Learn a fun way to generate business ideas that are “right” for you (EPISODE 3 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

Last week, I shared with you an exercise (a four pieces puzzle) to help you find your “calling”. I want to stress once again that this is just the first step in creating a sustainable business. The second step is to create business ideas based on your passion. The third step is to evaluate whether your idea has a business potential (this is the topic of next week’s post) and the last step is to make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business, because “a passion without a plan is just a hobby”, as Mark Schaefer puts it. This is the core of my online course.

Today we will deal with step 2. If you have done the puzzle exercise, but you could not clearly identify possible business ideas that are consistent with your values, interests, strengths, and long term vision, you might need a little push from outside. Sometimes, when we are obsessed by finding a solution to our problem, we overthink and our mind starts spinning in circles, instead of generating new, creative ideas. This is when you need a fresh look at your problem and some outside inputs. If you feel this is your case, try this.

“This” is brainstorming. If done well, brainstorming is effective and fun. What is brainstorming? It is a group technique to create new ideas. The group takes a specific problem and creates as many ideas as possible to solve that problem in a limited time. It’s possible to use this technique to solve many different problems, but today I will focus on the problem of finding business ideas that are right for you.

First, I will share with you the main rules that you need to follow to conduct a successful brainstorming. Second, I will explain you one exercise that I have used successfully a few times to help people come up with business ideas in line with their interests, values and personalities. This is just one of the exercises I use when I lead brainstorming events, but I find it particularly powerful.

Let’s start with the 5 important rules:

  1. Group size and composition

I suggest that your group is between 4 and 8 people. If it’s less than 4 you may not receive enough creative inputs; if it’s bigger than 8, people will not have sufficient time to express their ideas. The group should be made of bright people, who don’t know each other well. This is to avoid that they start chatting and lose their focus on your problem.

  1. Problem statement

You need to state your problem and your expectations for the day very clearly. People need to know what you expect from them.

  1. Careful planning and time management

You need to plan the day in a very detailed way. Which questions you will ask, in which order, how much time each person will have to answer, etc. Sometimes you will need to be a bit harsh with people and interrupt them to move on. If you don’t do it, it’s very likely that you will run out of time and not reach all your objectives.

  1. Separate the time for individual thinking from the time for sharing ideas with the group

There are people who tend to talk a lot and people who tend to keep silent, but you want to hear from both. So, for each question or exercise, give them 2-3 minutes to think individually and write down their ideas and 1 minute to share their thoughts with the group.

  1. No comments or ideas evaluation during the ideas generation phase

You want that people feel allowed to think out of the box and don’t fear to be judged by other group members. Plus, you don’t want to waste too much time on one idea when you can use the time to generate other ideas. You can plan some time for open discussion or ideas evaluation, but only after you are done with the idea generation phase.

These are my 5 top rules when I organize a brainstorming event. I have many more tips and guidance to share, but I don’t want to overload you.

Now, let’s go to the second part of the talk. If your problem is to generate business ideas that are right for you, try this exercise. I call it “overlapping clouds”. Visualize a few clouds in the sky. They are away from each other. Now, the wind rises and pushes some of these clouds towards other clouds, until some of them overlap and form a bigger cloud.

Here is how it works in practice. Before the brainstorming, you do the puzzle exercise and you come up with your personal list of values, strengths, things you like doing, and vision. During the brainstorming, you draw on a flip-chart as many clouds as the number of items in your list. Be selective and try to keep the number of clouds below 10. Then, you ask people to overlap 2 or 3 clouds at a time and write down as many business ideas as they can think of, that combine these clouds.

Here is an example from a brainstorming event Isabelle and I organized last October. One participant shared with me the following lists:

Values: protecting the environment

Strengths: problem solving, languages

Things she likes: coffee, dancing, South America, learning

Vision: helping others succeed, make life easier, helping people from other countries

During the brainstorming, we drew these 10 clouds and I asked participants to overlap 2 or 3 clouds at a time. The result was amazing: they came up with more than 20 business ideas, some of which very good. This person wrote me that the brainstorming helped her a lot.

Now that you have the 5 rules and the clouds overlapping exercise, you can organize your brainstorming. You will need to devote a lot of time in preparing it if you want it to be successful. You will need to identify the right people, find a suitable date and time, send invitations, find out which questions to ask and which exercises to use, prepare a detailed agenda, buy all the stuff you need such as flip-charts and post-its, and eventually organize a coffee break or a lunch.

If you live in Switzerland and you don’t have all this time, you don’t know the right people to invite or you don’t feel confident enough to organize your own brainstorming, there is an easy shortcut: sign up to the waiting list of my next brainstorming. By signing up, you will be the first to know the date and place of the brainstorming and you will get a very special price.

See you there!



