On many occasions I have had people tell me they are not the creative type and do not know how to think of new ideas for a business or innovation. I also have had difficulty coming up with business ideas for many years. My dream was to think of something so revolutionary that my I would be able to leave my mark on the world and never be forgotten.
What I did not realize for many years was that to have a great idea you probably need to generate a lot of ideas. The great news is that anyone can generate ideas very easily this by Listening, Looking and Thinking.
Listen, Look and Think
I realized how easy it was to generate ideas a few months ago, while teaching a couple of classes to top notch engineers who complained they had trouble generating ideas for innovation. The basic premise was to remind the students that innovation does not have to be completely new technology. Innovation can result from a change in a process, a new use for an existing product or even offering a new type of service.
For example, bread has been around for thousands of years but it wasn’t until 1928 that the first commercially sliced loaves of bread were produced. Other examples include some of the most popular products in the marketplace today:
- Post-it notes; which uses a glue from a failed research originally intended to develop a super glue
- Viagra; started out as Sildenafil (compound UK-92,480) started as a possible drug for lowering blood pressure
- Listerine; has been around for over 130 years and has been used as a surgical antiseptic, a cure for venereal disease, dandruff treatment and an additive to cigarettes
- Some other accidental inventions include LSD, Slinky, Silly Putty and Play-Doh and many others
It is true that most innovation results from a need of some type. Almost all of the products and services you use every day are a result of someone that recognized an opportunity by listening, looking and thinking. The secret is to identify a need. The opportunity here is to realize you do not know everything and if you want to create ideas you need to listen, look and think about the world around you.
Sounds simple? It is!
How to Generate 20 Ideas in a Matter of Minutes
Idea generation can be done regardless of your profession or age or economic condition. The key is to change the way you see the world a little bit every day. The majority of people go through their daily lives oblivious to the world around them but if you follow the instructions below you can generate countless ideas.
As part of my lesson I asked each student to look around the classroom and in 60 seconds find 5 things that could be improved. After 60 seconds, I instructed them to review their list for 5 minutes and think of 3 possible improvements/solutions/changes that could be made to make the product better.
After the time was up, I instructed the students to pass their list of items needing improvement to the person next to them. Again, each student was given 5 minutes to think of an improvement that could be made.
The results were astounding, each person was able to generate on average 20 ideas in less than 15 minutes.
Their homework assignment was to do the same thing at their house, then their neighborhood and their city. By the time the next class arrived, the students had generated hundreds of ideas ranging from simple fixes to how to detect water leaks for the city. Several of their ideas could lead to innovative products and services.
The key point of the exercise was for the students to learn to pay attention to their own environment. So how can you do this?
The answer is:
How to Generate Innovative Ideas
- Take 60 seconds every day to look at the environment around you. It could be at your home, office, workplace or public location. The location should be varied.
- Find 5 products, processes or services that need improvement. Write them down either using the notes on your cell or on paper.
- At some point during the day, review the items on your list and think of solutions to the problem. These are your ideas.
- Repeat the process daily.
- If you can, find someone to share your ideas with and is willing to do the same. I say this for two reasons; the first is that a shared problem will generate additional ideas and the second is that you would be foolish to think that only you can identify improvements.
It won’t take long for you to have generated hundreds if not thousands of ideas. It only takes one good idea to change your future.
Innovation is a Mindset
Taking a few minutes of your day to generate innovative ideas is not difficult. What is a little harder is transforming your ideation into a good habit. However, once idea generation becomes a habit your entire perspective on the world changes for the better. The reason is that ideas on how to make the world a better place have a long lasting positive impact.
The more time you spend on thinking how to make the world a better place, the more ideas you will generate. The most successful entrepreneurs I know have legal pads or some type of computer file that has thousands of ideas recorded over long periods of time. It should come as no surprise that their innovation mindset every once in a while produces an idea they can monetize.
On a final note, the same process can be applied to any size business, professional practice or organization wanting to have a more innovative environment. Allowing your staff a few minutes every day to think of improvements may just save or grow your business.
Share with us how you generate ideas.