By Frederike Harms
Idea generation strategies are important and useful if you’re in either of the two following situations:
Either you are running your own business and are trying to decide what to focus on or which income stream to add to your portfolio next.
Or you’re most likely restless and constantly buzzing with excitement while trying to push through yet another day of making money for someone else – who, let’s be honest, isn’t nearly thankful enough for your efforts.
You know what you need to do to pay the bills and you are good at what you do because you care. You work hard and you want to make the world a better place for your customers and the company a better place for your team. And, of course, it is nice having a team. Having a laugh, gossiping about the colleagues, moaning about the boss or the finance department – because everything is black and white to them and they never even get to see a customer.
But, and this is THE but, you still wake up every morning thinking of the life you could lead if you did your own thing. Created your own business. Your own hustle and bustle (see what I did there!). In fact, you can’t stop thinking about it and this strong desire and all the ideas and thoughts going through your head amplify the feeling of frustration with issues at your day job:
Being stuck in traffic on the way back from work drives you crazy because you didn’t really want to go to that job in the first place and now you are losing precious time in the evening catching up with emails to make up for time lost in the car. It goes without saying that you would much rather work on your business idea which is also what gets you through the traffic. Even worse: You are in the car at 6 am to get to a meeting at 8 am, 100 miles away, and there are 847 ideas flying through your head, but you can’t write anything down and you can’t call anyone to discuss it with, because, well…. it’s 6 am.
Whether it’s about growing your existing business, starting a side gig or taking the leap, it’s this inherent busyness, the flurry in your head that pushes you “to do things to get closer to the point you want to get”, which is the very definition of ‘hustle’ according to the Urban Dictionary.
However, in order for you to take the first or next step, you need to tame your mind and structure your thoughts and these idea generation strategies will help you do that:
This idea generation technique is great if you have a rough idea of the type of product or service you would like to offer. Think of the product or service that you have tried, used or experienced and work through the questions below to refine and differentiate your idea and to create something that is your own.
What materials or resources can you substitute or swap to improve the product?
What other product or process could you use?
What rules could you substitute?
Can you use this product somewhere else, or as a substitute for something else?
What will happen if you change your feelings or attitude toward this product?
What would happen if you combined this product or service with another, to create something new?
What if you combined purposes or objectives?
What could you combine to maximize the uses of this product?
How could you combine talent and resources to create a new approach to this product?
How could you adapt or readjust this product to serve another purpose or use?
What else is the product like?
Who or what could you emulate to adapt this product?
What else is like your product?
What other context could you put your product into?
What other products or ideas could you use for inspiration?
How could you change the shape, look, or feel of your product?
What could you add to modify this product?
What could you emphasize or highlight to create more value?
What element of this product could you strengthen to create something new?
Put to Another Use
Can you use this product somewhere else, perhaps in another industry?
Who else could use this product?
How would this product behave differently in another setting?
Could you recycle the waste from this product to make something new?
How could you streamline or simplify this product?
What features, parts, or rules could you eliminate?
What could you understate or tone down?
How could you make it smaller, faster, lighter, or more fun?
What would happen if you took away part of this product? What would you have in its place?
What would happen if you reversed this process or sequenced things differently?
What if you try to do the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do now?
Which components could you substitute to change the order of this product?
What roles could you reverse or swap?
How could you reorganize this product?
Find the Pain
Chances are you already have a hunch about a need, so ask business owners/managers in the specific industry/area of your business:
What is the most important activity that you do in your business?
Do you have any pain associated with this activity?
Listen closely and note down the answers. If you are lucky enough to have a conversation with a person, then feel free to ask for more detail if something interests you or you can relate to something specific. Once you have spoken to different people, especially if you have focused on a specific industry, you will be able to group responses together to create problems. At this stage, you could rephrase and detail the problem and run it past the business owners or managers again to confirm and make sure you have really understood the pain. The laying out of the pain will enable you to work towards a solution.
Ideally, you want to speak to people in person, but this exercise could also be done in writing or in the form of a survey – promising potential participants that there are only two questions should get you some responses. Try and capture their email addresses and their permission for you to get in touch following the survey.
A similar exercise also works for the consumer market: Find an area you are interested and want to get involved in and speak to consumers about their expectations. Let’s say you want to start something in the fitness industry: spend some time at the gym, a leisure centre, the sports department of a department store and ask shoppers what they would love to see in the market place?
Attribute listing is an idea generation strategy that’s been around since the 1930s (which technically means it must work). This is a great tool if you already have an idea for a product or service, but want to differentiate yourself from your competitors or improve on what’s out there already.
As part of this process, you break down your product or service process into different parts or steps and look at them individually. Each step or part may have several of the below attributes, so go into as much detail as you like or until you feel you are really creating something with a difference.
Physical attributes: shape, form, colour, texture
Social attributes: responsibilities, taboos, roles, power
Process attributes: selling, marketing, production
Psychological attributes: needs, motivation, emotions
Price attributes: cost to the customer, manufacturer, suppliers
Work through the following steps:
Break your product or service process into key attributes or stages or parts;
Look at each attribute in turn and identify ways for improving or varying it; and
Redefine or design your product or service by manipulating and recombining the variables.
Ask friends or family members for help if you get stuck and need a bit of brainstorming session.
Set yourself up for success
Right now, you are most likely at the “I want to do it stage” of the path to success. You want to take the leap, but like most, you may have a sneaky suspicion of what the world needs, but lack the certainty around the detail. You have taken the first step in the right direction and to make sure you keep heading that way, here are some top tips for idea generation:
Never discount anything because you (a) think it is crazy or (b) you don’t think anyone would pay for it. Maybe not in its natural form, but you never know where one crazy idea will take you with a bit of market research and tweaking.
Organize your thoughts and brainstorming into a mind map. Move individual items on the map around until it makes sense or creates something new. Use sticky notes and a wall/door/window for this. Sticky notes in all different colors and sizes. You will become addicted – don’t worry, you are not alone in this – and yes, they are surprisingly expensive (cheap sticky notes = business idea!).
Do anything and something aka trying something new regularly. Read a magazine you have never read before, visit a class at your gym that you wouldn’t usually consider, take public transport to work or go for a walk during your lunch break. Just change it up. You may discover something new, or worst case, you will give you space to breathe and let go of the everyday stuff.
Be self-aware. Often this journey starts with what you enjoy and what you are good at. That doesn’t mean that we can all turn our hobbies into a profitable business, BUT it may mean that you can add something special to a product/service that already exists and therefore makes it a better fit for a target group of customers
Like most creative processes, some of the suggested techniques work best if worked through with someone else – for feedback and to get a different perspective.