Find your calling… with a puzzle! (EPISODE 2 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

In my last blog post, I introduced the 4 steps that you need to take in order to create a business that you love:

  1. Identify your passion or your calling
  2. Come up with some business ideas based on your passion or calling
  3. Evaluate the business potential of your idea, and eventually choose among different ideas
  4. Make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business and implement it

Today I will focus on step 1, identify your passion or, if you don’t have a clear passion, your “calling”. Why? Because for the majority of people, identifying what could make them feel fulfilled is the biggest obstacle.  You may have many interests, hobbies etc., but you feel that none of these would make you jump out of your bed each morning. How can you identify your calling?

Of course, there is no silver bullet and there is no minimum or maximum time, in which you are supposed to find it. It’s a self-discovery journey and it takes the time it needs to take. For me, the right time was three years. Don’t be shocked or desperate. I had no support and no guidance in this journey. With the right guidance, I think it can take much less. Today, I want to offer you a possible approach that can help you. This guidance comes from my own experience: I looked back at my own discovery process and I tried to identify the main factors that I considered and that led me to my decision on what kind of business I wanted to create.

I see the process of finding your passion as a puzzle. This puzzle has 4 pieces, but you may not need them all. You could find the answer by combining only two or three of these pieces.

The first piece is your VALUES and BELIEFS. These often come from our family or other people, who played an important role in our life. E.g. your parents, grandparents, teachers, etc. These people have taught us something important, with words or more likely with real life examples. These examples can be both positive and negative. Something that made us suffer a lot in our life may trigger a strong belief and a call to action.

In my case, for example, my grandmother was deeply convinced that many women have a big potential, which is, in many cases, not put into action. My mom told me a hundred times that women should do their best to be economically independent from anyone else (family, husband, etc.), so they can be totally free. My grandma’s and mom’s beliefs became my beliefs and they are at the basis of my business.

My dad’s story exemplifies how a negative experience can be the source of a strong belief. My dad is a Math professor. Before starting this academic career, he was working in a bank and making good money. One day, he decided to quit his job and accept a research position for half of the salary. He wanted to become a professor. How did he discover this passion for teaching mathematics? By having terrible professors as a student. He deeply believed that mathematics doesn’t need to be an arid subject that 90% of the students hate. He was convinced that by improving the way his professors taught him the subject, mathematics could be “digested”, appreciated and even loved by many students. Hence, he became an excellent Math professor, writing books full of jokes and cartoons. He has just retired, but thousands of students will never forget him.

Therefore, the first thing you need to ask yourself is: what are my strongest values and beliefs and where do they come from? This is the first piece of the puzzle.

The second piece is WHAT YOU (MAY) LIKE DOING. You are likely to identify easily a few things that you like doing, both at work and in your free time, but with no doubt there are many other things that you may like doing, but you don’t know because you haven’t tried them yet. I have asked some entrepreneurs how they came up with their business idea and some of them answered: by chance, trying to do something I had never done before.

Hence, if none of the things that you like doing is a “passion” (as described in the previous blog), you can explore something completely new to you. Start, for example, by joining a meetup group, reading a book on a topic that intrigues you, or taking a course. Then, try to apply concretely what you have learnt for at least a month and get a sense of whether this is something that makes you passionate.

The third piece is YOUR PERSONAL STRENGTHS / WHAT YOU ARE GOOD AT. What can you do easily, which for many other people is not so easy? This can relate to the way you relate to other people, the way you analyze and solve problems, the way you get things done or manage a project, etc. You can make a list of your strengths yourself, but I recommend that you also ask people, who know you well and/or do a personality test (I recommend the Clifton StrengthsFinder).

Your strengths are an important component of your passion, because if you can fully use your strengths in pursuing your passion, you are likely to be more successful. For example, if you easily build deep relationships with other people, coaching will probably suit you better than selling shoes, even if you love shoes.

The last piece of the puzzle is YOUR LONG TERM VISION of YOURSELF. This can be visualized through the Aladdin lamp. Imagine that Aladdin tells you “You can tell me only one wish: you can choose what you will be remembered for when you die. I will make your dream come true”. What is your answer?

Now you know what the 4 pieces of the puzzle are. What you need to do is to describe each piece of the puzzle on a different piece of paper (your values/beliefs, what you like doing, your personal strengths, your long term vision). Your calling is something that is written on one of the pieces and fits perfectly together with at least one of the three other pieces. For example:

  • You wrote “technology” on the piece of the puzzle “what you like doing”.
  • This can fit very well with your personal strengths “I am patient” and “I like to analyze problems and find solutions”.
  • It may have nothing to do with your values of beliefs, but it’s not in contrast with them.
  • On the long vision piece of the puzzle, you wrote “I want to be remembered as someone, who has made people’s lives easier”. This can fit very well with the other 2 pieces.
  • Result of the exercise: using your skills to help others solve technology-related problems is a good candidate for your calling.

