Ideas are almost a form of currency in the entrepreneurial world; they’re what constitute the foundation of your business, what differentiate your enterprise from those of your competitors, and what appeal to your audience in marketing and advertising campaigns.
But damn if they aren’t hard to come up with.
Maintaining a fresh stream of ideas is tough work, even for the most inspired and creative among us, so when you’re stuck somewhere—maybe you don’t know how to break out of your content marketing plateau, or maybe one of your competitors is gaining ground on you—you’ll likely become frustrated with the brute-force approach to idea generation doesn’t work.
There are isolated cases when simply forcing yourself to come up with idea can be fruitful, but most of the time this is only going to increase your stress. Instead, rely on some of the following methods to come up with new, better ideas more naturally—and ones that are powerful enough to overcome the obstacles you’re currently facing:
- Team brainstorming. You are unique. You have unique perspectives, unique experience, and a unique expertise that makes you different from everyone else on your team. But this uniqueness applies to everyone on your team. Everyone around you will have unique perspectives and ideas to offer, so your strongest route to new idea generation is to bring them all together. Team brainstorming can be volatile—especially if you aren’t holding an efficient meeting—but overall, it’s a great way to inject some new creativity and perspective into your brainstorming sessions.
- Competitive research. You can also take a look at your competitors to see what they’ve been up to if you need a little boost in inspiration—after all, these businesses are pretty much doing what you’re doing, just in a different way. Take a look at any of the new strategies they’ve rolled out, any design changes they’ve made, or any actions they’ve taken that stand out in the area of your choice. The goal here isn’t to directly copy or steal what’s working for them—that could damage your reputation—instead, it’s to use that as a springboard to come up with your own ideas.
- Peer networking. As an entrepreneur, you might feel a bit isolated, but the truth is, there are business owners all around you. All you have to do is walk to the nearest local business, and you’ll be able to find a local business owner trying their best, the same as you. You may be of different industries or backgrounds, but in many ways, business is business. Have a simple conversation with another entrepreneur about your problem, and they may be able to offer you some helpful pointers—or maybe even connect you to some new resources. For this reason, it’s also valuable to regularly attend professional networking events in your area.
- Audience interviews. Chances are, if you’re looking for ideas, you’re looking for new ways to please your audience (either directly or indirectly), so what better way to find those ideas than to ask your audience members themselves? Use social media as a platform for conversation, or send out a survey to your current and prospective clients. Most of your dedicated users will be more than happy to provide you with a bit of information about what they’d like to see in the future, or what they think of your ideas as they exist today. Use that information to direct your decisions and actions.
- Free association. If you’re looking for more spontaneously generated ideas, you can always try a free association game. For example, you can start with a word or phrase associated with your industry, and write down a sequence of words, each inspired by the word that came previously. Somewhere along this chain, you’ll likely find a combination of words or a pattern that appeals to you, or strikes some inspiration in you to try something new.
- Mentor and veteran discussions. Instead of looking to peers for advice, you could also seek mentorship from someone far more experienced than you. Most entrepreneurial mentors have decades of experience, and have a removed perspective that makes them more logical, bigger-picture thinkers. When you’re inside a problem, facing it directly with a vested interest in finding a solution, this outside wisdom is absolutely invaluable. You can find new mentors at networking events or by using a pre-existing network like SCORE. Just be sure you respect your mentor’s time, and work on making it a mutually beneficial partnership.
- Thinking outside the box. There’s no one strategy for “thinking outside the box,” because it forces you to abandon the strategies you’ve consistently relied upon. As Einstein said, “the significant problems we have cannot be solved by the same level of thinking with which we created them.” If you’re going to find a creative solution to a problem, you need to get outside your comfort zone. Talk to someone new. Listen to new music. Look at new art. Visit a new business. Try to stimulate your mind with new experiences and open yourself up to new possibilities—you might be surprised at what you find.
These strategies are especially powerful because of their ability to be applied to almost any situation; they’re just as useful for coming up with new content topics as they for finding ways to differentiate your brand before you even launch a business in the first place. Commit them to memory, and be sure to experiment with all of them—you’ll likely find that some of them work far better for you than others. The more you successfully brainstorm and generate ideas, the faster and easier it will be in the future—and soon you’ll be an unstoppable, idea-generating machine.
Of course, if you want to extend your brainstorming network, you can always rely on Sarah or me to help out. Drop us a line at dopplepop, and we’ll be happy to consult with you on your business’s current needs.