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Lightbulb Moments

Generate killer ideas with these 20 suggestions Add to ...

The lightbulb. Bubble wrap. The Post-It. The iPod. The Snuggie. Facebook. Twitter.

These inventions, products, and businesses all started with an idea. Coming up with today’s equivalent of the lightbulb is a tall order, but great ideas can be as small as an updated logo for your business or as big as a new product line.

Peter van Stolk, founder of Jones Soda Co., is a good example of a business owner who wasn't afraid to take a great idea and run with it.

Mr. Van Stolk boosted his $20-million (U.S.) business to $42 million in four years by coming up with an idea that generated $25 million in free publicity. Jones Soda was a small Seattle-based beverage company competing against Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola. Combined, those two monoliths spend a billion dollars a year on advertising.

One day in 2003, Mr. Van Stolk came up with an idea in his car to create a Turkey & Gravy-flavoured soda for release around Thanksgiving. His brand got a lot of attention by U.S. media, and the product began to sell out.

Generating useful ideas is a skill, and like any other skill it can be learned. The more you practice, the easier it will be to come up with ideas whenever you need them.

Here are 20 suggestions on how to generate killer ideas to jump-start your venture:

Carry a notebook.

The only thing worse than not being able to come up with an idea is thinking of an amazing idea, not writing it down, and then forgetting it. You may think you will remember, but you won't. Having a small notepad or digital recorder with you at all times guarantees that those ideas will not escape. Keep one in your glove compartment, on your nightstand, and in your desk drawer. Keeping a few spare sheets of loose paper in your wallet or purse is a good idea, too.


Listen to people talking on the bus, at the coffee shop, or in the elevator at work. You'll get a good feel for what people care about: their concerns, wishes, and interests. And you may also hear a great idea or two in the mix. Build on the snippets of conversation you overhear to create a story, and let that story lead you to a brilliant idea.

Do something new.

Sign up for a class, take up a new hobby, listen to a different kind of music. Not only will it get new parts of your brain humming, you'll meet and connect with new people, which is a great way to find great new ideas.

Hold a grudge.

What annoys you? When you think about the list of things you wish were different, chances are those things also annoy other people. Keep a running list of all things that bug you and find solutions that will make them better.

Find the peanut butter to your jelly.

Take two ideas and put them together to make one new idea. After all, what is a Snuggie but the mutation of a blanket and a robe? Think beyond the obvious connections to come up with something truly innovative.

Get physical.

Movement increases the flow of endorphins, as well as sending more blood to your brain. I keep a mini-trampoline in my office and jump up and down for a few minutes to get my blood moving. Run, skip, jump, climb stairs, get your pulse rate up to get your brain moving.

Get an outsider's opinion.

There are times when you are so close to a project it creates a mental block for idea generation. Bringing in a fresh perspective can make all the difference. Get someone who is not familiar with your situation to ask you questions about it. It may be over dinner with friends, with a colleague at the water cooler, or in line at the grocery store with a stranger. They may ask things that lead you to an idea that you overlooked because it was too obvious. No one around? Imagine that someone is coming to you with the problem you are trying to solve. What would you tell them? Your answer may be the solution you are looking for.

Just listen.

It may sound obvious, but really listen when customers talk to you. When you do, you will hear ideas for new products and services, ways to improve customer service, and uses you never considered for your products that can open up new markets for you. Your customers may not recognize when they are giving you ideas, but you need to be able to spot them. Are several customers making the same comments or asking the same questions? Act on it.

Change your routine.

New surroundings and new experiences can help your brain shift gears and get you to think differently. Drive a new route to the office, try a new restaurant for lunch, start work a little earlier (or a little later), work in a different place, or anything that busts you out of your rut.

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