Take Your Idea Generation Process to the Next Level

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As a leader, which of these would you consider your biggest strength?

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Which of these professions would you enjoy most?

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You were put in charge of creating and launching a new product at a company. If you had to pick one, which of these would you be most concerned about?

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Which do you more identify with?

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It is the holiday season! What is most important to you when someone is buying you a gift?

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Which of these are a reason why you would go on a vacation?

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Which of the following do you identify with?

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What part of the Idea Development Process are you the best at?
Identifying Problems

Ideation Journey Steps Map

You are the best at identifying problems! Noticing problems is the first step in creating opportunities. Make sure to read through to see how solving problems fits into the bigger picture.
Erasing Stigmas

Ideation Journey Steps Map

You are the best at erasing stigmas! Stigmas and the status quo can stop us from coming up with truly innovative ideas. Challenging the status quo is critical to success during the ideation process. Good thing you are the best at it! Make sure to read through to see how erasing stigmas fits into the bigger picture.
Creating Solutions

Ideation Journey Steps Map

You are the best at creating solutions! You know how to solve problems in an effective way. You may even be able to come up with multiple solutions to problems regularly! Make sure to read through to see how creating solutions fits into the bigger picture.
Feasibility Checking

Ideation Journey Steps Map

You are the best at feasibility checking! Feasibility checking will help you decide if an idea makes sense to move forward with. An excellent feasibility checker can save an entrepreneur or organization a tremendous amount of time and money. Make sure to read through to see how feasibility checking fits into the bigger picture.
Sharing

Ideation Journey Steps Map

You are the best at sharing! Ideas build on Ideas, you are effective at getting ideas out there and knowing the right questions to ask to get the best feedback. Make sure to read through to see how sharing fits into the bigger picture.

As an entrepreneur, Samuel Sanders often questions how businesses transform and grow. His new book, “Your Next Big Idea,” teaches readers how to handle their problems and update their repetitive, tired routines and methods. If you want to upgrade your business and personal life, his book will provide you with the knowledge and exercises you need to achieve your goals. Sanders first started at an Inc 5000 company, working with its business and research and development sectors. During his time there, he helped with new product development and started evaluating how fast-growing companies innovate. After that, Sanders took a job with a Fortune 500 company and worked on business analytics and development. Finally, after learning how big companies innovate and grow, he decided it was time to pursue his interests.

Samuel Sanders headshot
Samuel Sanders / Photo courtesy of Samuel Sanders

In 2014, Sanders created his own company Wundershirt. Wundershirt sells workout shirts designed to enhance performance. Two years later, his creation was worn by Olympic athletes training for the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

These days, Sanders is an author and owns another company, Heard, LLC. Heard is a tech company that aids communication between governments and their citizens. It allows local governments to connect and get feedback on their decisions and policies. Sanders’ interest in this company sprouted from his realization that government communication with citizens hasn’t changed in over a decade. Giving users a platform to speak and discuss issues allows them to reach solutions easier and feel like their voices are being heard.

For more information about Heard and what it does, watch the video below.

Sanders teaches revolutionary concepts that help readers train their brains and expand their thinking process as an author. His book combines all his experience in innovation and business growth into a digestible format designed to capture readers and their minds. Thankfully, we were lucky enough to sit down with Sanders and discuss his story and the advantageous concepts that he discusses in his book. Here’s what he had to say.

Ideation Journey Steps Map
Ideation Journey Stop Map

Your Next Big Idea

After getting his entrepreneurial start, Sanders wrote “Your Next Big Idea,” which teaches readers how to improve their creativity and problem-solving skills. In it, he also teaches readers how to generate ideas and master their innovation process. To Samuel, these four skills can help anyone elevate both their life and career.

His book revolves around the premise that everyone can train their brain to advance their skills and come up with new ideas. It also contains several exercises that readers can use to sharpen their skills. Sanders also guarantees that you will be able to generate 100 meaningful ideas a week after you read his book.

When discussing how his book, Sanders says, “As an entrepreneur working with other entrepreneurs myself, I’ve seen it from all angles, and everyone looks at innovation and creativity a bit differently. So, that’s how the book came along. I wanted to write about it because there’s like this cloud around innovation and creativity.”

