How To Come Up With Great Ideas

At the heart of a successful business is a great idea but where do they come from?

Great ideas don’t come on command and that leaves a lot of people asking the same question: How did they get the inspiration for that great idea? And how can we work the same magic?

My advise it to turn to the experts; the entrepreneurs, startup mentors, investors, advisers and professors who have created, seen and heard countless success stories. Each of these people found their inspiration all sorts of sources including everyday puzzles, driving passions and the subconscious mind.

Below are some golden nuggets of insight from those who know exactly what it takes to come up with great ideas:

1. Look At What’s Bugging You


Ideas often begin with a problem that needs to be solved and they tend to reveal themselves when you are working on something entirely different from your day job.

David Cohen Founder and CEO of TechStars came about the idea for ‘earFeeder’ because he wanted more news that specifically related to his music preferences. Because of this he created a service that looks for the music on your computer and then feeds the user news from the Internet about those bands in particular, along with ticket deals and other things.

2. Age Is An Asset


Mark Zuckerberg with FacebookBill Gates with Microsoft and Steve Jobs with Apple are all success stories that link big ideas to young personalities. But entrepreneurs who rise to early fame and are outliers. The average profile of a great idea comes from within the middle-age professional industry. This person through their experience and expertise understands a gap in the market and typically starts a small company from their savings to date.

Vivek Wadhwa Vice president of academics and innovation at Singularity University notes that the average age of a successful entrepreneur is over 40. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 than sub 25, and twice as many are over 60 than sub 20.

3. Be Present And Be Personal


Start brainstorming for ideas that have affect you in a personal capacity. Building a business is hard as hell and it takes the kind of grit that requires passion.

The next big question is “how?” Great ideas and innovations come from executing your idea differently than anybody else who may attacking the same problem (if at all). A great way to do this is to look outside your industry  and to observe how other people are problem solving. The difference of perspective and perception will help inspire great ideas.

Be present in life and live in a manner than can inspire your creativity; Angela Benton Founder and CEO of NewME Accelerator describes the modern population as over connected. Something as simple as having a cup of coffee becomes a juggling act of replying to emails and managing schedules. It is too easy to miss opportunities for innovation when you are simply not present and personal.

4. Drive Is Critical


Perhaps the greatest factor that determines whether or not an entrepreneur will be successful isn’t the idea itself, but rather our willingness and ability to pursue the idea no matter our obstacles and failures.

Samer Kurdi Global Chairman of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization recognises that great ideas are abundant, but it’s what we do from there that really counts.

5. Let Your Subconscious Do the Work


When your mind is occupied on a monotonous task, it can stimulate the subconscious into a moment of eureka! This is true for Ben Baldwin founder and CEO of ClearFit. Baldwin’s idea hatched while driving 80 miles an hour and not thinking about work at all.

The subconscious mind runs in the background, silently affecting the outcome of your thoughts, actions and conversations. It might be helpful to take a break and allow your subconscious to solve or spark a solution to a problem that you hadn’t considered before.

6. Practical Problems Matter


Make a note whenever you encounter a service or a customer experience that frustrates you or when you think of a great product but you cant seem to find it anywhere. Then ask yourself, is this a problem I could solve? And how much time and money would it take to test my idea?

Brian Spaly Founder and CEO of Trunk Club describes the last point as a critical one. Make sure you can fail fast and cheaply. In business school, Spaly had a couple of big ideas. One was improving the domestic airline service – which would cost millions and taken years to develop. He decided to pursue another opportunity that was a lot cheaper and would show results faster – a clothing line called Bonobos In the end, it took me just nine months and $15,000 of startup funds to get traction and market feedback.

7. Embrace The Unfamiliar


For entrepreneurs to stretch their brains, they should seek out the unusual. Watch, listen and participate in all things weird and wacky.

Victor W. Hwang Co-founder, CEO and managing director of T2 Venture Capital likes to watch obscure documentaries. “It is so thrilling to find cool ideas lurking just a few clicks away”. He also recommends to walk in weird spaces. “When you are walking with no purpose but walking, you see things in fresh ways, because you have the luxury of being in the present.” He also describes the power and beauty of talking with weird people, he still remembers random conversations with strangers from decades ago, and how they shaped him.

8. Search For A Better Way


As one goes about their daily life it is useful to question, “is there a better way?” Fashion Designer Liz Lange is surprised by how frequently the answer is, “yes and one should never feel that just because there is a product out there similar to yours that you can’t do better.”

9. Think Big


There are several factors an entrepreneur should consider when developing a business idea or opportunity. Go big or go home; there are plenty of opportunities to make money by building businesses that are minor improvements, but the real thrill happens in when the decision is made to go after something that seems absolutely crazy.

Kevin Colleran Venture partner of General Catalyst Partners believes that you need to have the desire to make the world better: “The best kind of entrepreneur pursues an idea that simplifies or improves the lives of people. He or she repeatedly asks “what if” when thinking about how the world works and how the status quo could be dramatically improved.”

10. Reverse Assumptions


Many great entrepreneurs come up with ideas by reversing assumptions. You often hear about the pursuit of something revolutionary but entrepreneurs have a lot to gain by looking backwards. Sam Calagione Founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery Inc said “In the mid-’90s, some beer enthusiasts and experts called us heretics for brewing beers with ingredients outside of the “traditional” water, yeast, hops and barley. So, I started researching ancient brewing cultures and found out that long ago, brewers in every corner of the world made beer with whatever grew beneath the ground they lived on. We now make a whole series of Ancient Ales inspired by historic and molecular evidence found in tombs and dig sites.”

11. Be Prepared To Shift Gears


For most entrepenurs their first (or second or third) idea is often not the real opportunity. In fact, it might stink and they must be willing to shift course. It benefits to listen and redefine ideas and to continue tweaking and transforming ideas.

Donna Kelley Associate professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College advises to pivot quickly: “Many of the most successful companies exist in a form that is entirely different from how they were first envisioned. A successful entrepreneur will realize when a company is moving in the wrong direction or is missing a much larger opportunity. For all that, the idea may fail and it happens to many successful entrepreneurs. But they weren’t deterred by failure. They kept at it and were better positioned to recognize and shape the next idea into something truly great.”


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