Having Difficulty Finding New Business Ideas?

13 September 2008

The rather new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Club in Ottawa is a bit different then other networking groups I’ve attended.  Composed of ex EMBA graduates from the University of Ottawa, it combines networking, presentations from members and more homework – as if the current students didn’t have enough already.

At last nights meeting, Rachel Hancock led a session on developing new business ideas.  She outlined a process to follow that helps in developing ideas.  At first, it seems straight forward.  Basically (and with far too much brevity) it is: examine trends in the markets; identify challenges that are developing; use your experience to qualify them; from the challenges identify opportunities and then study these using the standard market and business planning methods.

The trick lies in letting go of your self-imposed constraints.  In the small group I was working with, we had a lawyer, a green energy developer, a incubator, and me – a general manager.  We looked at technological, social and environmental trends and came up with a company that would develop green energy using an open-innovation (read open source) model – hardly innovative given our backgrounds but illustrative of the constraints we impose on our thinking.  Breaking out of these constraints is necessary to finding good new ideas that are more than just bits of your past experience.

This is a common theme in discussions about creativity.  Thinking laterally and letting the brain play with the data once you’ve digested it is part of the process.  The hard part is being open to the new ideas when your brain passes them on to you.  To me, this sounds a bit like Obiwan’s advice to Luke: “Use the force” but it is necessary or you will be stuck in a trap of your own making.

This isn’t to say the process is easy. Outside of the classroom, the search for the next big thing is a serious and time consumming effort.  Lots of data needs to be gathered and digested.  Just take a break now and then to let your brain play.

Good luck with your search.