Ideas are rarely the Eureka moments we wish they were and they certainly don’t exist in a vacuum. They are the result of a collection of knowledge, insights, observations, experience and passion.
For some of us coming up with ideas is easy, for others not at all. Then there are those of us who fall in the middle. We’ve got a flood of ideas (how many are good- questionable) followed by a drought and as in nature the cycle repeats. However, there are several steps we can take to improve our flow of ideas.
Observe Social and Economic Changes
The world is in a constant state of flux. Economies are ever changing and with them societies. For example, former low-income countries are now middle-income, or moving towards middle-income. With this new wealth there are opportunities for entrepreneurs both inside and outside the emerging country. The growing middle class will demand consumer goods and services. This is where you come in. What can you offer? What unique skill or product can you provide? This applies on a smaller scale too. Look in your community, region, and country there are always social and economic shifts.
Pay attention to Consumer Preferences
Consumer tastes and preferences never stagnate. They ebb and flow. It’s up to you to spot the wave, hop on it, ride it, or let it swallow you. For existing businesses it’s important to ride the wave. This means constantly staying on trend or better yet setting the trend. A new business has the opportunity to make the wave.
Sometimes consumer trends emerge from policy shifts globally. A perfect example of this is the green movement. Within the last 10 years, as a result of climate change, there has been an increased focus on eco-friendly products. Building a gas-guzzling car that emits enormous amounts of exhaust would likely not sell to the average consumer increasingly concerned about the environment. Pay attention to the global trends. It could be an opportunity to start a business, improve one and of course potentially fatal for your existing business to go against it.
The Walkman, Payphone, VHS are likely not returning. But what is next? What is after iPods, tablets, and smartphones? What is next in technology? Start thinking, predicting and making.
Widen your Social Sphere
Rarely do we venture outside of our circle of friends and colleagues. We like our friends, maybe even love them, but we’ve got to move beyond them. These are people that you know already, they’re people that likely share the same or at least similar interests, so you probably talk about the same things or variants of them over and over again. It’s difficult for new thinking to come of it. So get out there. Join a class, a club, an anything that is outside of your social sphere. Mix and mingle. This is the best way to diversify your conversations. The more people you interact with the more ideas you get. People’s likes and dislikes, aspirations in life, their problems/challenges, all lead to ideas that can be converted into business opportunities. So get out there!
Share your idea
There are two schools of thought on this. The first: don’t share your business idea. The second: do share your business idea with anyone who will listen. The former school fears the idea will be stolen. The second believes it will be sharpened and improved by every person to hear it. I am of the second school of thought. Now this is not to say that there is no risk in sharing your idea. There is risk. However, it is minimal if you’ve already started the process of turning the idea into a plan and the plan into action. By sharing your idea you receive feedback and garner support, whether it be moral, financial, or technical. Every little bit helps!
Read up a storm
Reading is essential. Publications take you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people living and dead, and expose you to concepts not known. Books, magazines, websites, and newspapers are an unending source of inspiration. The beauty of reading today is the Internet has made it possible to find information on any topic, by any person and above all to interact with them.
Be a student of the environment
Watch people’s behaviors, their habits, and their nature. By watching you’ll see opportunities. If you are not able to travel, which I’ll delve into more below, be a domestic tourist – visit different neighbourhoods—rich, poor, new, old, supermarkets, shopping malls, different museums, festivals etc. Repetition and isolation rarely lead to ideas.
Attend Fairs, Exhibitions, And Seminars
Fairs, exhibitions and seminars are available on every subject under the sun. They are a one-stop shop for ideas, products, innovations, distributors, suppliers, manufacturers and partners. They also present a great opportunity to negotiate distribution deals, franchises, reproduction rights etc.
Improving an existing product or service
Often products and services will spawn spin-offs. For example, the iPhone led to iPhone cases. Therefore look around you, look at the products and services you use, and those on the market. What spin-off opportunities do they present?
Look Within You
Often we undervalue what we know. Or we don’t even think about it. We all have something to offer so just think what is it? What are your valuable insights, experiences, passions, skills you can share? What services and products can be of them.
Think in stories
Stories sell. People love stories. They are an emotional journey. They take us places we’ve never been, make us laugh, cry, cringe, smile, etc. What story do you have to share? What is the journey that led to your decision to start your business?
Get out and see the world! Resorts don’t count. What counts is immersing yourself in the everyday happenings of your chosen destination. You’ll be surprised how much it can spark creativity. The world is full of inspiration.
So just remember: listen, watch, think, and do. Ideas are all around you. With these tips you’ll hear them, see them, refine them and then most importantly act on them! Make your ideas realities. It just takes a little training but you can do it. Eventually the generation of ideas will become second nature.
Tanya Castle is a writer, journalist, women’s rights activist, world traveler and founder of Kilambi, an ethical apparel line. She has lived, worked and visited more than 50 countries across 5 continents. Tanya has reported for various media outlets from Rwanda, Cameroon, Kenya, Lebanon, Canada and more and promoted women’s rights with organizations in DRC, Kosovo, and Yemen. Tanya is currently editing her first Kindle short story titled: Extreme Blind Date to be released in July and building Kilambi, a line that fuses African prints and craftmanship with North American design. You can check it out at www.kilambi.com. Tanya splits her time between Canada, Kenya and the world. You can follow her @TanyaLCastle.
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