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The next big business idea: 4 idea generation techniques for start-ups

October 21, 2015 12:04 pm

Henry Ford once famously said that, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He did not, and instead started making cars. Similarly, when Sol Kezner intended on setting up a Casino resort in the middle of nowhere in South Africa, he sent analysts to the site to do a pre-feasibility and opportunity studies. Their advice to him was, the now world famous Sun City would be a failed project. He ignored them and proceeded to set up shop. These two examples show the power of ideas.


Ideas are a collection of thoughts that generate in the mind as an outcome of thinking. Ideas come and go, and they vary fairly frequently too. According to, idea generating is “the process of creating, developing, and communicating ideas which are abstract, concrete, or visual. The process includes the process of constructing through the idea, innovating the concept, developing the process, and bringing the concept to reality.”

There is a correlation between being highly inspired and having the clarity of thought to generate great ideas. When we allow our thinking to wonder charting new paths and freeing ourselves from the daily, mundane grind of predictability and conventional thoughts which occupy and direct our thought processes like robots, it becomes easier to generate great ideas pregnant with economic merit.

Here are 4 idea generation techniques for a start-ups, or when buying an existing business.

1. Mind-mapping
A mind map is a graphical way to represent ideas and concepts. It is a visual thinking tool that helps structuring information, helping you to better analyse, comprehend, synthesise, recall and generate new ideas. Just as in every great idea, its power lies in its simplicity. Tony Buzan, a UK researcher, developed the technique “mind mapping” discussed in his book Use your Head (1972).

Mind mapping is utilised in many activities such as brainstorming, project planning, problem solving and even note taking. As is the case with other mapping methods, the intention behind mind mapping too is to capture attention and to gain and frame information to enable sharing of concepts and ideas.

To get started with mind-mapping, you simply have to write a key phrase or word in the middle of the page. Then, write anything else that comes to mind on the very same page. After that, try to make connections as mentioned earlier.

Further information on mind mapping can be found here.

2. Assumptions interrogation
People ordinarily hold very strong views about a lot of things. This is because of the conditioning that happened during our socialisation growing up. These views, a set of assumptions about life that we hold dear once interrogated can tap into a wealth of ideas that when fully explored can lead to serious business opportunity. Sol Kezner on setting up Sun City wanted a place, within a Bantustan where people of all races, religion, creed and sexual orientation could mix freely whilst spending money, away from the glare of apartheid. He succeeded. Sol challenged the fact the different races could not interact even within an entertainment facility.

You can interrogate the assumptions you hold dear by yourself or in a group.

In a group, the participants should start by articulating and agreeing on the framework for the creative challenge. After this, they should produce 20 to 30 assumptions (irrespective of whether they are true or false) that people believe in. The next step is to select several assumptions from the total generated. These assumptions will be interrogated as idea triggers and thought starters to engender fresh ideas. From this process, fresh ideas are generated by the group but are now available to individuals. These ideas could form the basis for a start up or buying an existing business

3. Networking and socialising
Many people are comfortable people within themselves and their social surroundings. This creates a scenario where your thinking may hit a road block, simply because you are mingling with those that share the same views and opinions as you. This is what I have come to term as the think rut detour.

If you want to access fresh ideas, or get to sharpen your thought processes, how about joining InterNations a worldwide grouping of local and expatriates where networking and socialising events are planned and at every event, you meet different and interesting people.

You could also mine the wealth of your LinkedIn connections to begin some fantastic conversations that will perhaps make you look at things differently in the process developing new ideas about a whole host of issues around entrepreneurship.

Refreshing perspectives are empowering as they always help with bringing out new thinking and probably, one or two bolts of lightning in your own thinking. Networking in the context of idea generation can also be about socialising with others on subject matters are you never think about in your own daily life, but that will leap frog you to that aha moment.


SCAMPER is an ideation generation technique that utilises action verbs as stimuli. The technique which is attributed to Bob Eberle consists of a set of directed questions (or you can think of it as an idea spurring checklist). By answering these questions with your particular problem or situation in mind, you’ll be generating new ideas.

SCAMPER is an acronym with each letter standing for an action verb which in turn stands for a prompt for creative ideas.

S – Substitute
C – Combine
A – Adapt
M – Modify
P – Put to another use
E – Eliminate
R – Reverse

SCAMPER as a detailed idea generating technique can be found here.

In conclusion, ideas can be fragile and elusive if not captured and developed in an organised fashion. Great ideas that eventually translate to successful business are path-finding in nature because they fill a gap in the marketplace. Great ideas are also game changers, often market disrupters because the businesses they eventually become make a significant difference in people’s lives.

Businesses like Uber the e-hailing taxi service, cable television, renewable energy, mobile communications, applications like WhatsApp and simple concepts like bottling spring water etcetera, all stem from a great idea. During idea generation, it is vital not to allow criticism, particularly from familial and friendship quarters, discourage and derail you. Negativity will get you onto the immobile idea generating treadmill where you will find yourself unable to think creatively and move forward on the ideas generated. Regardless, ideas are worthless and will bear no fruit unless they are validated and developed into products and services that will change the world.

Author: Gloria Ndoro

The next big business idea: 4 idea generation techniques for start-ups Reviewed by on . Henry Ford once famously said that, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He did not, and instead started making cars. S Henry Ford once famously said that, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He did not, and instead started making cars. S Rating: 0
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