Your next business idea is just around the corner: You just don't know it yet. Many people I have talked to who want freedom from the cube farm say that the lack of an idea is the only thing holding them back. But why let that be the case.
Before I started my last business, I worked in the innovations group of a major ad agency. It was my primary responsibility to think up and execute marketing tactics that had never been done before for Kia Motors America and Dr Pepper and Snapple Group. Toward the end of my tenure at that agency, members of my group had the opportunity to pitch ideas to a big company looking for some unique ways to make an impact at a music festival in a few weeks.
As if there weren't enough pressure from senior management to win the business! Needless to say, it typically took my group months to generate and execute an idea. The shortened time frame meant that my team needed to use some shortcuts to arrive at the best ideas fast. Here are a few tricks that we used:
1. Brainstorming is a team sport. There really aren't any new ideas. Anything new is just a unique mashup of a few things that are old.
This means that bad ideas can lead to good ideas. So don't censor! Not everything you say is going to be a genius concept. But be a team player and get an idea out there regardless of its quality. There is a good chance it will lead to something useful.
2. Take the whole process seriously. One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to generate ideas is that they don't see the process as work. "We will just grab some beers and talk through some ideas," they say.
Put the beer down and get focused! When we were working at creating ideas on the innovations team, we always took brainstorming seriously. We set a real-ife meeting with hard starting and stopping points. We took diligent notes. We asked very difficult questions. Sometimes we even had an agenda outlined.
Businesses must innovate to survive, so the future of your company depends on brainstorming. Start taking it seriously.
3. Use cool stuff to prime the process. It is really hard to start cold generating ideas so we usually began brainstorming with a session that we lovingly called "cool s***."
During this exercise each individual on the team would talk about something that he or she had found interesting in the past few days. This could have been anything, from the latest Kardashian wedding gossip to a photo of a new robot that folds underwear. The stuff was rarely relevant. We shared it solely for the purpose of warming us up so that we could start thinking about new ideas.
4. Disconnect from the wired world. We all knew that the most important thing during brainstorming was for everyone to stay focused. This meant that the meeting didn't start until we turned off the computer monitors and put away the cellphones.
What about taking notes? We had a whiteboard. What about the email? It waited an hour. Creating ideas is about connecting with other people. It's hard to do that when someone is updating an LinkedIn profile. Shut it down.
5. Create a space for innovation. Sir Issac Newton came up with the idea for gravity while spending time thinking in apple orchards. Likewise, the innovations team had a place in the office that we called the Innovation Pad. Thinking outside the box required not being boxed in by ego. So in this space, everyone left their ego and rank at the door.
The day of the pitch we walked the client's team through a handful of amazing concepts. The client representatives absolutely loved two ideas but had a budget for only one. After a day or so of deliberation, we put the best one in motion and executed it so well that the company ended up retaining our team for future projects.
If you are like me, sometimes you may struggle to see the next big opportunity but remember what Sir Richard Branson said: "Business opportunities are like buses; there’s always another one coming."
Your next idea is out there: You just need to look for it. So grab a whiteboard and start brainstorming.
Related: 3 Ways to Think Outside the Box