Ideation Journey Steps Map
Ideation Journey Stop Map: Stop 1

STOP 1: According to Your Next Big Idea, the first step in being able to generate groundbreaking ideas is to identify problems. Take a moment to think about two or three problems you have faced either personally or professionally and write them down!

Where Do We Start?

During his time in college, Sanders realized that his education did not provide him with a proper understanding of what innovation is. He asserts that since our course time is limited in college, this can lead to gaps in our overall understanding of this topic.

When referring to education, Sanders says, “They’ll talk about successes like Facebook and Google, and they’ll say, ‘this is innovation and entrepreneurship.’ But they rarely talk about the garage where the idea was formed or how they came up with those ideas. So, it’s important to talk about that first base step because it often gets thrown aside. If people don’t understand that first step, they’re going to feel like they can’t do this and they’re not creative.”

According to Sanders, this is a disservice to those who learn about the creative and innovative process.

He also touches on the importance of letting ourselves play and be kids again. As adults, we use our creativity less and don’t let our minds run free. Sanders says that we should play again and use our imagination. By doing so, we can go back to an inspired period in our lives and learn from having fun.

For most of us, there is also a certain activity that can stimulate thoughts and ideas. Some people like to go on long walks, and others prefer to take showers. It all depends on what works best for you and what gets your creative juices flowing. If you haven’t found your special activity yet, here is a list of ideas to try:

  • Learn a new skill or language
  • Exercise
  • Journal or write your ideas down
  • Take a new class
  • Listen to music
  • Try a brainteaser, like a game or a puzzle
  • Read something new and different
  • Clean and organize your space

If you want some ideas for the work, click here. This list, provided by Indeed, lists creativity exercises specially formulated for the workplace.

Embrace Change and Failure

Change can be a scary concept, especially if you’re stuck in your day-to-day life. Sanders believes that to stimulate our thoughts, we need to shake up our routines and embrace change. Elaborating further, he states, “We hit routines, and those routines carry over into work things as well as our everyday lives. And so, we just go through that routine because it’s efficient and makes things easier. But what that ultimately does is hurts the creative process and our ability to think creatively. So, it’s really important to change and try new things. Then, put yourself into new situations that are a little uncomfortable, something you may not be used to.”

As we all know, failure hurts. But it’s up to us to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and carry on. By putting ourselves through something new, we build new neural pathways and discover new thoughts and emotions. 

As Sanders says, “Failure is so much tied into the entire process. People always read these overnight successes, but maybe a small percentage of people can do that. If you can do that, you get all the attention because it’s so rare. So, the general people believe this, and it’s a cycle that doesn’t relay the right message. And there are so many companies that see failure again and again.”

Sanders is right. So many companies, including some of the huge ones like Dyson and Airbnb, underwent huge losses and failures before becoming the titans they are today. A survey of 250 entrepreneurs found that one out of every four entrepreneurs reported that their business failed one or more times before they achieved success. After experiencing failure, 29% of them adjusted their business model, and 20% pursued a completely different model.

Thinking Differently

Our creative development often falls by the wayside, and it’s up to us to recognize this and change the pattern. However, if we want to work through an entire process, it’s important to realize your strengths and what you offer when solving an issue or constructing a process.

According to Sanders, when businesses delegate everything to just one person, they tend to disfavor others. However, this can hurt companies in the long run and keep them from adopting innovating. This is because different people have different strengths and ways of looking at things. Some people can be great at one thing, like market research, while others can identify problems.

He states, “This process of thinking that someone is great because they come up with a lot of ideas, and the way that we frame that does a disservice. It hurts people because you’re not looking at the entire process.”

Sanders further states, “When you’re looking at an idea, it’s not complete until you’ve thought about market research, implementation, and going through developing your ideas to give them value.”

The Consequences of Financial Incentives

As a reward, businesses usually provide financial incentives. But as a business, is focusing only on money the best practice? Sanders disagrees and states, “sometimes we get too tied to the financial aspects of things like the specific income number and things like that. But it’s important to think long term and try to think about where the value is coming from.”

