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!


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