Napoleon Hill, author of the famous book Think and Grow Rich, once said “ideas are the beginning points of all fortunes.”
Sometimes, great ideas arrive in a flash of inspiration. Other times, they require a more structured approach. At a “Power to the Small” panel discussion sponsored by Windstream, a provider of advanced network communications and technology solutions, a trio of Lexington, Kentucky, entrepreneurs shared how their ongoing success depends on having a systematic approach and philosophy to create and choose the ideas they pursue.
Give Yourself Space for Ideation
Michael Tetterton, CEO of Creative Lodging Solutions, doesn’t think great ideas just happen—he believes entrepreneurs need to carve out space in their schedules to free their minds and make room for fresh ideas. “As a CEO, you’re so focused on tasks that you have little time for creativity,” he says. “Someone once taught me that if you want something to happen in your life, you have to make room for it.”
Tetterton is one of a number of entrepreneurs who create space for ideas to thrive by planning “think weeks,” distraction-free periods in which they actively minimize interruptions in order to ponder the future of their company. They may brainstorm or engage in business planning, then spread the resulting ideas throughout the company. Tetterton believes this practice should be a daily act. In fact, he treats his shower as a brainstorming session every morning. “The shower is the place where my mind is not occupied by immediate work details, and I’m not looking at my calendar,” Tetterton says.
He says the point is for entrepreneurs to make ideation a top-of-mind activity that they put into their schedules, whether as think weeks or as a daily habit. Tetterton believes it’s also important to create rituals that remind him to not get so swept up in day-to-day tasks that long-range thinking goes by the wayside. At one point, for example, he cleaned out his junk drawer, because that act symbolized making room, and he says some great ideas flowed almost immediately.
Hire Creative People and Maximize Their Gifts
Restaurateur Toa Green keeps a notebook by her bed to jot down all the ideas that come to her in her sleep. While entrepreneurs are often filled with ideas, Green says it’s important to create an environment where employees and customers are comfortable contributing ideas, as well.
“We purposely hire people who are passionate and creative in some way—like musicians, artists, and chefs—and give them a space for fun and crazy ideas,” Green says. “I love crazy and wild ideas because they push the boundaries of what people think is normal.”
By encouraging off-the-wall ideas, Green has re-envisioned core parts of her business. For example, she changed the menu of her family’s Thai Orchid Café to be as quick and efficient as a food truck. She followed that up by founding Crank & Boom Craft Ice Cream. The shop developed a huge following quickly after implementing unusual concepts like using bacon as an ice cream topping and serving alcohol.
“All our ventures are founded on the notion that the best food is more than a meal—it’s an adventure,” she says. “And you need to have an adventurous attitude to try ideas that have never been done before.”
Create an Idea Philosophy
While creating an environment that embraces new ideas, there is a risk of pursuing so many of them that the business owner loses focus.
Carey Smith, owner of Big Ass Solutions, has a passion for new ideas. His company, which designs and manufactures fans for businesses and consumers, holds close to 150 patents to show it. But he says a process for creating ideas must be combined with a system for vetting them.
“We spend a lot of time talking about how to make sure we aren’t distracted from our core mission in chasing after all these great new things.” he says. “Many well-known companies fall into this trap—they have so many great ideas they can’t get out of their own way. You need to develop a road map and keep looking at it; because if you don’t, you might pursue so many ideas you end up with nothing.”
Green’s process for vetting ideas is simple: She assesses the potential risk of a new idea by considering three factors: time, energy, and the funds needed to make it happen. “My priority is building Crank & Boom to be as solid a business as it can be,” she says, “So that once it’s doing well and requires less of my direct attention, I can work on other projects I am passionate about.”