Ideation is the creative process of generating, developing and communicating new business ideas. When we plan to launch a new business, we build on an existing concept or develop our own unique idea. The same applies to growing an existing business. I have always had a hard time determining what is more difficult: finding the idea or executing it.
Sometimes ideas are pretty easy to conjure up and the hard part is deciding if they’re good enough as a basis for building a profitable business. If you have what you think is a “great idea”, the next challenge is to test or prove that it will translate into a successful company.
Then there are times when a viable idea is the hardest thing to find. It can feel like every good idea is taken and you are left on the sidelines with the resources and desire to start or grow a business, but no great idea. The brainstorming process can take a day or years, and as with the creative process, it’s often unproductive to rush it. Aside from the other typical resource barriers (money and people), the lack of a “good idea” is often what stops people from realizing their dream of becoming their own boss.
The creation of a new business begins with the idea. The process of developing that idea, and your business concept, may perhaps include some level of testing through prototyping and iteration. During these early phases, your idea will undoubtedly evolve and may even transform into something completely different. There are three basic categories for business ideas.and considering these categories can help trigger that next great creation or validate the existing one:
- New – a new invention or business idea. Examples may include the Segway, virtual reality, and other product inventions. This is the most difficult category for new business ideas. There are very few true and completely new ideas. By “new” I mean something that absolutely does not exist currently or in the past in any way. It’s easy to confuse a new idea with what is actually an improvement or disruption to an existing or traditional way of doing something. Truly new and unique ideas are hard to find, so don’t be paralyzed by thinking that this is the only source of viable new ideas.
- gets better – this is the proverbial best mousetrap. Examples include exterior-express car washes (where you stay in the car), Virgin Airlines, LED lighting, and Disney Land. Most small businesses probably fall into this category. You take an existing service or product and make or deliver it in a better way, either directly or indirectly. You can do it with better quality raw materials, for example, or you can add value to the product or service by including additional services or add-ons.
- breaking off – a revolutionary new way of doing something. Examples include Uber, AirBnB, and Amazon. Our modern interconnected world, underpinned and made possible by the Internet, now allows us to completely reinvent, transform and disrupt entire industries. The Internet and other technologies are not the only way to execute a disruptive business idea, but they have certainly accelerated our ability to do so.
Where do great ideas come from? Sources of ideas can include reading, podcasts, art, architecture, personal experiences, travel, conversations, hobbies, borrowing from others, collective creativity, collective sourcing, and trying to solve problems existing in our world. For existing businesses, the best source of ideas is often their customers. However, it takes a little more than just experimenting or reading something to generate your next great idea.
In Belle Cooper’s article “How to Generate Good Ideas,” Steve Jobs is quoted as sharing that creative people can “connect experiences they have had and synthesize new things.” In observing him, creative people have consistently “had more experiences or thought more about their experiences than other people.”
Consciously and objectively experiencing new things will definitely influence and nurture your creative abilities, and is one of the most productive ways we can continue to develop our ability to come up with great ideas.
Does this mean that you have to be creative to generate good business ideas? I think creativity is definitely one of the main ingredients needed for ideation, along with ingenuity and vision. However, the challenge for many people is that they have little confidence in their inherent creative abilities or the courage to express and harness them. The idea generation process is very similar to the creative process in that we present something personal for others to judge. You must have the courage and confidence to present ideas that others may think are frivolous or ridiculous. It is opportune to remember what George Bernard Shaw wrote: “all great truths begin as blasphemies”.
The ideal process is to identify one or more business ideas, test them, and then proceed with the development of the idea that has the best chance of success. Of course, always remember that the true test of an idea’s commercial viability ultimately rests entirely with the client. Also remember that if your concept was easy, someone else probably would have already done it.
Some questions to ask yourself to help qualify your business idea:
- What need does my product or service cover? what problem does it solve
- What are the features and benefits of my offer?
- What is my competitive advantage? What makes this idea truly unique in my market?
- How do my skills and experience fit with my idea?
- How can I try and prove it?
- What resources will I need to turn this idea into a viable business?
- Does my idea solve a problem for a billion people, or the problem for a few?
- Can I imagine running this concept for the next 5-10 years?