Aspiring entrepreneurs – especially those who are “creativity-impaired” – can take heart in knowing there is more than one way to generate ideas for products or services.
Capitalize on mistakes. Some of the best product ideas were unintended. Did you know, for example, that Post-It-Notes were the result of what 3M Company researchers at first thought to be a bad batch of glue?
Then there was Thomas Sullivan, a New York City tea importer who, in 1908, found that the sample tins of tea he normally sent to customers had become more expensive. His solution was to send less tea and to have the samples sewn into small silk bags. Sullivan’s customers assumed that these convenient bags were meant to steep in hot water and orders started rolling in for this new product innovation now known as the tea bag.
Sleep on it. One of the best times for idea development is in the early stages of sleep. Both Thomas Edison and artist Salvador Dali often used their nap time to stimulate creative thinking. The men would nap in a chair while holding a small metal object (Edison held a ball bearing, Dali, a key).
The object would eventually clank to the floor, awakening the nappers with a start. Edison and Dali would then quickly jot down whatever ideas or intuitive connections may have been in their mind.
Pay attention. Did you know that burrs were the inspiration for the popular clothing fastener known as Velcro? When you start looking at the familiar with fresh eyes you’ll be amazed at the creative business possibilities you might see.
Be ready. Keep a notebook and pencil or a small tape recorder handy at all times. After all, you never know when or where the inspiration for your new enterprise may strike!
Trust your gut. Speaking of Post-It-Notes, back in the late 1980s my then employer held a course on innovation. Attendees were put into small groups to brainstorm new product ideas and then present the best idea to the entire class. As I watched the other groups writing their favorite idea on flip chart paper and hanging them on the wall with masking tape, the light bulb went on…
What if flip chart pads were manufactured to work like giant Post-It-Notes for easier hanging? Being a trainer myself, I thought it was a great idea. My group didn’t agree and picked another one instead. What was at the time a novel product improvement is today pretty much the standard for flip chart pads. I may have missed out on a fortune but I learned an invaluable lesson – trust your gut and go for it.