As we celebrate our country's birthday with traditional outdoor barbeques and fireworks this Independence Day, it's also a time to reflect on your business and find the spark for your next "revolutionary" idea.
No clue what that is? You're not alone, says Andover, Mass.-based innovation consultant Thomas Koulopoulos, author of The Innovation Zone (Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2009). Entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with their original ideas or vision, which keeps them from growing the business, he says. To ignite new light bulb moments, start with these idea-generating tactics:
Embrace fear. Ask yourself: "What scares me?" Then, explore that dark space. What if you overhauled your product and reintroduced it -- what features would it have? Where would you invest money if you replaced a major conference or trade show with other lead-generating activities? Even if something is working for you, is there a way to make it better? As for your competition, instead of studying what they're doing, contemplate what they're afraid of, too. Don't let fear deter you from exploring potential new ideas, Koulopoulos says.
Related: A Secret to Creative Problem Solving
Pull the trigger. Generate new ideas by trying an exercise Koulopoulos calls "triggering." First, state your problem or challenge. For example, let's say you want to create a new product to compete in the crowded protein bar market. You would then gather several unrelated items, such as a stapler, coffee cup, a yoga mat, and a pencil. "I put them all on the table and say, 'Relate every one of these things to your problem,'" he explains. "What happens is people start to think in very nonconventional ways." Maybe your protein bar could be formulated with herbal ingredients for energy (idea sparked by the coffee cup) or relaxation (think yoga mat). The ideas don't even have to make sense at first. The goal is to find ways to connect them back to the product.
Related Video: The Esquire Guy's Witty Guide to Collaboration
Create a massive matrix. Gather 'round, get out your big white pad, and create a huge matrix -- he calls it a “morphological matrix” -- of all the possible ways that you could address a problem or seize an opportunity. When done in groups, Koulopoulos says this gets everyone thinking about how to attack every element of the problem. Then, recombine those elements in unique ways. "Burger King's new bacon sundae is a good example of how you can take a company's existing resources and recombine them into something new that people are talking about," he adds.
Take time out. It's summer. Take a break from your business, even if it's just a quick getaway or a weekend disconnect. Rest and recharge to stoke creativity and prevent burnout, which is the enemy of great ideas, he says.