Try this exercise. Give yourself the necessary time to complete it, at least a couple of weeks. You may need more time if you want to try something new that you may like doing. I have prepared a template with more guidance to help you complete the exercise. You can request it here. It’s free.

If you don’t find your calling in this way, you may need some extra support. This can be the support of a single person (I am eager to help you!), or the support of a group of people, who can help you find connections between different pieces of the puzzle, when you don’t see these connections. This is the topic of my next blog. So stay tuned!

This is all for today. If you liked this post, I ask you to do at least one of these things:

  1. If you care about other people and you think this article could be beneficial to them, share it with your friends
  2. Request the template for the puzzle exercise, try it, and let me know whether it has worked for you (leave your comment below or send me a message at hello@ourswissbusiness.com)
  3. If you have a different way you want to suggest to help people find their passion, please share it with us in a comment.

Many thanks for your attention and don’t miss the next post!




Should we all follow our passions in our professions? (EPISODE 1 of the mini-series “FROM SCRATCH TO A BUSINESS YOU WILL LOVE”)

There are thousands of books, videos, TED talks and blogs about why you should follow your passion or life purpose in your profession and how you can actually do it. A couple of excellent examples are Steve Jobs’s talk at Stanford Commencement and Scott Dinsmore’s TED talk “How to find work you love” (Scott Dinsmore was the founder of the worldwide community “Live your Legend”). More recently, some articles and talks explain why you shouldn’t follow your passion and what to do instead. Titles like “To find work you love, don’t follow your passions” (TED talk by Benjamin Todd), and “Why follow your passion is essential (but terrible) advice” (a blog post by Corbett Barr) are some examples.

This is a bit confusing, so I want to give my two cents in this discussion. I am convinced that, if you don’t feel professionally fulfilled and in peace with yourself, finding your “calling” and following it is the only meaningful thing to do (unless there are more pressing needs that prevent you from realizing yourself professionally). I am saying “if”. Many people are perfectly fine having a job that they don’t love, but that gives them the peace of mind, the money and the time to do something they love when they are not working. Some other people feel completely satisfied taking care of their families and houses. If you are one of these people, I think you are lucky. You don’t experience the sense of frustration and the anxiety given by the feeling that your time on this planet is limited and you are wasting precious time doing something different from what you are meant to be doing. You are in peace with yourself and you don’t need to do anything different.

Therefore, my first message is: “Follow your passion is not a message for everyone. If you feel satisfied and in peace with yourself with an “ok job”, which allows you to cultivate your passions and interests in your free time, the best thing you can do is to continue on the same path”.

Nevertheless, many other people feel a sense of frustration and anxiety at some point in their life. Sometimes they feel it when they are young, for example after graduating, when they have to decide which direction to take. Other people are confronted with this feeling later on, after pursuing a career for 10-20 years. At some point, they look back and discover that they don’t know what they are doing with their life. Adam Leipzig, in his TED talk, mentioned that 80% of his former college mates at Yale were unhappy and felt that they were wasting their lives…. and we are talking about privileged people, who had top careers and were earning a lot of money.

If this is true, why are some people discouraging us from following our passions? One of the main reasons, mentioned by Benjamin Todd and Mark Schaefer in his book “Known”, is that starting a business or pursuing a career based on a passion is in most cases not sustainable: a business requires that we can find enough people, who are interested in what we offer and are willing to pay for it. For example, Schaefer writes that his passion is to walk in the woods, but he cannot see how his passion could translate into a business. Todd brings the example of playing hockey. If all hockey-fanatics decided to build a profession around this sport, the market would not be big enough for all of them.

This point is valuable, but there are two important considerations. First, a passion is different from a hobby, although in some rare cases they can coincide. A hobby is something you like doing, such as walking in the woods. You can have many different hobbies and these hobbies can change over the course of your life. A passion is something deeper than a hobby, something that you consider so special to you that you want to dedicate most of your time and energies doing it. If you are not sure whether your hobby is a real passion, it is a sign that it’s probably not a passion. Out of 100 boys, who love hockey, I guess that the great majority consider it a hobby, while only a small percentage are so mad about it that they feel that hockey is their “calling”. In most cases, a hobby is just a hobby and you should not try to make it your profession for two main reasons. First, it probably wouldn’t make you feel happy and fulfilled in the long run. Second, if most people decided to build a profession around their hobby, the offer of goods and services related to that hobby would probably outweigh the demand, and most of these people would fail.

