How to Come Up with Your Next Great Business Idea
Fresh ideas fuel business growth, but where are these fresh ideas supposed to come from? Should they just be left up to chance (the “if lightning strikes” method) or is a disciplined approach more fruitful? Brainstorming with a group of employees or colleagues is an effective and proven technique. But there’s a lot you can do on your own.
So rather than merely sit around hoping you’ll come up with the next great thing, consider these tips for generating a breakthrough idea that could transform your business:
1. Get out of your thinking rut. The biggest challenge to inventive thinking is getting yourself free of the ordinary, day-to-day thoughts that take up most of your time and energy. Whether through meditation, exercise or other resources, shake yourself loose of conventional thought-patterns and see what develops.
2. Drop preconceived and limiting images of yourself. Do you consider yourself more of a “action” person than a creative type? This self-image could be holding you back, for no good reason. Great ideas can come to anyone at anytime. Picture yourself as brimming over with ideas and see what happens.
3. Favor quantity over quality. Speaking of brimming over, creativity is sparked by simply allowing the flow of ideas – smart, stupid and in-between – without filters or editing. Many of our most innovative breakthroughs have come as a result of what someone at one time or another labeled a “dumb idea.”
4. Seek out new experiences. A variety of new experiences can often trigger an onslaught of fresh ideas. Put yourself in situations where you encounter different situations and other types of sensory experience. Travel to foreign countries will open your eyes to new experiences right away. Socializing with different people will expand your range of perspectives and force you out of your well-worn anecdotes and thought patterns. It’s best to do this in person, but even engaging in online conversations (with, say, members of your LinkedIn network) can get you out of a creative rut.
5. Read widely and counter-intuitively. Some business leaders, intent on widening the scope of their knowledge, pick up magazines that have nothing to do with their career or professional pursuits. This can include dipping into periodicals as diverse as Harper’s Bazaar and National Geographic. The same principle applies to the books you choose to read. If all you read are the latest business books, why not try reading a novel instead? Or a history of 19th-century Victorian England? The possibility always exist that some stray fact or insight will illuminate a corner of your mind where the next great idea lurks, waiting to see the light of day.
5. Pay closer attention to what others complain about. Most great ideas represent solutions to nagging problems. You’re familiar, of course, with all of your own “pet peeves” – but what about the things that annoy or infuriate the people around you? Invite people to tell you about what bothers them (including, most especially, your favored customers). Problems you didn’t even know existed may suddenly point you toward an innovative solution you never considered before.
6. Keep a record of your ideas. It’s not necessary to keep a journal or diary these days, not when your phone acts as a convenient recording-device. The trick is to get in the habit of capturing your thoughts as they come up, rather than saying, “Oh, I’ll do something with that later.” What you don’t record right away will almost inevitably drift into the ether, never to be seen again.
7. Apply the litmus test. As you accumulate your new ideas, you can start prioritizing the ones with the most promise by answering these questions:
- Does this idea address a customer need?
- Is this idea a viable solution to a business problem?
- What potential market exists for this idea?
- Do I have the resources to make this idea a reality?
- What are the potential risks and pitfalls?
A breakthrough idea is possible at any time, but with a few adjustments in your thinking and behavior, you can tilt the odds of success in your favor.
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