By focusing on money, you’re not solving your actual problems or creating any value for your business. As Sanders says, “Are you solving something that needs to be solved or catered to, like the wants and needs that people have? Are there people that want that?”

When you only focus on your business’ quantitative value, you can easily overlook other factors that create value. Several qualitative factors, like people management, planning, and leadership, are commonly present within successful businesses. Implementing these factors into your business will allow your employees to bolster creativity and implement their original ideas.

The Four Main Concepts

Sanders’ book contains four main themes that readers can learn about and improve upon as we discussed earlier. These topics are ideation, creativity, problem-solving, and innovation. When asked about how to engage in more meaningful engagement with the world, Sanders says to pay close, detailed attention to everything around you. He says, “When you’re problem-solving, there has to be a problem that you’re looking for a solution to. When you’re being creative, you’re being creative in solving that problem or with the ideas around the problem. When we think about creativity, it’s often catering to that problem or marketing in a unique way. Ideation is coming up with those ideas that are creative. Lastly, the innovation process is putting it all together.” He further says that when he’s first looking to identify problems to be creative about, there are a few little tricks to look out for.

First, if you’re trying to find more problems, look out for words like “can’t” and “have to.” Those are words people use to express their feelings. If you feel like they hate something and can’t do it, there is a problem to be solved. Elaborating further, Samuel points out that in his book, there are stigmas. He says, “Basically, these are rules that we assign to our daily lives that don’t necessarily need to be followed, but we do follow them. This can be something as simple as not talking about politics or religion at the dinner table. But it also goes deeper than that because it goes to wondering if you are just following the influences and what they’re doing, or if you’re thinking for yourself individually.”

He then goes on to make a comparison between logistics services. He says, “I see Amazon and use it, and immediately I’m going to think it’s a really good option. But am I thinking that because an influencer uses it? Or because I evaluated and found out that it’s what’s best for my company?”

Sanders also points out that it’s typical for us to make the same habits repeatedly. According to him, we do the same things routinely and forget to challenge those habits and come up with different ideas.

Elaborating further on stigmas, he points out, “Each individual’s personality is different, and they’re in different industries. Each of these industries has a set of fake rules and stigmas that we sort of just follow. So, if you could take a step back and realize that there are rules that we follow that we must be able to identify and challenge, that can be great for the creative process.”

Trigger Your Imagination

A strategy that Sanders uses to jumpstart creativity is an outline. He also uses a concept he calls an “alien invasion strategy.” To use it, picture your problem as if you’re an alien that’s taking a look at your problem. It may seem silly, but it may be just the trick you need to reframe your mindset. He also points out that’s it’s always important to question things. If your company has been doing things the same for ten years, ask yourself why and try to figure out if it’s still functional.

He also suggests coming up with ideas that you think are outrageous. Sanders says, “If you’re looking for an idea, just come up with the absolute craziest idea. For example, if you’re trying to design a new plane, make a plane that’s designed from frog legs. Then work backward and ask yourself what you need to make this work.”

Another tip he provides is to start from nothing and move forward. Ask yourself what the first building block you need is and go from there.

If you start building habits with these three strategies, you can naturally jumpstart your creative process. If you start by identifying your problems and then work through your creativity, you’ll be able to come up with more ideas so that you can remodel and create real solutions.

If you still need help sparking your creativity, Ted Radio Hour offers a great podcast episode that can help you with this process as well.

Ideation Journey Steps Map
Ideation Journey Stop Map: Stop 2

STOP 2: Taking an idea from good to groundbreaking means challenging the status quo and erasing stigmas. One good way to do that is with the alien invasion strategy! When using the alien-invasion strategy, you take the problem statement and imagine solving it the way an alien might. Imagine you are an alien who just arrived on Earth. You have no background of Earth’s customs, traditions, or the intricacies of how society works. What solutions could you come up with to solve the problem? What questions would you ask? How would you challenge assumptions around the problem?

A Fresh Perspective

It’s important to look at things with a fresh set of eyes. We often get lost in groupthink and forget to look at things from an outsider’s standpoint. One suggestion Sanders has is to bring in someone that knows nothing about what you’re doing. He elaborates, “bring in a smart person that’s not in the area you’re in. They’ll ask questions and make you rethink things. I think that’s one of the most important things for people to bring into the center of conversation because we’re so used to groupthink. We’re used to pooling together the best experts to come up with an idea. But ultimately, they’ll just come up with the idea that’s similar to what we had, and then there’s confirmation of money in there.”

