Follow the above steps, and creative ideas are sure to start bubbling in your brain. But then what? How do you turn those ideas into viable business plans? Two tactics are central to making the most of every good idea:
1. Reality-test. "Ideas are great, but how do they match up with marketplace realities?" asks Vance. In other words: Don't become self-satisfied just because an idea seems good out of the box. "Test every good idea against what the marketplace needs and wants," says Allen. "Start by asking friends for feedback, then expand into a broader test."
2. Keep refining. "A key lesson I've learned in interviewing many highly creative people is that they continually criticize their own ideas. Traditional brainstorming techniques taught us not to criticize, but really creative people do the opposite, looking for ways to make their ideas better," says Jack Ricchiuto, a Cleveland certified management consultant and author of Collaborative Creativity (Oakhill Press). "Criticism doesn't stifle ideas--it makes them better.
"The creative process frequently involves going beyond the first idea. Uncreative people commonly marry the first good idea that comes along. But creative people detach from their ideas and refine them. They know that the more ideas, the better."
In the end, the real secret to creativity is practice. "The more we do it, the better we get," says Ricchiuto. "The mythology is that creativity is a genetically determined trait. But it can be developed in all of us--if we keep questioning what we see and keep looking for creative solutions and ideas. Practice is why the truly creative stay truly creative--and it's how all of us can get much more creative, too."