Idea Generation in 3 Easy Steps

Previously posted to the Greater Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce blog. 
Ideas are amazing things. If you think about it, they are really the basis of everything. Every business or product that exists was spawned from an idea, and ongoing growth and innovation of those businesses and products are fueled by the continued generation of ideas. In the world of small business, idea generation is imperative for remaining relevant in a competitive marketplace. But, you may ask, “How do I come up with new ideas?”

Many owners chalk up idea generation for “creative people” or claim that there’s no time to think about ideas, but I can offer three easy steps for idea generation.

Step 1: Find the time.
Stop! Before you automatically dismiss the idea that you have a minute to spare, let me give a couple of suggestions.

  • Dedicate your commute time to brainstorming ideas. Turn off the radio. Put your phone on silent. And, dedicate each day of one week to a problem, challenge or area of potential growth. Come up with five ideas on the way into work and five ideas on the way home. Record your thoughts on your smartphone so you can remember them. By the end of the week, you will have 10 ideas to put into action in five different areas of your business.
  • Spend 15 minutes at bedtime “brain dumping” ideas. Keep a notepad at the bedside where you can scribble thoughts, questions and ideas before nodding off to sleep. This is usually when most of us mentally recap our lives anyway – why not jot down your thoughts and ideas to be tackled the next day (possibly on your commute to work)?

Step 2: Research what others are doing.
Why reinvent the wheel? There are hundreds of businesses like yours across the U.S., so do some research to see what services they are providing, specials they are offering, content they are producing (on their website, blog or social media), etc. While you are at it, sign up for a competitor’s e-newsletter – or better yet, find an active business in another market and sign up for its e-newsletter to look for ideas you can introduce in your local market.

Step 3: Call a team brainstorm.
Get the whole office involved – you may be surprised at the ideas that will come from the people who work for your company every day. The key to a successful team brainstorm is focus. Identify a specific topic that you want to garner ideas for – be it a challenge or an opportunity – and be ready to rein in the discussion when it starts getting off base. Also, give your team a heads-up on the topic so ideas can start percolating. Encourage them to do research before the brainstorm and bring a few initial ideas to start. However, the power of the team brainstorm is that ideas will come or be built upon those shared in the brainstorm, so there’s no sense in spending too much time in solitary idea generation.