Most business ideas do not come to future entrepreneurs as an exactly defined business-plan. Thomas Roithmeier, founder and CEO of the Upper Austrian startup Insite IT and his co-founders had worked on some of the world’s larger industrial construction sites and found one particular problem they all shared. “Where internet coverage is patchy at best, you need software that can compensate that lack of connectivity,” says Roithmeier who then set out to develop Insite Lean Management System.
No matter what your problem is, or how you came across your idea in the first place – there are a number of creative techniques out there that can help you and your team getting more concrete and focused.
The strengh of a mindmap is that it resembles the way humans think. It helps you putting your ideas in a hierarchical order.
As young entrepreneurs often have to work alone, let us not forget one very popular state-of-the-art method of creative planning: mind-mapping. It can be done on a sheet of paper, a flipchart, or just choose one of the literally hundreds of mind-mapping software-apps that are out there.
Mind-Mapping was invented by British author and coach Tony Buzan and is nowadays used for a number of creative processes: from structuring thoughts for a speech or article to the collecting and putting in order of business-ideas.
The strengh of a mindmap is that it resembles the way humans think. It helps you putting your ideas in a hierarchical order and gives you the “whole picture” of all aspects of your idea and might offer you new perspectives.
Put your thinking hat on
Dr. Edward DeBono developped his “Six Thinking Hats“-method in the 1970s, and it is still a powerful and fun tool to expand your idea or find creative solutions for problems together with your team. In a nutshell, it works like this: You and your colleagues each assume a mode of thinking signified by the color of the hat you are wearing.
The person with the yellow hat has to formulate ideas of optimism and brightness, the counterpart – the black hat – is judgemental, critical and stipulates why things can never work. The blue hat is the moderator, the green hat has the role of the creative thinker, and so on. After the roles are allocated, simply get started by throwing a question or problem into that circle of people, and watch creativity and fun doing their job.
A variation of the thinking hats called “The Walt Disney- Method” uses only three or four fixed roles: the dreamer, the realist, the spoiler, and (sometimes) the spectator. The most important rule is: Everyone has to stick to their role. For added creative output, you can switch hats after a while and start a second round of discussion.
Harvesting the creative power of a larger number of people – say, attendees of a seminar – can be tricky. “World Café” is a very popular creative technique that can deliver just that. Before you start, split up your problem into five to seven core-questions or detail-problems.
Every one of these is then assigned to one table. Instead of actual tables in the room, you can also use flipcharts. It is important that each of your “café tables” is hosted by one person who stays at their table and introduces every new group of arrivals to the aspect of discussion.
The rest of the participiants circles through the room and add their ideas at each of the tables – either on their own pace, or in predefined timed rounds. After a fixed time, the proposed solutions are then presented to all participiants by the hosts.
Photo credit: SebastianU
A real fun method, especially for people whose optimism is not very well developped. (Don’t we all know one or two of them?) It works like good old brainstorming – everyone chipping in comments, ideas, etc. – with one important twist: The goal is not to solve the problem, but to cause it or make it worse. “How do we make sure our product does not sell one single time?” “How can we get customer satisfaction down to an all-time low?” Questions like these will get you started in a jiffy.
Reverse brainstorming is very efficient in exploiting the fact that many people find it easy to be judgemental or critical about other people’s ideas, and it is very helpful when you and your team feel that you are all out of fresh thoughts.
Osborn’s checklist expands your scope of the world and helps you find alternatives when you feel stuck.
As hard as it is to admit, many ideas are simply variants of already existing concepts. (There were handheld-PCs and touch-screens long before the iPhone was put on the market.) Osborn’s checklist is a creative technique that helps you find valuable variants of a product or service that already exists. It consists of a number of simple questions that you can go through alone or with a team:
Can I put the product/service to other uses? What happens if I make it much bigger, or much smaller? Can I modify it in terms of colour, sound, meaning, shape, …? Can I substitute parts of it with other materials or parts? What happens if I rearrange parts of it, or reverse the order of a process? Can I combine the product with any other products or ideas?
Experienced creatives are known to apply Osborn’s checklist as a way of thinking rather than a designated creative technique. It expands your scope of the world and helps you find alternatives when you feel stuck.
There’s a whole world out there…
What all of the literally hundreds of creative techniques out there have in common is the assumption that creativity is for everyone, and everyone has a potential for creativity. The more you apply creative techniques, the more likely you will find a couple that really work well for you and your team – and the more creative powers you will be able to unleash.