The ways in which ideas can be generated and the techniques of pushing ideas past the barriers of what we know until we reach innovation are both paramount in keeping your small business at the top of its game. For me, I find ideas come easily when I am swimming, the water has a positive effect on my ability to think laterally.
Where do Ideas Come From?
“An idea is nothing more nor less than a new combination of old elements.” James Webb Young
It always seems that there are some people who are just “full of great ideas” and others who are not. Ideas are our subconscious processing inputs and coming up with solutions, so it’s no surprise the more we sit and try to think of a great idea, the further and further it gets from our reach.
We all had an idea when we started our business, an idea of what we could offer a group of people that would be different in some way to the other options available. Had we sat down and thought, “I want to start a business, I just need a good idea” it is more than likely that we would have come up with nothing. But perhaps days later, when out on a walk, or having a shower, the idea would pop into our mind, as if out of nowhere.
So there lies the power of the subconscious. I read an article years ago and the crux of it was, to come up with a great idea, pose a question to yourself, then go and do something completely unrelated and with any luck your subconscious will do the rest.
But what do we do when the ideas won’t flow?
How to Brainstorm
Brainstorming is a creativity process where a group tries to find a solution for a specific problem by gathering a list of ideas spontaneously contributed by its members. It is a technique for finding alternatives to a problem. It is usually undertaken in a group setting, as the dynamic allows each new idea to generate other ideas, summed up best by the phrase “bouncing ideas off each other”.
To allow ideas to flow, some say it is best to follow the “rules” of brainstorming:
- All ideas should be initially accepted without judgment or criticism. Negativity is a road block for idea generation.
- Ideas can be imaginative and impossible. Take a “no holds barred” approach, it is easier to later refine ideas than to make them more unique.
- Don’t limit the number of ideas generated; keep the flow until there are no ideas left. The more ideas that are generated the more likely the right idea will have been unearthed.
- Allow each idea to be combined, improved and expanded.
I found brainstorming works best in a group environment when you use a large writing area. Draw a big circle in the middle of the space and write your problem, each idea then branches off, ideas can be joined together and new ideas can branch off existing ideas. This is also known as a mind map (especially useful if you only have yourself to brainstorm with)
What is Innovation?
Like milk and clean houses, new ideas don’t stay fresh for long. In our post on Get Competitive! Dealing with the Competition we talked about the need to adjust your strategy annually to stay ahead of the competition.
The ideas we have for our products and services when we start out may not be the best combination for ongoing success 12 months later. This can be due to competition, the consumer evolving or saturation in the market. In marketing we know nothing sells like new! Having worked as a Brand Manager for two international cosmetic brands, the power of “new” always amazed me. Mascara sales would peak at +50% when we introduced a new variant; perfume sales would peak at +25% when we added a limited edition to a current product. “New” gets people excited and it gives them a reason to buy again.
Innovation is the process of becoming better or more effective; it is striving to stay ahead, to be first amongst competitors, to deliver solutions to needs consumers may not have even realised. Innovative products create demand and instead of fighting to take a bigger slice of the existing pie, they expand the pie in size and then we can claim a bigger slice than was originally available.
Brainstorming for new ideas often leads to innovation; it is open minded, unrestricted problem solving approaches like this that allow innovative ideas to come through. To innovate we ask:
- Is there a better way of doing this?
- Could this product do more than what it does now?
- What are other industries doing, is there learning’s we can use from these?
- What is the ultimate version of our product or service?
In the Jack Collis book Innovate or Die, he says simply to ask:
- What can be added?
- What can be taken away?
- What can be adapted?
And renowned management writer Peter Drucker gave us three conditions that must be met for an innovation to be successful:
- Innovation is work. It requires knowledge, ingenuity, creativity, etc. Plus, innovators rarely work in more than one area, be it finance, healthcare, retail or whatever. This work requires diligence, perseverance and commitment.
- To succeed, innovators must build on their own strengths. They must look at opportunities over a wide range, then ask which of the opportunities fits me, fits this company. There must be a temperamental fit with the practitioner and a link to business strategy.
- Innovation is an effect in economy and society, a change in the behaviour of customers, of teachers, of farmers, of doctors, of people in general. Or, it is a change in a process, in how people work and produce something. Innovation must always be close to the market, focused on the market, and market driven.
The benefit of bringing innovation into your business is that it gives you an edge. You will not have to compete on price and you will not be concerned when new businesses emerge mimicking your offer.
We understand how hard it can be as a small business owner to brainstorm and even more so when your business is just you, but the opportunity to bounce ideas off others is invaluable. Make sure you take advantage of networking both online and offline to help you draw inspiration, develop new ideas and innovate to keep your business moving. We offer a suite of strategy reports that look for new and creative ways to grow your business, contact us if you feel stuck.
How do you innovate in your business? Do you brainstorm with your team or other entrepreneurs?