Creative thinking – top tips for thinking creatively & generating ideas
Many dream of starting their own innovative business that changes the world but quickly run up against a harsh reality – how do you come up with the idea to make it happen?
And while the creation of ‘Eureka!’ moments is a challenge in itself, you’ve an arguably even trickier step to take next: how to turn a light-bulb moment into a tangible concept.
Of course, the rewards can be worth it.
Think of James Dyson’s desire for a bagless vacuum which wouldn’t lose suction or the Google founders’ original aim to find a way to assess the importance of each web page on the internet.
However, generating good ideas isn’t easy – it can involve an awful lot of muddled thinking, rejected thoughts and tough criticism.
But this is all part of the process – a series of crucial steps to separate the wheat from the chaff so that you end up with something that’s well-tested and thoroughly thought out.
To help you get your creative juices flowing, here are five ways to try and conjure up a winning idea.
1 Work out what really motivates you
Motivation is as straightforward a concept as they come: what would you happily jump out of bed for every morning?
When you truly believe in something in life, much of the hard work is already done as you can more readily devote yourself to every single aspect of a subject without it feeling like any kind of a burden.
This passion for a particular subject or topic will be vital if you’re after inventive ideas for a new business involved in or around it. Pursuing a passion or interest is the major driver for starting a business, a survey of successful start-ups found.
To start, ask yourself a stark question: what really motivates you?
You may feel a little out of your comfort zone but it’ll be worth getting right down to basics and listing everything that fires you up in life.
They can be full of broad, sweeping ambition: do you want to help tackle climate change, help address poverty, work with charities to alleviate homelessness?
Or they might be much closer to home and reflect personal foibles: would you love to create an incentive to deter people from dropping litter or design an artificial intelligence (AI) video gaming experience?
If you’re working from a completely blank slate, think about what inspires you whether it’s education, languages, technology, heavy industry, retail – it could literally be anything.
Don’t worry if you’ve no clear answers: motivation, or a sense of purpose, can be tricky to pin down - we’re all different, with unique perspectives and experiences.
If you’re struggling, try these tips for inspiration. It’ll also help to research how successful entrepreneurs were motivated to develop their own ideas.
The creators of Spotify streaming service, for instance, felt compelled to address the rise of piracy in the music industry. And meditation app Headspace was inspired by a goal to bring the benefits of mindfulness to people around the world.
2 Identify people’s biggest frustrations and worries
As ideas go, some of the biggest game-changers have emerged from a desire to solve a pressing problem – often fuelled by technological and cultural change.
For example, until the late 2000s, your chances of catching a cab in public when you needed it had remained unchanged for decades – your success (or otherwise) was down to an unhappy mix of luck, time of day and availability of cars.
With the rise of the internet and its capacity to create new online services, Uber was subsequently born out of frustration at this outdated historic practice.
Stuck on a snowy Paris night, its irritated founder wanted to know why he couldn’t just use his phone to order a taxi.
Similarly, concern at the pace of climate change has drawn many worried consumers to newly consider using those businesses who share their viewpoint and want to help make a real difference.
Anti-food waste start-up Too Good To Go connects consumers with local shops and restaurants looking to sell food at the end of service to prevent it from being thrown away.
Its founders were dismayed by the sheer amount of produce being wasted and its impact on climate change - and resolved to try and curb its impact.
It began in 2016 and is today one of the fastest-growing apps in Europe, with 18 million users.
When you begin to seek inspiration, try to channel these types of strong emotions about what matters to you.
Consider the daily frustrations you and others encounter. Each day, jot down a new challenge you’ve experienced and what you wish existed to resolve it.
It doesn’t matter how small or insignificant it may seem; for example, a difficult call with customer services trying to resolve a problem, a parcel delivery gone missing or a miserable attempt to put together a piece of flat-pack furniture.
Spell out exactly what you would have wanted or needed to happen in order to resolve the difficulty.
For extra insight, if a day passes without a hitch, call a family member or loved one to see if they’ve had any frustrations they could share. After a week has passed, go through your list and use it as a springboard for a brainstorm for ideas.
3 Create conditions to let your imagination run free
A great idea may emerge – slowly - from hours of dedicated research, study, thought and entertainment.
Or it may pop into your head when you least expect it.
One thing you can be sure of is that you can’t count on the timing of any lightbulb moment, and it’s almost impossible to force it at will. Instead, encourage the thought process to enter your mind naturally. Here are some activities you can try to foster creativity:
- Set aside 30 minutes to brainstorm ideas relating to those topics you’ve chosen which inspire you. Try techniques such as mind-mapping, word association and doodling to take your thoughts off into new realms. Don’t evaluate the ideas too much when they crop up, though, as this could hold you back and distract you – the wilder, the better.
- Take ample time for breaks and let your thoughts wander, as experts say this can boost creativity. Keep a notebook or your laptop close to you in case any meaningful words or ideas spring to mind.
- Stimulate your brain with simple new experiences. For example, visit a part of your neighbourhood you’ve never seen, practise a musical instrument or try baking. Novel pastimes and exercises will help you think in different ways as you grapple with new techniques and methods that you’d never usually consider.
- Find plenty of new people to talk to. Conversation can really help stir those creative juices: differences of opinion are the lifeblood of agile thinking. Shopkeeper, call-centre worker, colleague, your child’s teacher; the potential is endless. Find out their stories, what engages them, the problems they’d like solving, and how they see the world – it could help to spark original and innovative thoughts.
4 Tap into your insider knowledge
This might sound underhand yet it’s anything but – your own personal experience of a particular industry and its methods can be an invaluable trigger for experimental ideas and change.
For example, you may have acquired intricate knowledge, technical skills or understanding of how processes work for a range of products.
Now consider if you can apply this hard-earned talent to either improve a part of your current industry, or to introduce a revolutionary new approach in a completely different business sector.
If your background is in IT, could you apply that knowledge to come up with a simplified new operating system that saves time and resources? Or perhaps your teaching skills could bring a radical new stream of thinking to the way the training industry works?
Understand your unique skillset and think of ways to apply it to burgeoning consumer trends.
It might be that you want to branch out into another industry or do something completely new. If that’s the case, think about what skills you could transfer from your current career.
You could even brush up on a few new skills to give yourself the best chance of success across all stages of running a business. Find out more about the skills you need and what it takes to start your own company.
5 Consider what will – and won’t – work
For an idea to be truly effective, you have to be able to make it work in practice. Once you’ve alighted on what you hope is a creative spark, ask friends, family or trusted colleagues to give you a grilling.
It can be vital you hear outsiders’ perspectives and objectiveness to really weigh up the pros and cons of your idea. Even if it’s just anecdotal, make sure to push them for feedback beyond getting a generic ‘go for it’ response, especially if they’re in your target market as a potential customer.
The questions to ask:
- Do they – instinctively - like your idea?
- Would they actually it as a product or service?
- How much would they pay for it?
- Do they know of any other products or service which are similar already available?
- Can they spot any gaps or glaring flaws in your idea? Ask them to be brutally honest with you. It’s far better to consider potential issues from the get-go rather than run into trouble later on.
Think about whether you already have any contacts who could back you, introduce you to others or help you make new connections. You could gather opinions from prospective clients, ask for guidance at your local Chambers of Commerce or see if your local authority business support networks can give you direction.
There’s no need to go it completely alone – putting your head together with experts could be key to turning an early thought into a great idea. Aim to get the broadest range of advice and take it seriously.
Once you’ve got your idea and you’re ready to take the next step, you’ll need to think about how to develop it, find funding and start trading.
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