Do you find yourself stumped for ideas on what your Start Up Business might do or new avenues that your existing business might take? There is rarely a shortage of “good ideas” that can give you some inspiration on how to progress. Here is a really easy way to generate a million ideas in approximately 30 minutes. This is a Yellow Belt technique.
The technique might also be useful if you are doing a brainstorming session with others as a warm up exercise as it can, quite literally, generate a million ideas in 30 minutes.
On a sheet of paper, or on a white-board, or in a spreadsheet you can project or work on alone, write across the top of the page:
What can I sell, to whom, where, when, how and for how much.
Under each of those words - what, who, where, when, how and how much, write various things that come to mind. By way of example, if we are thinking of opening a restaurant we might list the following topics under each of those major headings.
Rich people, food fans, families, romantic couples, people in a hurry, people who prefer slow dining, gourmets.
French cuisine, Italian cuisine, Chinese cuisine, African, Brazilian, Australian, Asian, Indian, slow food, fast food, multi-course meals, yum cha style.
Cafe style, restaurant, people's markets, events - for example football, people's private homes, near the beach, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, CBD, suburbs, popular street.
Weekdays, weekends only, mornings, lunches, dinners, seasonal peak times.
Funded by friends, funded by bank loan, based in a truck/van, find an existing but shut restaurant and re-open, form a group of people to work together.
What price point should we have, how much to start it, how many tables will we need, how big a staff, how many days per week, how long will it take to staff, what percentage of my time do I want to put into this, how much money will it take.
If you have done this as suggested, you will now have six column headings for each of the ideas and a list of ideas under each of the topics.
If you have worked hard at this, and particularly if you have a group of people working with you, you can easily have 10 ideas under each column.
Now we come to the interesting part!
Generating a Million Ideas
What we do now is take possible combinations of what you have written in each of these columns (the "what, who, when, where, how, how much” columns) and string them together as a business idea.
For example, you might have “gourmets buying Asian food at a pop up market each weekend with a mobile kitchen in a caravan, charging very high fees”. This is a combination of one item from each of the columns.
Other ones might include the following:
- Families eating fast food at an event, for example football, at the weekend from a food van charging low fees.
- Romantic couples eating slow food for Valentine's Day (seasonal) from a restaurant that specialises in tables for 2.
- People in a hurry purchasing pre-prepared dinners from a popular street market of a group of people working together to produce a variety of meals.
- Rich people eating a multi-course degustation menu in a person's private home on a weekend funded by friends to hire a private chef and staff.
We now come to the million ideas.
By stringing together ideas using elements from each column you come up with proposals that are more or less plausible as business ideas.
Let us assume that you have 10 ideas under each of these 6 words. That is 10 to the power of 6 which is 1 million (that is, 1 followed by 6 zeros). In other words, if you linked every combination of these words in each column together you would have generated 1 million ideas in under 30 minutes.
Pruning them down
Clearly, not every one of these combinations is going to be plausible or very attractive.
So far, your mission has been to throw everything against the wall. Now we want to see what will stick - what has merit.
In each of the 6 columns, write a (H), (M), (L) against each alternative. This represents (H)igh, (M)edium and (L) ow attraction to you. You can usually do this quickly if there is a reasonable amount of experience within the group in the subject area. Serious research is not likely to be needed at this stage; intuition (the gut) will likely do the job. If you miss-code a few, they are still there to followup later.
If you have several people, a useful way to get some consensus quickly and without a lot of time talking is to give people imaginary dollars to spend in each column. To force decisions, give them (say) 1/3rd as many dollars as there are options. So, if there are 12 in the column, give them $4. They can spend that any way they like; $1 of each of 4 or the full $4 on one if they really like it. If you do this for each of the 6 columns, usually a consensus comes out fairly clearly.
If you follow the 80/20 rule (see The Amazing 80/20 Rule Tool ) , it is likely that 80% of the dollars are spent on 20% of the options. These become your high ranking ones.
Within the group, people will have different ideas for each of the words so this is most powerful if there are several minds applied to the ranking.
Once ranked, you can reduce the possible linkages to just the (H) ones across the six columns. If you are lucky, some that rank highly in each column will come together.
Of course, not all combinations will the economically viable so you can further refine the list by attaching a guess of the profitability of the combination.
You may not be able to assign dollars but a quick guess of the potential size of the market on a score of 1-10 multiplied by intuition about the profitability of the combination ranked on a 1-10 score will quick identify the 'best options' See the Weights and Scores article for more on this approach to choosing between alternatives. With this technique, you can have more than just market size and profitability.
What you have done is generate all the possible items that you can think of and remove those which you consider inappropriate or not what you want to do.
What is left, are plausible ideas for you to further refine.
At the start of this conversation, did you have any idea that you might create 1 million business ideas in 30 minutes? This exercise clearly shows that you can.
We are willing to bet you have created ideas that would never have occurred to you other than by this technique.
To see other examples of the “who, what, where, when, how, how much” technique see the Rapid Planning article (Rapid Planning).