How to Develop New Ideas and Opportunities for Your Business

If your business has been running smoothly and growing steadily, this may be the perfect time to think about exploring new opportunities. You’ll enjoy the luxury of brainstorming possibilities without the real-time pressure of having to immediately find a solution to a problem.

Sitting down with a blank pad of paper and waiting for inspiration to strike generally doesn’t lead to breakthrough ideas. You need to prime the pump by gathering news, trends, data, and other information about your industry and the products and services you provide. Start by scheduling a date and time on your calendar for brainstorming, allowing time for some prep work.

Set the stage for creative thinking

The reason it’s helpful to gather precedents, or existing ideas and trends is that it’s actually quite rare for new ideas to come out of nowhere. Many innovative ideas build on existing ideas.

Some industries have formalized this approach by introducing new ideas through a comparison to older ideas. For example, when writers pitch a new movie script, they use the “X meets Y” phrase: “It’s Out of Africa meets Pretty Woman.” A version of this formula is used to come up with new ideas for apps: “This new app is like Uber for ______.”

Build an archive of precedents, trends, and comparisons by reflecting on recent conversations and experiences. When you read an article or receive an email with an idea that intrigues you, save it to an idea folder. Make a list of any pain points you’ve observed in interactions with your customers and other businesses. Note examples of people talking about something new or doing something differently. Even if an example seems unrelated to your business, it might spark relevant ideas.

Compiling a list of your business’s strengths will also prove useful for brainstorming new ideas. Include the most popular services or products you offer, your most efficient internal processes, and a selection of customers’ reviews.

Brainstorming guidelines

You can definitely brainstorm ideas alone, but having others who understand your business join you will produce more ideas. Potential collaborators for a brainstorming session might be employees, vendors, and even customers. Consider how you might compensate them in return for their time.

Focus your brainstorming session with a prompt or several prompts. A prompt is a high-level, open-ended question like, What new service or product can I offer customers? Another formula for a brainstorming prompt is, What if we …?

For each of the precedents and examples you’ve gathered, come up with an idea of how you might adapt or modify this example to your business, drawing on your knowledge of your business strengths.

It helps to use Post-It notes to capture ideas. That way you can put one idea on one piece of paper. Later on, you’ll use the Post-It notes to sort, rearrange and discard ideas.

Set a specific amount of time to brainstorm, either an hour or 90 minutes. Having a limited amount of time can help you focus better on the task at hand.

Stop brainstorming about 15-20 minutes before the end of your scheduled session. Use the remaining time to sort through the Post-It notes you’ve created. Group related ideas together and separate ideas that seem impractical – but don’t discard them yet.

This activity brings your brainstorming session to an end, but your work isn’t quite over.

Synthesizing your ideas

Take a day or two to let the ideas simmer in the back of your mind before you tackle the synthesis phase. Giving yourself some space allows you to approach the ideas you generated with a fresh lens.

Select ideas that seem worth further consideration by ranking them in terms of the ones that seem most viable. You might use a numbering system with 1 for the most viable and 5 for the least.

Starting with the ideas your ranked 1, answer these questions:

  • Does this idea align with your business values and goals?
  • What additional knowledge do you need to evaluate the potential of this idea?
  • What funding and resources might you need to successfully implement this idea?
  • What are the potential roadblocks?

Depending on the quantity and quality of ideas you generated, you may wish to repeat the process with the remaining ideas and discard the ideas ranked 5.

Will any of your ideas generated through this brainstorming process become a reality? Time will tell. But trust the process to jumpstart your thinking about new opportunities: the ideas you came up with may stick in your mind and evolve into something new that could transform your business.

If you would like to learn more about how this might apply to your business, let’s talk:

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