Feeling Stuck? Try This Problem-Solving Exercise ASAP

We all have goals—large and small, for ourselves and for the world. But when you really want to try, learn, or change something, it’s knowing where to start that’s the hardest. In a collaboration project between our parent company Column Five and Girls Inc. of Orange County, they help you do that. They call it The Popcorn Project.

When you have a goal ahead of you, what do you need to break through? Some perspective and actionable steps. The Popcorn Project is a simple exercise they created to help you get both

How It Works

All you need is a pen and Post-its, some friends/collaborators, and a commitment bring fresh ideas to the table.

Step 1: Grab a stack of Post-its.

Problem Solving Exercise

Step 2: Decide on a prompt (e.g., “I want to ______”).

Problem Solving Exercise

Step 3: Write your goal on a Post-it and pass to the right or left.

Problem Solving Exercise

Step 4: Cover the goal you receive with a blank Post-it, and write down one step you would take to achieve it.

Step 5: Pass the stack, and repeat as each person adds their suggestion (only looking at the Post-it on top).

Problem Solving Exercise

Step 6: By the time your original goal comes back to you, you can unpack your stack of suggestions and tips. Then get started on them!

Problem Solving Exercise

The Popcorn Project is a game and a bit of a reveal since you don’t get to see the original goal when you respond to the Post-it in front of you. The coolest part is the journey from daunting goal to encouraging next steps.

Why They Made The Popcorn Project

Column Five is always looking for opportunities to put their storytelling skills to use, especially when they have a chance to help their local community. They admire the work of Girls Inc. of Orange County, an organization that coaches girls (kindergarten to 18 years-old) to be strong, smart, and bold through STEM-based initiatives, so Column Five wanted to collaborate on a passion project to further their case.

The goal was to do something meaningful for the Column Five team and their neighbors: a project that would involve their community, foster a sense of empowerment, and give the creative minds at Column Five a chance to experiment with illustration style, motion, and format. After meeting with the Girl Inc. team (who was 100% on board), they were given the creative freedom to pitch them, well, anything.

The Idea

Column Five spent hours sharing inspiration links and discussing how they could create something to help achieve a sense of “revelation,” a moment of self-discovery, which is key to building confidence. They also wanted to be actionable and practical.

To achieve a goal, you need inspiration, focus, and support. And so, they came up with a creative exercise to provide that. The idea was inspired by their favorite parts of the brainstorming process: creative ideation in a community setting. But because this project was about empowering individuals, it needed to have a personal element. And so, The Popcorn Project was born.

Problem Solving Exercise

Column Five tested their concept until stacks of Post-its littered their desks, and they bribed teammates with pizza, bagels, coffee, and whiskey to get their feedback. That in-house testing brought them to another exciting revelation. While the project was first intended to help shool-age girls, they realized it could work for everyone after they tested it with a group of 20-something male developers (thanks to the whiskey bribe).

The Execution

To bring the project to life, they created a landing page to give step-by-step directions on how to play. Through color, animation (they especially love the Post-its scroll effect), and simple directions, they created the site to be a useful, shareable tool.

Their core group (two designers and a producer) was part of every phase, from initial brainstorm to design, and other members of the Column Five family—from the communications team to founders—weighed in and shared guidance along the way.

The True Test

The ultimate test came when they invited the Girls Inc. Teen Leadership Council—a group of six high school girls—to their office. First they chatted about what a creative agency does, then they asked them to try their activity to see if it worked.

As the girls shared their goals and responded to their peers, the Column Five family was blown away by their poise, enthusiasm, and openness. Often, the girl who was last to respond to a goal (and could only see the most recent response on top) shared the step that was most insightful.

“I want to try things I’d be afraid to do” led to “Make mistakes and learn from them.”

“I want to be a philanthropist” led to “Don’t second guess helping someone out when they are in need.”

There are so few chances in our busy, technology-fueled lives to sit down with a pen and really reflect on what we want to do. With this project, Column Five invites you to be open—with friends, with colleagues, and with yourself.

They hope you’ll try The Popcorn Project, share it, and let them know how it worked for you.

For more of their passion projects:

  • Explore their People For Periods interactive infographic, which aims to destigmatize menstruation. 
  • Check out our Beyond the Beat interactive infographic, a celebration of African-American musical history. 
  • Play Groove Glider, their very first video game. 
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