How to create a world-class business idea — in six easy steps

Published: Monday, July 16 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT


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I often meet business founders whose minds are overflowing with brilliant ideas for new products. They seem to develop terrific new concepts every single day of their lives. They are watchful, always inquiring, perceptive and continually seeking (and often finding) the next big thing.

Their never-ending challenge is to pick a winner — only one! — out of scores of possibilities, and run with it.

On the other hand, I listen to intelligent and aspiring entrepreneurs who can't concoct a single viable idea. These great souls are bright and earnest, but for some reason, imaginative ideas escape.

Within my circle of friends I see both types of individuals. One is the quintessential entrepreneur who has developed several companies and has recently launched a new firm.

The other struggles to envision the next great product everyone in America would want. From time to time, he asks me if there is a method to generating a great idea.

Today, I am happy to share with you the process for creating a world-class idea, in six easy steps:

1. Infinite ideas

Remarkable new product ideas are everywhere, and there is a limitless supply of concepts waiting to be commercialized, launched and marketed. They are there to be seen and pursued by those who seek them. In fact, ideas are available to everyone, worldwide and at any moment.

In some cases, an innovator in Israel and a thinker in Palo Alto, Calif., will be enlightened at the same time.

Ideas can be small and simple, or large and complex. A passion for a subject may be the genesis of a compelling idea or derived from time enjoying a cherished hobby.

A new product may result from a tinkerer who sees an opportunity to transpose an existing concept to a totally new context. Or, someone might envision blending two disparate disciplines into an entirely new field of endeavor.

Special note: Entrepreneurs who have trouble generating ideas on their own can look to universities that have technology-transfer offices. Research universities have a wealth of ideas awaiting the arrival of someone who can take the products to market. If an entrepreneur can take a researched idea, validate it in the marketplace and license it from the university, he can commercialize the product it as though the idea were his own.

2. Knowledge

Ideas are generally developed from known facts, not from thin air. Business builders who generate bold ideas possess a high level of knowledge acquired by study, instruction and experience. Many high achievers have benefited from lessons learned from earlier educational and prior career experiences that have become foundational underpinnings of understanding.

Ideas are born by listening to customer needs and their perspective on new concepts; from data gathered on products manufactured and sold; from marketing research summaries; from the results gained from pilots of programs; and by observing established procedures.

For example, an employee may see an opportunity to start his new business by automating a labor-intensive and costly business procedure via a software application that an entire industry may purchase.

3. Connecting the dots

In my opinion, genius or idea generation is an epiphany that results from a person's ability to mentally connect the relationship between two or more different but related facts. When joined together, they create a clear view of something novel that has never been seen, developed or commercialized before.

For example, 60 years ago, my uncle, H. Tracy Hall, a research chemist and university professor, invented and commercialized man-made diamonds. His idea emerged as he noted several known facts:

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