed, the more quickly and effectively they can figure out a new game plan to get back on track.  The goals isn’t to allocate blame, it’s to glean as much learning from a mistake as possible.

Be careful:  it’s critical that everyone follows the rule, “Talk about yourself.  Ask about others.”  So, for example, in our closeout meetings you’ll hear a lot of questions like, “What do you think contributed to this project getting behind schedule?” or “How could we reduce the scope of that feature so that we can get it done and into our members’ hands?”

I find it helpful to remember that the person that didn’t live up to expectations is also the person with the most information about what went wrong.

- Jacob

VP of Business Development


  • Mistakes happen.  Learning from mistakes takes time and effort.
  • Build in a process for making time to stop, reflect, and change course.
  • Avoid blame.  And don’t forget, the person who messed up probably has the most information about what went wrong.


Marriage help: Made to order

Power of Two has been working hard over the last many months to follow the entrepreneurial theories of Customer Development (see Professor Steve Blank, http://steveblank.com/) and Lean Startups (Eric Ries, http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/).  I first heard about Customer Development when I took Steve’s course at the Haas Business School at UC Berkeley while completing my MBA.

If you haven’t heard of it, the theory is basically this:  focus on understanding your customers and their problems.  Let them be the judge of what’s valuable and what’s not.

We talk to our members everyday to learn how to fulfill our mission of helping the millions of couples who want a better marriage.

If you’re one of our members, perhaps you’ve spoken with me?  If not and you’d like to tell me your thoughts, please call me: 877.411.4948.

I thought in this post, I’d try to summarize some of what we’ve learned.

1. Many couples are looking for an alternative to traditional therapy for any of the following reasons:

  • They’ve had bad experiences with in-person therapy in the past.  (It’s hard to believe how many so-called couple’s counselors seem to make things worse, not better.)
  • They find scheduling time with a therapist too difficult.
  • They can’t afford or don’t want to pay the thousands of dollars in-person therapy costs.
  • One or both of the partners in a couple cares about their privacy and feels uncomfortable bringing a third party into their relationship.

2. One person’s looking for help before their partner is ready.

It’s amazing how often one person wants outside help and their partner doesn’t.  Interestingly though – it’s about 50-50 whether it’s the man or the woman.

For a while we were experimenting with teaching live-online workshops.  When we spoke with potential customers, the conversation would often go like this:  “Great!  This is exactly the sort of program I’ve been looking for.  Let me just talk it over with my husband (or wife).”  And then… they’d never call back.  When we’d reach out to find out what happened, they’d say, “my partner wants to work on it ourselves for a while first.”

Even though the live workshops worked well to deliver our content, they were broken in that they weren’t really designed for individuals.  Here’s the good thing though:  most of the Power of Two skills are effective even when only one person is using them.  (Btw – that’s why so many of our members say the program is having a huge impact on their success at work as well.  They’re communicating better with their colleagues, managers, and employees.)

In designing the PowerofTwoMarriage.com membership program we paid particular attention to designing the program for both couples and for individuals who are ready to start making a change in their marriage on their own.

3. Scheduling is hard.  People are busy, busy, busy.

When we were offering the live-online workshop, many of our customers would sign up for the 4-part online workshop (like a live-online marriage retreat), and then not show up for their sessions.  The sessions were expensive too, since we had a live teacher.  And even when we experimented with letting couples choose their own schedules, couples would still miss one or two of the four sessions.

So, we developed the PowerofTwoMarriage.com membership site with people’s busy schedules in mind.  You can learn new skills and practice using them anywhere, anytime.  And, we’ve broken down each activity into a small 3-15 minute bite size chunk.  So our members don’t need to set aside 4 hours, like they do for a weekend retreat.  They can learn for 15 min a night before they go to bed, or for 10 minutes during their lunch break at work.

4. Learning a concept is quick.  Changing behavior takes time.

We found with our live-online workshops that couples’ relationships changed dramatically for the first few weeks after the class, and then they’d slowly drift back into their old bad habits.

Other studies of marriage workshops seem to show similar results.  Couples are energized about their new skills when they walk out the door, and then their new skills slowly start gathering dust.

Changing behavior takes time.

We decided that to really affect relationships, our members were going to have to learn the skills, practice them, and incorporate them into their lives over a long period of time – months, not weeks.

Our soon to be published study (currently being edited by the Psychology Master’s Student who conducted the study) showed that couples that used the Power of Two online program for 1 month showed better communication and higher marital satisfaction.  And, the couples that used it for 2 months scored even higher than those that were only given 1 month of access.  And those that completed a full 3 months were even better off again.  This is called a “dosage effect”, and the Power of Two program is the only marriage education program we know of that’s shown such a statistically significant dosage effect.

The conclusion:  marriages take on-going time and effort.  And if the time is spent well, marriages just get better and better.

From our conversations with our members, we know that they appreciate that we’re there with them for the long haul.  When things are good, they sometimes spend a bit less time with the program.  And when things get a little rockier, they come back, refresh their skills, and put themselves back on track.

One last comment: In addition to calling our members to find out how they’re doing, we’ve gone to great lengths to listen to our members from inside the program.  We ask for feedback after every activity, and we read everything our members write.

Please continue to let us know what we can do to help you improve your marriage, and I’ll write another blog post about what we’ve learned in the coming months.

- Jacob

VP of Business Development


  • The key to delivering great marriage help online, is to listen to the people who are looking for the help.

  • What we’ve learned is that our online membership program is a better fit for changing marriages for many people than either traditional therapy or more conventional marriage workshops and marriage retreats.

  • If you have a suggestion, please call me: 877.411.4948.  I actually want to hear what you have to say.


"My coffee date with PO2" or How to stay motivated?

How do you stay motivated?

I try to talk with our members as often as I can.  Recently I’ve been trying to understand, what keeps people motivated to stay with the program? Many of our users say they find the activities we offer both engaging and extremely helpful, and yet, sometimes they find themselves not coming back to the site as often as they want to be.

Our members seem to agree that one of the things they like about Power of Two is that it’s an on-going experience.  It’s not like they go to a one weekend marriage retreat, and then when they get back everything’s good for a month… before slowly drifting back to how things used to be.  With PO2 they feel like their marriage continues to get better and better as they learn, practice and review their skills over a long period of time.

One effective solution we’re finding to help people remember to visit the site, is for them to pro-actively schedule a short session with PO2 as if they were making a coffee date with a friend. It doesn’t matter as much if it’s twice a week or once a month. The important part is setting aside the time (many members seem to like 30 min), putting it in their calendar, setting reminders, and then showing up.

One final comment: many people find it much easier to just schedule one session at a time. And then when they finish that, schedule the next. Trying to say “every Tues at 8p” is a little too daunting, and too easy to just give up on when you miss the 2nd session.  By scheduling your next session after completing (or missing) your last session, you can ensure your picking a time that will work best in your schedule.

If anyone wants help setting their session times, send me an email at jacobh AT po2.com.  I’m running a little experiment where if you send me the next time you want to sit down, I’ll send you a calendar invite, and reminders to help keep you motivated.

Any other ideas about how you keep Power of Two a regular part of your life?

- Jacob

VP of Business Development