The second consideration is that, if you recognize that your hobby is a true passion, you shouldn’t dismiss your dreams too soon in the name of a “sustainable business”. If you look carefully, you may find out that your passion can become a sustainable business. I would like to give you the example of my brother. His name is Daniele and he’s one of the most intelligent, funny and stubborn people I have ever met. Since he was 10, he has loved volleyball. He went to university and graduated in computer sciences and economics, but his priority has always been playing volleyball. He was good at it, but when he turned 25, it was clear that he would never make it to the first league. Hence, after graduating, he was supposed to look for a job. He started developing a profession as a sales person in energy saving technologies, but his passion for volley was too strong. After a couple of years, he started teaching beach volley for less than half of the money he was making before, then he opened his own school and started organizing great beach volley events with hundreds of participants. He now has a successful business.

Let’s analyze Daniele’s story more in depth. He was definitely a lucky guy, as he had a clear passion and no pressing financial needs. Thanks to his stubborn personality, he also had the determination and the courage to follow his dreams, but he didn’t just merely follow his dreams. He analyzed the market first. He was living in a region where beach volley is very popular, so a market for beach volley existed. Nevertheless, there were already a couple of big beach volley schools, so he had no guarantee that he could gain a market share. In his shoes, many people would have given up at that point, because of the risks involved, to look for a less risky and more “sustainable” business opportunity. Daniele didn’t give up yet: he was convinced he could attract people, who wanted more than just having fun and were willing to pay more for a physically intensive and professional training. Moreover, he had learnt many valuable lessons on marketing and sales during his previous working experience. So, he took the risk. Over the years, his personality, determination, professionalism, great ideas and the relationships he built made him successful. Not only did he earn a market share that was previously absorbed by other schools, he also created enthusiasm in people, who had never played beach volley before. His passion was so contagious that he made the demand bigger.

Based on this and other similar experiences, here is my second message: “If you are lucky enough to have a clear and undeniable passion, don’t dismiss it too soon to look for a “more sustainable” job or business, even when the market for your passion is already busy. Carefully consider whether you could do a better job than your competitors, or whether you could tap into a new market niche”.

Let’s now leave these lucky people alone. Most people are not that lucky, they don’t have a clear passion. For many years, I felt there was something wrong with me, because, in contrast with my brother, I wasn’t passionate about anything. This is the second reason why some people like Corbett Barr critic the “follow your passion” mantra. They say: What if you don’t have a passion? What if you have more than a passion? What if you have a passion, but you aren’t sure about it? Should you waste years and years waiting for “the passion” to appear?

If you don’t have an undeniable passion, I am convinced that you can find your calling anyway. It will take some time and effort, but you are very likely to find it. I had to look for my calling twice thus far. The first time, I was 22 and I was about to graduate. It took me 2 years to decide what to do: I run away from finance and embraced environmental economics. The second time I was 38 and my career in the environmental field was stuck. Hence, I started looking for another “calling” and I found it after three years, when I founded Our Swiss Business. Despite the difficult journey, the wait was worth it. If I had just started doing “something”, sooner or later, frustration and anxiety would have come back and knocked at my door.

This is my third and final message: “Investigating your calling doesn’t mean that you have to sit there and wait. You have to be proactive and take the necessary steps to find what you are looking for”.

Since I didn’t have any guidance, in both cases it took me a long time to understand what I was supposed to do with my professional life. With some guidance, I assume the process would have been shorter. Hence, based on my experience, I will give you my recipe on how to find your calling in my next blog (Episode 2 of this mini-series). If your problem is that you have more than one passion, you can devote some time to analyzing these passions and deciding which one to pursue. Again, there are ways to do that, and I will explain you one method in Episode 4.

This being said, you need to be aware that following your calling will not necessarily lead you to creating a successful business. If you don’t want to fail within a couple of years after starting your business, there are at least four important steps you need to take:

  1. Identify your passion or your calling (Episode 2)
  2. Come up with some business ideas based on your passion or calling. I will explain you a fun way to do that in Episode 3.
  3. Evaluate the business potential of your idea, and eventually choose among different ideas. This is the topic of Episode 4.
  4. Make a plan on how to go from your idea to your business and implement it, because it’s not advisable to rely on destiny or stars when your time and money are at stake. This final step is a bit more complicated to be dealt with a blog post. But no worries. With Our Swiss Business you are fully covered. Check out our courses, online community and more.

Now you know what you need to do if you decide to follow your passion or calling in your professional career. Nevertheless, there is one more thing that can stop you from realizing your professional dreams: your fears. Based on a survey I did last year in Switzerland, there are six main reasons that are stopping people from starting their dream business. I prepared a checklist to help you overcome these obstacles, so that nothing will stop you. You can request your free copy here. By requesting your free copy, you will also make sure to receive updates when a new episode is released… isn’t it nice?

Thanks for reading!