How to Create New Ideas for New Business Opportunities

 3-Steps to Discovering and Delivering What Your Clients and Prospective Clients Don’t Know They Need!

9 dots
Link all 9 dots using four straight lines or fewer, without lifting the pen and without tracing the same line more than once.

Remember the 9 dots puzzle? It’s the one used to encourage lateral thinking – “solving problems through an indirect and creative approach, using reasoning that is not immediately obvious and involving ideas that may not be obtainable by using only traditional step-by-step logic.” The term is credited to my hero, Edward de Bono. Entrepreneurs can use the lateral thinking, outside the box, and brainstorming concepts to generate new business or repeat and referred business.

In the article, How to Apply Lateral Thinking to Your Creative Work, Shane Snow wrote, “Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Breakthroughs, by very definition, only occur when assumptions are broken. In creative fields, this often happens when people break rules that aren’t actually rules at all, but rather simply conventions. Pablo Picasso changed art forever by smashing the “rules” of perspective, color, proportion.” Read the entire article (but come straight back).

When I recently read the Fast Company article, How To Brainstorm Like A Googler, I was fascinated by the process detailed by Veronique Lafargue. She refers to it as a “deceptively simple, three-step process Google uses to come up with its most innovative ideas.” Read the entire article (but come back for some Wendy Wisdom.)

So why isn’t everyone using this process? I’ll explain why with a little Wendy Wisdom following each point.

“Google’s #1: Get To Know The User

To solve a big question, you first have to focus on the user you’re solving it for—then everything else will follow. So we go out in the field and talk to people. We collect users’ stories, emotions, and ideas. We learn to get comfortable with silence. We watch, listen, and empathize. You can’t just understand your users’ needs—you need to actually relate to them.

For example, I recently visited our customers in Canada, Brazil, and India. By observing and talking with them, I realized that what we generically call “mobility” means very different things depending on where you are. In Canada, mobility means instant collaboration from your desk, the coffee shop, or your kitchen table. In Brazil, where users spend a lot of time in commute, a great interface and voice control underpin the concept of mobility. In India, where connectivity may be a challenge in some areas, a critical aspect of mobility is working offline.

Obviously, there’s no way we could’ve learned that without making the effort to find it out. And that’s something many brainstorming sessions get wrong right off the bat—they get everyone but the user into a room together to start throwing ideas around. But that’s actually Step 2, not Step 1.”


Wendy Wisdom:  Google’s #1 step is also known as “research”. Not many business owners want to take the time to participate in the feedback acquisition process. Instead, they says things like, “I know what my clients want” or “I know everything there is to know about the market” or “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, I know what they need”. Other reasons are (a) it takes time and (b) it costs money. Keep in mind, new business, repeat and referred business come from your clients of today and tomorrow.


“Google’s #2. Think 10x

Being able to describe an idea in less than six words helps you clarify it. Now that you’re armed with information to base your brainstorm around, you can get down to thinking—but not just any thinking. The notion of “10x thinking” is pretty familiar in the business world by now, and it’s at the heart of how we innovate at Google. It’s about trying to improve something by 10 times rather than by 10%.

Have all participants write down their ideas individually before getting back together as a group and deciding which ones to pursue. Here’s the thing to understand before you do that, though: 10x thinking sounds great in theory, but not everyone quite knows how to put it into action. So when team members reconvene with their sticky notes and the most productive part of the brainstorming process kicks into gear, make sure to follow these six guidelines:

  1. Build on each others’ ideas. It’s easy to kill an idea, so especially in the early stages, systematically follow up ideas with, “yes, and” instead of shooting them down with “no, but” comments.
  2. Generate lots of ideas. At this point quantity is more important than quality, so really let loose. Time to grab a pile of sticky notes or your favorite note-taking app. The best way to have a great idea is to have many ideas.
  3. Write headlines. Being able to describe an idea in less than six words helps you clarify it. Imagine your favorite media outlet or magazine covers your great idea: What would you want the headline to read?
  4. Illustrate. Pictures are usually louder than words and harder to misinterpret.
  5. Think big. Invite bold, intrepid ideas—yes, this is the “10x” part—not incremental solutions. As Frederik Pferdt, Google’s head of innovation and creativity, likes to say, “Just beyond crazy is fabulous!”
  6. Defer judgment. Don’t judge ideas in the midst of brainstorming (remember Rule #1) but let them grow so you can build on them and iterate.”


Wendy Wisdom:  Way too often, business owners genuinely trying to generate new business, will pounce on new ideas, completely crushing creativity with “black hat thinking”. Follow this link to see the definitions of the Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono. Aren’t you curious about why people squash creativity and lateral thinking? In her Harvard Business Review article, Ten Reasons People Resist Change, Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains. Reasons I see most often are, loss of control, excess uncertainty, concerns about competence (it’s more about confidence than competence), and increased workload.


“Google’s #3. Prototype

Then it’s time to take action. Most brainstorming sessions end with an agreement to have another meeting later, to take those ideas and work them up further. It’s a common mistake. You want to strike when the iron is hot—you don’t want to walk away or agree to follow talk with more talk.

Here at Google, we like to build a quick prototype pretty much right away. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just a physical manifestation of an idea that’s designed strictly to answer the most immediate questions and test our first assumptions about an idea that seems promising.

When it comes to details, we’ve found we can always fake it, so as much as possible, we like to actually make it. When you can hold your ideas in your hands, you can start to test and learn from them.”


Wendy Wisdom: I love Google’s third step – the concept of continuing the momentum, excitement and energy. Assigning responsibility and delegating next steps with deadlines will push concepts into reality. No one to delegate to? Oh yes, there is! New business, repeat and referred business is just a click or call away.


Are you thinking, “Sure, but Google is a huge organization. How can I compete with those resources?” (That’s black hat thinking, by the way.) Sure, Google is a huge organization, and it’s made up of people. Regular people like you and me, with a brain, and the ability to use it by giving themselves permission to think differently. I’m pretty sure Google works with budgets too. Gotta love it!

Ah-ha Marketing Moments: Sales & Marketing Tips for Small Business
© Wendy Marlow, The Art of Marketing Inc. 2016

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