Not a week goes by without somebody asking me about how to get an idea. It can be a speaking thing with students or a bunch of us hanging out complaining about the state of affairs in Washington, Toronto, Cleveland, or Regina depending where I’m at when the bitch fest starts.
In hanging out with tons of people smarter then me, I’ve come to – I think – some reasonable observations with respect to all the great ideas available to entrepreneurs.
There are some ideas that are truly accidental everybody has heard of. The microwave oven and Post-It-Notes are just two great examples of this phenomenon. It is worth your time to Google the history of both.
Since you and I are not likely to have those ‘accidents’, what do we do?
Be Internally Cranky
I’m totally into being internally cranky. I do it at the professional level. On a more serious note, being internally cranky has you looking at things though the “oh fer kristsakes” lens. Consider the following example.
You are in line at Starbucks watching the newbie barista go slow. You can either think, “lord I’m gonna die before getting a drink” or you grit your teeth with “there has to be a better way to do this” firing off in your brain. There might not be a way but it’s the thought process that matters. If you are constantly looking at everything through the ‘there has got to be a better way’ lens, you’d be amazed at how the ideas and creativity will start to flow.
I happen to be at Starbucks as I’m typing this. I just watched an employee overstuff the napkin dispenser and 5 seconds later some lady tries to get a napkin. She ends up pulling 20 napkins out, gets pissed, keeps one, and chucks the rest into the trash. There has to be a better way to deal with that. A billion dollar business in disposable napkin dispensers designed to properly dispense one plus having advertising on the container just popped into my mind.
While quite brilliant and stupid all at the same time, it is a good example of the continual thinking process when trying to find a better way.
Don’t Force It
One of the many mistakes I made as a VC was to take some brilliant guys, toss em in a room, and pay them to come up with a great idea we could fund. The guys were truly smart and I was truly dumb to think I could force this into happening.
You and your roommate can’t, as a general rule, expect to get on a whiteboard and mind map your way to a billion dollar business. Those ah-hah moments rarely happen in such a structured way.
Still here at Starbucks. There is this elderly lady musing to her friend about how she just wants to find somebody trusting to help her clean out the garage. Because, after all, there are so many bad companies out there. How about Angie’s List, you say? Maybe.
Maybe team up with AARP and come up with a ‘trusted helper’ system that has vetted, bonded, and solid people on a variety of fronts. Like AAA, these service providers get an official seal of approval from AARP and, even better, they can text the provider’s code to AARP for an immediate/live/up to date rating. In this solution AARP makes money, the business makes money, the vendors get more customers, and the elderly who are worried about being ripped off, can get some comfort from the largest retirement association in the world.
Train your brain and you’ll have 100s of ideas every day with that “ah hah” moment right around the corner.
Note: Internally Cranky means keeping the crankiness to yourself. It’s a filtering system, not a way of life. Sometimes, I get this confused.