It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get started! We’ve imagined life beyond the cubicle, read the books and thought about what we will do with all that free time! But there is just one problem… what are we going to do? Coming up with ideas is challenging for some and easy for others. The good thing is, anyone can find their way into the latter category. The biggest hurdle is often forgetting what we know and opening our minds up a bit. I fall into the latter category, so much so that I have new business ideas on an almost daily basis but don’t have nearly enough time to chase them all. Of course, not all ideas are good ones (in business terms) but once you start generating ideas it can be hard to turn it off.
So how do we get started? How do we come up with good ideas? I liked Timothy Ferris’ idea of “finding your muse” because we don’t want to start just any business. We want to be inspired and do something we will enjoy, something that will make us want to get out of bed in the morning, not just “whatever makes money.” In 4 Hour Work Week, Tim suggests a few places to look for inspiration, I’m including some of my personal examples for illustration:
1) Professional experience. This one is often the most obvious but our ideas can also seem the most daunting. Who out there has never had a job where they didn’t see something within their own company that couldn’t be improved upon? Not every idea will turn into a full fledged business but many will. (Examples: web development, IT Consulting, risk management, product management).
2) Groups or organizations you are involved with. What are their challenges? (Examples: DJCC, Sedona Conference, DFWRein, Vivaldi Patrons Circle).
3) Hobbies. This one is the most obvious, especially for all of the inventors out there (Examples: photography, SCUBA diving, hiking, graphic design, travel, wood working, cars, …)
4) Other interests. (i.e. things you are interested in but don’t‘ really constitute a hobby). (Examples: mountaineering, camping, wine, movies, …).
I would also add to that list to look at the challenges you face in your day to day personal life. Odds are there are others facing that challenge too who would benefit from your idea. How many child care “inventions” have been created by a parent who found a way to ease their routine and turned that idea to profit and added relief for a lot of other parents! However, don’t start inventing for child care if you have never had kids. Stick to what you know and your odds of success will be much greater.
All of these things can generate ideas and give you places to look for inspiration. Remember that often the best ideas come from finding a need or a problem that requires a solution. It’s far more rare to develop a solution (tool, product, whatever) that then successfully goes on to find a problem.
Another point to keep in mind is that ideas for a business can be in the form of products, services, intellectual property (IP) or a combination of all three. The point is that sometimes the solution to a problem, and hence the business idea, may be a tool (product) but may also be a process or a “way” of getting something done that improves efficiency, teaches, reduces cost, …
If you get creative and stop thinking of the world in terms of just hard products, a universe of ideas will open up to you. Then it’s on to figuring out how to make it all work, if it even will, but the point of this exercise is to just come up with ideas!
One final thought, don’t be afraid of competition or worry too much about originality. You want to differentiate yourself (particularly within a niche) but some of the greatest success stories in business have been from companies or individuals that improved upon something that already existed. Case in point, Microsoft’s first operating system (DOS later renamed MS-DOS) wasn’t invented by Microsoft, and we all know where that led.
Quick Update: Blogger Pamela Slim at “Escape From Cubicle Nation” posted a great entry on “Five Easy Ways to Discovery What You are Meant to Do With Your Life.” It’s an older entry but suggests some great outlets for answering that question that could also produce some great business ideas. Check it out.