Rethink Your Methods

If a business is struggling, it may be because they’re stuck in an old routine that no longer suits you. If you aren’t willing to shake things up, it can be hard to solve new problems and develop your business. Sanders has a concept for this that he refers to as the “extended traffic light rule.” He explains, “If you haven’t looked at a process in ten years, you’re at a red light. There’s probably a chance that you will be left behind if you don’t look to innovate. If you’re taking five years, you’re at a yellow light in the innovation process. And it may be because you felt like your process is best and like you shouldn’t look at it. But the green light is what I call a turn signal. At two and a half years, you’re at a green light and where you may still want to change. But just because you do something doesn’t mean that there’s not a better option.”

For most businesses, creativity and innovation aren’t a priority. Everyone just focuses on their daily tasks and tries to make money. But this outlook can hinder their long-term growth because they aren’t focusing on future goals. You must innovate and challenge yourself to avoid being left behind.

Ideation Journey Steps Map
Ideation Journey Stop Map: Stop 3

STOP 3: Once you have eliminated some of the restrictions you have around the status quo it is time to come up with a solution. Start a mind map and start mapping out your ideas. Remember to combine ideas together and let ideas build off of each other until you get to a solution you want.

  • What is my minimum viable idea I can move forward with?
  • Is there a market for the idea?
  • Does the market want it now?
  • Do I have the resources (money, time, skills etc.) to make this idea happen? If not can I find or make changes to obtain those resources?

Don’t Take It Personally

When looking at problems within your business, it’s important to separate ideas from the people who made them. If something needs to be changed or a decision must be made to help your business grow, it doesn’t have to be someone’s fault. You must look at the overall state of your business and pivot when you need to.

As Sanders puts it, “When you have an idea, it’s very easy for it to become your baby or something that’s attached to you. And there’s a sense where if you have a good skill set for this idea’s background, it should be attached to you. But when it comes down to the reactions and getting feedback, it’s important to get negative reactions. Then, you don’t spend more time putting something out there that people don’t like. That’s only hurting me and everyone else.”

It’s important to listen to negative feedback during the ideation process. Although it may sting, it can help you develop something better. If you accept the negative things people have to say and look for them, you can create the best idea. This thinking will help you refine your ideas and make them as flawless as possible.

Feedback may be a driving factor of success. It may even encourage people to build their strengths and pursue more challenging goals. If you are still unsure how to ask for feedback, there are several healthy ways to ask. When asking, always separate yourself from your business. It will help you in the long run and keep you moving forward.

Ideation Journey Steps Map
Ideation Journey Stop Map: Stop 4

STOP 4: So you have a solution you like to your problem. It is time to put it through a feasibility check! Time to answer some questions:

Triangle Goals

In Sanders’ book, “Your Next Big Idea,” he covers a concept he refers to as “triangle goals.” This model revolves around thinking positively. To help yourself get into this process, Sanders says, “Envision positivity or what a positive situation would look like. Think, what would this look like in a positive way? Get those visions going and envision that step.” He also touches on taking care of your body and getting enough sleep. If you’re not healthy and don’t take care of yourself, it’s much harder to think creatively. You must feel good to reach your full potential.

Sanders states, “It takes a lot of mental energy to put yourself out there and be creative, think of ideas, and push your business forward. If you’re feeling like crap, it’s just harder.” It’s important to take care of your overall health and wellbeing. If you need to start, begin by taking small steps.

Remember that everyone responds to change differently, and you don’t have to hold yourself to someone else’s standard. Take the amount of time you need to create habits that allow you to take better care of yourself.

Sanders suggests some small changes that can help you: “Take maybe five minutes when you’re getting up and think about what a successful day will look like instead of scrolling through social media. Think about what moving forward with some of your ideas in your job would look like. Just try to get those habits going, and from there, you’ll start to come up with little ideas here and there. If you understand the problems you’re facing in your business, then there’s a next level you can move forward with. That step is all about taking a personal risk.”

