The Entrepreneur ‘Ah Hah’ Moment And How To Get It

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.

About the author

Rick Segal

Rick Segal, is the co-founder of Fixmo. Prior to starting Fixmo, Mr. Segal was a partner at JLA Ventures, a large Canadian Venture Capital fund. Mr. Segal was President and Chief Executive Officer of Microforum, a leader in providing integrated e-business solutions in a wide array of industry verticals.

Mr. Segal joined Microforum in July 2000 from Chapters Online Inc., a leading Canadian e-commerce company, where he held the position of President and Chief Operating Officer (1997-2000). Mr. Segal began working with Chapters Inc. in 1997 as a consultant on the technical development of the Chapters e-commerce venture. Based on this successful collaboration, he was named the President of Chapters Online in August 1998.

Prior to joining Chapters Online, Mr. Segal was a partner at the international firm of TMS Consulting from1996 to 1998. Mr. Segal worked at Microsoft Corporation in Redmond, Washington from 1992 until 1996 as Director of technical services for the Internet Customer Unit. Mr. Segal is also the author of four books on Network Management and Windows software development.

  • Waiver Form

    Internally cranky I like that one 🙂 Im a old crab too

  • JayRush

    Internally cranky…brilliantly put.  I often find myself coming up with new ideas at the most random times and for some very random things but they all stem from the initial thought process of 1) that is dumb 2) this is better 3) this is even better 4) and better 5) and better etc.  Once I get to the 4th ‘this is better’ I usually call someone and run it by them to make sure I am not just overly crazy, inebriated, or exhausted. 

  • Enjoyed the article and often take the internally cranky approach myself (although I will now have a term to use to describe it. Thanks! =). I feel that there are a lot of people out there with ideas. Tell people you are an app developer and they will tell you 10 ideas they have swimming in their head that you should run off to implement. My issue here is that I often feel its not a lack of ideas that’s the problem but rather how to identify the one idea that’s worth venturing into. Maybe a followup article to talk about that? Much appreciated.

  • Bill Waters

    True enough, however, ideas are a dime a dozen. The hard part is the execution, validation and perseverence. Of course, having that mindset is integrally important for getting to the end game as well. Being able to look at challenges in the process and say ‘there’s got to be a better way of doing this’ will help overcome the hurdles as well.

  • I call that “new eyes” but without an insane level of curiosity the ideas won’t be worthwhile anyhow. If you aren’t looked at sideways or called insane at some point, you are on the wrong path 🙂

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