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

Jul 10 2012 - 10:42pm


I often meet business founders whose minds are overflowing with brilliant ideas for new products. They seem to develop terrific new concepts every day.

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 elude them.

Within my circle of friends is an individual who struggles to envision the next great product. From time to time, he asks me if there is a method for generating a great idea.

Here is a process for creating a world-class idea in six easy steps:

* Infinite ideas. New product ideas are everywhere and there is a limitless supply of concepts waiting to be commercialized. They are there to be pursued by those who seek them. Ideas are available to everyone at any moment.

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

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 product to market. If an entrepreneur can take a researched idea, validate it in the marketplace and license it from the university, he or she can commercialize the product as though it were their own.

* 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 through study and experience. Many high achievers have benefited from lessons learned through education and career experiences.

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

* 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. Joined together, they create a clear view of something novel which has never been 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 that; a) Mother nature forms natural diamonds abundantly b) via a chemical process, c) intense pressure, and d) significant heat, e) all of which are powerfully focused to change the internal structure of carbon atoms.

From these facts, he theorized that he could couple a natural chemical process with a powerful physical device to manufacture real diamonds by replicating the powers and actions within the earth.

He developed a design, built a press system and began to test his theory. Did it work? Absolutely. Now, many years later, tons of manmade diamonds are sold worldwide every year for cutting, grinding and drilling.

* Test the idea. Dr. Hall followed the scientific method, a process that begins with the observation of a situation; perhaps a problem or opportunity. The observer asks what is happening and why. This leads to the gathering of information followed by a prediction that might explain the matter. The process continues with an experiment to test the prediction, followed by the analysis and interpretation of data. The process concludes with a tested and viable solution.

* Timing of ideas. Some innovative ideas will meet consumer needs today; other concepts will be conceived now but are not anticipated nor sought yet by shoppers. Consider Xerox Parc, which developed many of today's technologies. Scientists at the Parc developed laser printers, personal workstations, Ethernet, fiber optics and the graphical user interface.

Most of these products were imagined more than 30 years ago and came to market long after the initial idea was born.

* Good idea? An idea is worth nothing until it has been commercialized and there are paying customers. Some ideas will be wildly profitable, others will be a failed dream. Learn to eliminate the bad ones quickly. Don't waste your time, energy and money.

In conclusion, note the following general steps leading to great ideas:

  • Know there are ideas with your name on them. Find them.
  • Look and see problems and opportunities within your environment. They exist.
  • Based upon knowledge, imagine solutions to what you find. Ideas are born.
  • Be zealous and passionate about your ideas. They're yours.
  • Test your ideas. Will they work and will customers want to buy them?
  • Is the market ready for your ideas? Now or later?

Are you ready to create your new idea? I welcome your thoughts.

This article originally appeared in Alan E. Hall's Forbes column. Contact him at or @AskAlanEHall.

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