Lesson 1: Ideation

What You’ll Learn: A business is only as good as its ideas. In this section, you’ll learn how to harness the power of ideation, leading you through a series of useful tools and techniques to increase your chances of success by looking at your own potential and finding those powerful nuggets that will quickly rise to the top.


“Everything has been thought of before, but the problem is to think of it again.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


Nick Woodman wasn’t planning to change the world when he came up with the GoPro. He just wanted to film himself surfing and couldn’t find a camera that could take the punishment. Sara Blakely didn’t set out to conquer the world of fashion either when she cut the legs off her pantyhose. She loved the support but not the way the toes looked in open-toed shoes. With the snip of a pair of scissors, Spanx was born.

The annals of entrepreneurship are filled with similar stories. Ordinary people who came up with extraordinary ideas.

In most cases, a great idea came about over time. Those ‘aha’ moments where a lightbulb appears over your head are more fiction than fact. Speaking of the lightbulb, when Thomas Edison was asked about the thousand times he failed to create the lightbulb, he famously replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Indeed, some of the most incredible ideas in business have been incremental improvements rather than a sudden epiphany in the dead of night.

The Three Paths to Ideation

Let’s start with that legendary lightbulb moment.

You’re in the shower, driving down the road or doodling during a meeting that’s more boring than usual. Then BAM! All the dots dancing connect at once and that big idea bubbles to the top. You really can’t believe no one has thought of it before.

Your Instructor

Guy Nelson is a Seattle-based professional workplace trainer, author and creative thinker. He’s also an actor, musician and broadcast journalist who enjoys traveling the world helping people innovate in their businesses, classrooms and organizations.

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Doing a little research, you find out that someone has thought of it before. Maybe they didn’t go any further with the idea because the market was too small or it was hard to pull off as the technology wasn’t quite there yet. So you decide to noodle it some more. Perhaps you have a new viewpoint or some expertise that serves as the missing link.

That’s how it happened for Jim Bodden. He knew that people hated to surrender their homes to a painting crew who took a week to do a job. Then it hit him! If two painters can paint 10 rooms in five days, why can’t 10 painters paint the same rooms in just one day? Voila! He had a business – Wow 1-Day Painting.

The next path comes from your current job. Your company may be engaging in activities that are inefficient, costly or time-consuming. You may see an opportunity to create a new product or service that will fill that need, not only at your current employer but other businesses or even entire industries. So you decide to fill the gap.

The third way is the most common. A new idea takes shape because the individual – the entrepreneur – made a deliberate decision to focus on creating a new enterprise. The product or service may not even be clear yet. The business is the idea and the goal is to create a successful one either through innovation (improving on something that already exists) or invention (creating something entirely new).

Having the right attitude and changing behaviors will put you on this path toward ideation and entrepreneurship. As you explore what you’re passionate about, study the world around you to identify problems that need solutions – gaps that can be monetized – learn more about human behaviors, desires and needs, and ask “What if…”, an idea will start to form.