Always make sure to take on your amount of risk. Risk means something different to everyone, and you should only take on what you’re willing to. Sanders refers to this as a minimum viable idea and compares it to prototyping. He says, “How much can you do with just doing the bare minimum? How far can you push it with a few hours of free time if you have an idea? What does it look like?” When you ask yourself these questions, you begin to re-evaluate your ideas and push forward your ability to think positively. If you’re always looking for the next viable step, you continue to move forward without getting stuck on making something perfect.

Sanders also suggests looking at things backward to inspire positive thinking. This can be a powerful thinking tool that helps you approach problems from all angles. Recent studies have shown that thinking backward often leads to higher levels of success. If you have trouble thinking backward and need some tips, watch the video below:

Separating Needs from Wants

One interesting topic Sanders discusses in his book is recognizing your needs from your wants. He points out that although we all need the basics like food and water, we each have our individual functional needs. These are referred to as “auxiliary needs” and can be things like living near your sick mom or making sure your kids are safe. To each person, these needs are a necessary part of their lives and are an important factor that determines their happiness.

Wants are different from needs because they revolve around what someone desires. A want can be something like a brownie or taking a dance class. It’s important to separate the two concepts when analyzing the world around you.

As Sanders states, needs are usually expressed using the phrase “I have to do” when talking about the action. Wants usually follow language stated as “I wish” or another similar expression. Once you have recognized these two concepts, it’s important to combine them and analyze what they mean.

When you combine needs and wants, you get to the root of what the problem is. Once you recognize it, it’s much easier to develop a creative solution and fix someone’s problem. Thinking this way can immensely help your business and personal life because it allows you to identify something that you can change or alter for an optimum result.

Ideation Journey Steps Map
Ideation Journey Stop Map: Stop 5

STOP 5: Share your idea! Sharing is critical to building success. Sharing can help you find partners, resources or build on your ideas. Go share the idea you came up with three people!

Question Everything

According to “Your Next Big Idea,” you need to start questioning everything around you if you want to nurture your creative skills. These questions will help you develop a better understanding of everything around you and identify any potential problems that may arise. As Sanders states in his book, questions are a necessary part of solving problems and moving forward. You may miss out on important information or valuable input that others can provide by refusing to ask questions.

In his book, Sanders asks readers to ask questions by following a basic format that we are taught as kids: who, what, where, and when.

According to him, these questions are connected and are an essential part of formulating the big picture. Not only will these questions help you understand a situation, but they can also inspire you to ask more questions and come up with new ideas. Without starting a conversation, you may not fully understand a concept or formulate ideas that can help your company. If you need help asking questions and don’t know where to start, watch the video below for more information:

A Practical Workbook

Sanders’ book follows an approach that he refers to as a “practical workbook.” In it, several exercises cover each chapter and the ideas that he proposes. As we know, practice makes perfect, and these exercises allow readers to think about the topics they just learned and ingrain them into their brains. Although we usually think about kids when we think about following a workbook, they exist for a reason and can be beneficial for adults. When we read, it’s easy to forget concepts and ideas. By asking readers to follow this format, Sanders allows them to put their knowledge to use and further develop their skills.

In 2015, a paper published in the International Journal of Innovation and Applied Studies sought to evaluate the role that workbooks have in students’ learning process in Macedonia. The paper found intriguing results and discovered that workbooks could lead students through introduced theories and help them learn cognitive tasks more easily. Workbooks were also found to create a natural thinking period that helped students evaluate concepts more thoroughly. The research also showed that this format helps contribute to the teaching process and aids student learning.

Moving Forward

With the help of his book, “Your Next Big Idea,” Samuel Sanders hopes to encourage entrepreneurs and readers to think bigger. He believes that everyone can form creative, innovative thoughts and enhance their lives and businesses. As he mentions, schooling often skips out on the key ideas that help us imagine new ideas and concepts as adults. It is up to us to develop these skills and educate ourselves on improving our thought processes. With Sanders’ book, he hopes to provide everyone with the tools they need to expand their minds and achieve success.

View this article in the December 2021 issue of MP.