The idea for Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom was born on a family vacation. Walt Disney was visiting Tivoli Gardens, one of Europe’s oldest amusement parks, when he realized he could create a bigger, better version in California. His method is not unusual: Great entrepreneurs find new business ideas by paying attention to opportunities in everyday life.
"The world around you is filled with ideas that can be useful," says Andy Boynton, co-author of The Idea Hunter (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
None of those ideas will come to you by thinking really hard in a vacuum. You have to get out in the world and practice behaviors that lead you to new ideas. "Innovation is not about how smart you are; it's about the hunt for ideas," Boynton says. "Behavior trumps IQ."
By learning to think and act in ways that bring new opportunities to light, you can find a constant stream of business ideas in everyday life. Here are three tips to help you find inspiration in the world around you.
1. Keep a list of opportunities. "At any given time, there's a job that has to get done," Boynton says, meaning the world is full of problems that need to be solved. As you go about daily life, keep a running list of jobs that others have abandoned, ignored, or failed to address effectively. Each is a potential opportunity.
"Start with your own experience," Boynton says. Ask yourself, what bugs me? What could be easier? More fun? More convenient? Your own frustrations will guide you to real problems that can drive a new business idea.
2. Hunt for ideas in diverse places. New ideas require creativity, which thrives on novelty and diversity. You might find a great idea while you’re on vacation or unexpected inspiration in an experimental art exhibit. "If you open your eyes, the answer is there," Boynton says. "But your world has to be broad enough and diverse enough to feed you the ideas you need."
Your search needs to be intentional. "When effective idea hunters talk to people, they’re not just going through a social dance," Boynton says. They're looking to learn what others know or do -- mining the world around them for useful ideas.
3. Notice how others solve business problems. In any situation, you are surrounded by problems that someone has tried to solve. Each is an opportunity to learn. Start noticing how convenience stores organize inventory, how packaging catches your eye, or how Amazon encourages impulse buys. You might find a better way to solve the same problem or inspiration for solving a different problem.
"You really can borrow and reuse ideas, and reapply them," Boynton says. "If you develop a mental habit of [noticing others' solutions], it opens your eyes to what's out there."
Related: 5 Ways to Learn to Trust Your Instincts
Nadia Goodman is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, NY. She is a former editor at YouBeauty.com, where she wrote about the psychology of health and beauty. She earned a B.A. in English from Northwestern University and an M.A. in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University. Visit her website, nadiagoodman.com.