How to Generate and Assess Good Entrepreneurial Ideas

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You may think that entrepreneurs have the ability to produce better and more efficient streams of ideas than ordinary people. While it’s been debated whether genetic factors contribute to the ability to generate ideas, it’s clear that you can train yourself to enhance the speed of generation ideas and the quality of ideas that you produce.

Here are a few tips for training your mind to think in a creative way about potential ideas for new entrepreneurial projects:

1. Seed new ideas from day-to-day interactions.

First, you can use your daily interactions to seed new ideas. As you interact with your surrounding environment and society, incidents and situations occur all day that can help you provoke new ideas, but it helps to have a good frame to start with. Here are some examples of idea prototypes that you can start from:

  • A new “module” (product) that offers a new way to conduct a basic service or meet a simple human need. For example: online social networks introduced a new way for people to interact.
     
  • A way to optimize an already existing daily module or process that people depend on. For example: MySpace and Hi5 were an existing social networks, but Facebook introduced a new way to users to develop their own applications on the social network and thus have more freedom and creativity.
     
  • A new technology that updates an existing module or user need. For example, mobile phones improved upon groundlines by enhancing flexibility and offering a completely new way to call someone.

2. Use a brainstorming ritual to keep the process going.

  • Try to set aside 30 minutes or one hour per day where you sit and try to think “differently.” I have seen people that create a “brainstorming” hour for themselves each weekend where they try to think of new ideas or new ways to introduce things.
     
  • Ask “why not?” Don’t take things around you as a given. Don’t accept the “de-factos” that day-to-day life imposes on you. A philosopher once said, “When I challenge and act skeptical about the current model of life, this doesn’t mean I that I am rejecting my present experience, but rather, I am searching for a better future.
     
  • Ask yourself on a daily basis, “Have I tried to solve a new problem today?” This question reminds you that you should provoke your mind and train it to increase its abilities.

3. Assess the idea to determine its feasibility.

Once you’ve become an idea generator, the next step is to assess whether the idea can be turned into a viable product. Here are some steps:

  1. Detect the type of idea by asking:

    - Is this idea already in existence in a different way or guise?

    - Is this a completely new product or idea? 

  2. If the idea already exists (in a form of business or venture) but you want to develop something similar, consider:

    - How successful has the idea been? Can you claw market share from the existing set of satisfied customer?

    - If a business with a similar model or product has failed, analyze why the odds of success would be different for yours. What is the difference between the two? 
     
  3. If it’s a new idea,
     
    - First try to assess the market reaction to an idea very similar to yours, in the same sector or industry.

    - Weigh the weaknesses and the strengths of your idea.

    - Try to put yourself in the mindset of a skeptical audience to help you understand the drawbacks to your idea.

    - Challenge your assumptions and assess inherent risk. One method of doing so is to ask “what if”-style questions, such as, “What if the audience doesn’t see the unique value proposition of the idea? What if the market reaction wasn’t as you expected? What if another idea comes after you to compete?” etc.
     
  4. Finally, brainstorm about the future of the idea. What could it evolve into? Can sub-ideas be born from this idea? 

If the idea passes these final steps and still seems feasible, you likely have the foundation of a strong concept that can be converted in to a business model or business venture.

In the next article, I will discuss how to convert this new business idea into a viable business model that can be used in pitching to investors. Until then, keep brainstorming!

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