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Ideas are a resource in the entrepreneurial world, almost functioning as a kind of currency. The more ideas you have, and the better they are, the better you’ll fare against your competition, especially over the long haul. Of course, there’s one “anchor” idea at the crux of your business model, but don’t forget all the new ideas you’ll have to create from new products and new marketing strategies to how to maximize internal productivity and rebuild your infrastructure for the better.
That’s a lot of pressure to generate amazing ideas — and it’s not a process you can implement with brute force. Fortunately, you can take solace in the fact that the most innovative and extraordinary ideas of our time didn’t start out that way — they didn’t leap from their creators’ heads as perfect nuggets of opportunity. Instead, they started out as average, maybe even bad ideas, that were gradually refined to perfection.
The next time you have an idea you’re lukewarm on, don’t throw it away — refine it — with one or more of these five strategies:
1. Apply it to different areas.
First, take a brainstorming trip to see where else your idea could have an application. For example, let’s say you’ve come up with an add-on to one of your existing products, a protective case, that protects your product from damage. The problem is, it makes your product too bulky. What if you developed a similar protective housing for one of your other products? What if you sold it as an add-on? What if you sold it as a design or fashion element, rather than a protective one? It’s hard to chart out all the possibilities here, but try to think outside your original application. You may find an even better idea waiting in the wings.
Related: From Idea to Market
2. Combine it with another idea.
It’s no secret that some truly phenomenal ideas have arisen simply by combining two other ideas that were doing “okay” on their own. Think of the first person who put erasers on the ends of pencils! The best way to go about this is to have some kind of record of your ideas, past and present, such as a notebook or a document you keep on your computer. Jot down your ideas whenever they pop into your head, even if they’re embarrassingly underdeveloped. Sometimes even a phrase, or a single word, is enough to spark something in your mind. Then, look between these words and phrases to find commonalities or combine them in unique, innovative ways. Sooner or later, something will jump out to you.
Related: The Government Might Fund Your Idea Before Anybody Else Will
3. Talk it out with a friend or teammate.
Though in some cases, team brainstorming can be more of a hindrance than an asset, you should take the time to talk your idea over with someone you know and trust (or at least someone insightful). They’ll be able to lend some outside perspective, including how they envision its possibilities for application and whether they have anything to add. Since they’re outside the idea’s creation, they’ll be able to escape the tunnel vision creators usually carry and give you common-sense angles you may have otherwise missed.
4. Turn its weaknesses into strengths.
Every idea’s going to have some major drawbacks, but there are usually ways to turn those weaknesses into strengths. Instead of writing them off as strict negatives, imagine them as neutral qualities and see what you can do to either mitigate their effects or reimagine them as a positive. For example, think of Twitter when it came out with its deliberately truncated form of posting. To most avid social media users, a 160 character count limit was absurd — but at the same time, it made Twitter unique and forced more up-to-the-minute updates, which propelled Twitter to popularity.
Related: Got a Great Idea But Not the Time (or Means) to Develop a Product?
5. Give it a try.
Sometimes, you have to run before you walk. If you have a good feeling about an idea, even if it doesn’t make complete sense on paper, why not give it a try in your practical environment? Of course, this only works for ideas with minimal upfront investment costs, but it’s still worth pursuing for infrastructural improvements and other types of adjustments. Putting it into practice will instantly illuminate the real strengths and real issues with your idea, essentially speeding up and broadening what you might be able to achieve through brainstorming alone. From there, you can change it on the fly.
Not all of your ideas are going to be brilliant. In fact, most of them are going to be duds. But just as human beings can become more skilled and knowledgeable through experience, ideas can become more innovative and stable through refinement. Keep this in mind as you continue brainstorming, even if it’s only a peripheral focus for your mind. Never write an idea off until you’ve fully explored its potential uses.
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