A Breakthrough Business Idea In 21 Days? How to Improve the Odds
By Bob Dorf and (mostly) Bryan Mattimore
Over breakfast last fall, I shared an increasingly gnawing concern with an innovation doctor I knew well from our hard pro bono work together expanding, improving and marketing the local homeless shelter. No, not for-profit homeless shelters at all…but the need to have the ideas “entering” the customer development process enter with greater strength and uniqueness. After all, shouldn’t a startup idea be as truly distinctive and exciting on its way into the customer development process to make it strong as possible coming out the “other end” of the process.
In a word, too many of the ideas were just plain ordinary, obvious, or done and done and done again, just like a shoeleather steak. As I told Bryan over breakfast, “If I see one more idea for a new iPhone cuisine app from my students, I’m gonna burst. There are 850 or more already, and this category is growing at a rate of 12 to 15 new apps a month, very few of which are selling.” I personally interact with about 750 startup teams all over the world each year, and if five or eight percent of the ideas in any group are really exciting on day one, that group is at the top of the heap. “It’s gotta get better on the way in,” I said.
This led to a challenge for my friend: “Can you create a workshop that teaches aspiring entrepreneurs how to generate truly big/breakthrough ideas for new businesses?” I knew well Bryan Mattimore’s ideation and innovation consulting work with hundreds of major brands in corporate America, as well as his new book, Idea Stormers, How to Lead and Inspire Creative Breakthroughs. Shouldn’t the same powerful ideation techniques apply to startups, even before you put the pencil to the business model canvas for the very first time?
Bryan said “Creating a Breakthrough Business Concept in 21 Days” was the workshop, thinking program, and new book (once I write it) that came out of breakfast that morning with Bob. He continues…
To develop the course content for this workshop, and “walk my own talk,” I conducted an interesting experiment: I set a goal for myself of generating an original, “big idea” for a new business every day for 21 consecutive days. There were dozens of insights, learnings, creative thinking methodologies, and yes, big ideas that came out of this experiment. Here are four.
1) Focus is important.
To prepare for the 21-day experiment, I identified seventy possible arenas/frames for the new business “big idea.” These frames varied widely, but were also specific enough to potentially inspire a new idea. For instance, creating a new: 1) beverage, 2) health services concept, 3)social media idea for Millennials, 4) clothing/fashion idea, 5) sports/exercise program, 6) service for retirees, and 7) transportation invention. All were all on the list.
By having these specific arenas to in which to think creatively, it both focused and freed my mind. I knew my list would also help aspiring entrepreneurs identify the kinds of businesses they might have a passion for creating; and even more importantly, those they wouldn’t.
2) New/Provocative Stimuli are Critical
One of the keys to a successful corporate ideation session is to have the right stimuli that will trigger new connections. I quickly realized that if I were going to succeed generating 21 big ideas daily, I would need to dramatically expand my own creative stimuli: specifically, what I was reading. So, to discover creative thinking nuggets in the world of fashion, I read Seventeen Magazine and Vogue. To find exciting new technologies, I read Popular Science, and New Scientist. To inspire new service ideas, I read everything from AARP magazine to The New York Times, Cassandra Daily (on-line trend newsletter) to the Futurist.
3) Reading with a Entrepreneurial Mindset
Besides reading more broadly, I also realized that HOW I read needed to change dramatically. No more reading like a passive sponge, simply absorbing provocative, entertaining or fun information. Rather, I consciously and consistently set my mind to proactively identifying creative building blocks that could inspire a new product or service concept. A good example of this creative shift was my reading of an article in the NY Times entitled, “For Medical Tourists, Simple Math,” on the trend for US patients to travel abroad for low-cost surgical procedures. Reading this article with an active, entrepreneurial mindset, I created I-MONE (International – Medical Option Network): a referral service from US Hospitals that would form alliances with, vet, arrange travel for – and take a cut of – medical operations for US patients in overseas hospitals.
4) The First Idea is Only a Starting Point
Finally, I confirmed what I knew from facilitating ideation sessions for corporate America: the initial idea is frequently only a starting point in the creative thinking process. To create a big idea, you have to evolve and develop the idea by adding increased specificity, uniqueness, and/or consumer benefits.
A good example of evolving a preliminary idea into a bigger one: From my reading in technology, I discovered that an Israeli inventor had invented a $12 water-resistant bicycle constructed almost entirely of recycled cardboard. I set a goal of creating 20 products that could use this new cardboard technology: everything from wheelbarrows to sand sculpture molds, flip flops to baby strollers. Fine, but these were only preliminary ideas. Pushing to develop the stroller idea, for instance, led to the concept of a “Fun Stroller”: a low cost, baby stroller that could be used as a creative activity center, complete with stickers, crayons and paints that would enable kids to create their own, unique moving works of art.
So, what was most important learning from my 21-day “big idea” experiment? A quote I created for Bob’s next crop of entrepreneurial students at Moscow’s School of Management “Startup Academy,” “Richard Dyson is the only person I know who can create new ideas in a vacuum.” I’m pretty sure Bob would agree.
What do you think? Either post your comment here or write Bryan directly…BMattimore@growth-engine.com.