How to find new ideas to start & grow a business

If you read last month’s ‘How to Profit from the Alternative Rhythms of Time‘, you’ll be aware I recommended the ‘Springwise‘ website. It’s the place to get your daily fix of innovative and entrepreneurial ideas.

It’s a brilliant site. You can sign up to receive daily news, browse thousands of new ideas (all carefully split into distinct sectors) and even submit your own proposal as a business start-up. Just a few hours of research should pay real dividends and will also connect you with a new community of like-minded people.

The power of Social Media

Like many new finds, I discovered Springwise through Twitter. This now famous social media channel is a rich source of new ideas and information. For me, Twitter is great for promotion, but it’s even better for discovering things because you quickly find yourself in places you never even knew existed.

For the record, other websites providing ideas, inspiration and advice include and One of the things I liked about Smarta is the advice on the Home page which emphasises the need to be market focused when starting a new business.

Why didn’t I think of that?

When reviewing the recommended ‘idea sources’ don’t be put off by the apparent brilliance of others or believe that you don’t have the skills to think in such an innovative way.

By the time any of us leave full time education, we’ve typically grown accustomed to a linear/vertical way of thinking. This is because we learn subjects in silos. As such, thinking across subjects (horizontal), making new connections and seeing new ideas does not necessarily come easy. However, things can improve if this thinking flaw is understood and you’re prepared to look for inspiration or undertake basic research in less familiar places.

Apple founder Steve Jobs is perhaps one of the greatest ‘idea minds’ that has ever lived. Whilst he dropped out of Reed College as a teenager, he hung around the campus in Portland. He then chose to drop into lessons that appealed to him and his way of thinking. In the highly readable official biography and address to Stanford University he talks about this part of his life and in particular his attendance at a Calligraphy course – just because it fascinated him. Years later, what he learnt about Calligraphy and fonts became a cornerstone of the Apple Mac revolution.

By looking around and seeing links between subjects, Steve Jobs saw opportunities, new ideas and thus gaps in the market. Jobs looked for the ‘intersection’ of subjects. For example, when PCs were mass produced in ugly metal boxes he recognised the need for something different. He saw the opportunity to intertwine technology and the liberal arts and beautiful computers resulted. Later, with iTunes, he fused music with technology.

Ideas through people

Meeting and networking with people is often a great way to source/nurture new ideas. A group of individuals (with different talents) that works well together is able to look at an issue from more than one perspective and can then harvest and refine ideas more quickly. It’s of little surprise that many new team-based businesses are seeded in university or college life.

In fact education is like hitchhiking in that it provides an opportunity to meet new people from all kinds of different backgrounds. For me, travelling for over 10 years as a hitchhiker made it possible to learn from so many different perspectives. Critically, it helped me to understand that my take on an issue or way of seeing the world was often only shared by a minority.

Tip! Just because you might think an idea is good, share and test it with others before you put too much energy and time into it.

The whole subject of how and where ideas are developed will continue to fascinate me. Only last week a lecturer from the University of Bristol recommended that I buy the book ‘Where good ideas come from‘ by Steven Johnson. So I did.

Whilst I’ve not yet finished it yet, it’s a great read because it examines the intersection of subjects and explores how environments influence innovation. Doubtless I will review it in full soon on this blog, but if you want a taste of what Stephen is saying, have a look at him explaining his thinking on this TED film.

Key Learning Points: Use freely available sources to nurture thinking and develop new ideas. Explore different perspectives, use lateral thinking and meet people. Look for the intersection between subjects for real business opportunities.