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How to Consistently Come Up with Great Ideas

How to Consistently Come Up with Great Ideas

The strangest thing about the process of generating ideas, is that there seems to be a commonly held belief that it is some sort of mystical process, one that is only reserved for the likes of ‘visionaries’ and mad scientists. There is this idea that those kinds of people are the only ones who can come up with great ideas consistently, and even then, only after ‘waiting’ for ‘inspiration’ to strike. This belief is held despite the fact that there are many people who have said outright (and show through their output), that they work hard and sweat for their ideas.

What ideas actually are

My personal opinion is that this belief is held because a lot of people simply do not understand what ideas actually are. My definition of an idea is – a concept that lies in the middle of two other concepts or, put simply – the connection between two concepts.

quote from an old Wired Magazine interview with Steve Jobs sums this concept up perfectly:

Steve Jobs: “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

When you come to an understanding of what ideas are (just connections) and start thinking of them in that way, it makes the process of generating them a lot less intimidating. This helps you generate more of them on a consistent basis. Now, the title of this article is ‘How to Consistently Come up with GREAT Ideas’. So while this simple thought process will help to increase your consistency, it won’t necessarily help you to come up with GREAT ideas. This thought process is simply step one.

How to spot and then dig out the truly great ideas

There is a concept that was first introduced by the late Business guru and philosopher, ‘Peter Drucker’, which is commonly referred to as the ‘unexpected success’. The concept that Drucker puts forth in his book, ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship’ is that new ideas for innovation can be had simply by seeking out certain unexpected occurrences in the marketplace that cause a market to rethink itself.

The unexpected success is (in the context of business) the product or service that no one was really paying attention to, that suddenly took off. Examples include, how the initially science oriented computer industry mainly sold to labs until businesses started to show interest, thus birthing the modern computer industry. Or how it was noticed that antibiotics worked just as well on animals as they did on humans, thus creating the largest and most profitable segment in the pharmaceutical industry, selling directly to vets.

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You can apply this concept to any field to help you generate ideas. For example, with blogging – simply look for the new blog posts that are doing very well, which no one really expected to do well. Then find out why they are doing well. Use that knowledge and insight to help you come up with your own great and unique blog posts.

This concept could even be applied to something as rigid as sports coaching. The coach could simply seek out the teams that seemed unlikely to perform well in the sport but recently showed a lot of promise and then find out why. Once he does this, he can then use that insight to create his own ultimate team.

The unexpected success is what you are to spot and then understand in order to create your own great ideas. They are the seeds of great ideas. If you are able to notice an unexpected success and then find out why it succeeded then you will be able to capitalize on it by generating an idea that utilizes the fundamental reasons why the unexpected success succeeded.

The reason why unexpected successes are so effective is that they are current. They highlight what is supposed to be successful right now, instead of what was successful.

Pulling it all together – A step by step process for consistent idea generation

In order for you to be able to consistently generate ideas using the concepts outlined above, you need to have a process. Below i will outline what i have found to be a particularly effective for me, when I’m trying to come up with ideas consistently. These steps allow your mind to create a sort of background process that will consistently bring ideas to you, by first doing a little bit of hard work.

Here are the steps to consistently coming up with great ideas:

Step 1. Choose an area

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This step is straightforward. Select the area that you would like to generate the idea in. Is it blog post ideas, local business ideas? Whatever it is, make sure you have clearly defined an idea area. Try to be as specific as possible. This is very important.

Step 2. Expose yourself to unexpected successes in it

With this step, you may have to go out exploring a little bit, depending on your idea area. Here you will be looking for surprisingly successful things. This could be a local pizza place that has recently opened and just so happens to be serving smoothies. And those smoothies are selling like hot cakes. You have to really be looking hard to spot these and they can sometimes be missed. But generally, you will be looking for things that look out-of-place in the area that you’ve chosen, but are performing well above expectations.

Step 3. Understand why they succeed. Let it all sink in.

This is probably the most difficult of all the steps, as it requires the most analysis. Generally, you can deduce the reasons why something is successful by simply speaking to people who like it and asking them why. This is even easier if the area you are in is in any way connected to social media. For example, with an unexpectedly successful blog post that is being shared a lot, all you would have to do is log onto Facebook or twitter and read the comments. You will likely get a good idea of why it worked.

Whenever you can, try to observe more than you ask questions. People often are not able to accurately articulate why they like or don’t like something very well, so generally observation will serve you better.

This step does require that you use your common sense and look around for clues. It’s tough, no doubt about it. But it’s the price you will have to pay, if you want to generate a great idea.

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Don’t try to come up with ideas at this stage. You are just focused on gathering information and increasing your understanding of the opportunity. Let the background process in your head do its work.

Step 4. Have an idea quota; write ideas down

Now comes the action.

Every day, set out an idea quota within a period of roughly 45 minutes to an hour, where you do nothing but write down ideas about the area that you have chosen. If it’s a local business idea, then write 50 ideas on local businesses within that time frame. Don’t worry about how bad the ideas seem. Just write them down.

Try to be as religious as you can with this. And do it for about 10 days.

Step. 5. Pick the best ones.

Once you have gotten a fair number of ideas written down. Pick out the best ones and start analyzing them. Eliminate as many as you can.

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Once you get down to about 10 ideas. You will likely have some pretty great ones in there.  Use them and see how they perform. If they do well (and i think that they will), then that is great!

It can be done

Ideas are not this mystical concept that come only once in a blue moon. Just like anything in the world, they can be found with enough determination and technique. And found consistently.

Do you have your own idea generation techniques that have been effective for you?

Let me know in the comments!

Featured photo credit:  creative thought via Shutterstock

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Last Updated on January 6, 2021

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

14 Ideas on How to Measure Productivity to Make Progress

Everyone has heard the term productivity, and people talk about it in terms of how high it is and how to improve it. But fewer know how to measure productivity, or even what exactly we are talking about when using the term “productivity.”

In its simplest form, the productivity formula looks like this: Output ÷ Input = Productivity.

For example, you have two salespeople each making 10 calls to customers per week. The first one averages 2 sales per week and the second one averages 3 sales per week. By plugging in the numbers we get the following productivity levels for each sales person.

For salesperson one, the output is 2 sales and the input is 10 sales: 2 ÷ 10 = .2 or 20% productivity. For salesperson two, the output is 3 sales and the input is 10 sales: 3 ÷ 10 = .3 or 30% productivity.

Knowing how to measure and interpret productivity is an invaluable asset for any manager or business owner in today’s world. As an example, in the above scenario, salesperson #1 is clearly not doing as well as salesperson #2.

Knowing this information we can now better determine what course of action to take with salesperson #1.

Some possible outcomes might be to require more in-house training for that salesperson, or to have them accompany the more productive salesperson to learn a better technique. It might be that salesperson #1 just isn’t suited for sales and would do a better job in a different position.

How to Measure Productivity With Management Techniques

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to fine tune your business by minimizing costs and maximizing profits:

1. Identify Long and Short-Term Goals

Having a good understanding of what you (or your company’s) goals are is key to measuring productivity.

For example, if your company’s goal is to maximize market share, you’ll want to measure your team’s productivity by their ability to acquire new customers, not necessarily on actual sales made.

2. Break Down Goals Into Smaller Weekly Objectives

Your long-term goal might be to get 1,000 new customers in a year. That’s going to be 20 new customers per week. If you have 5 people on your team, then each one needs to bring in 4 new customers per week.

Now that you’ve broken it down, you can track each person’s productivity week-by-week just by plugging in the numbers:

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Productivity = number of new customers ÷ number of sales calls made

3. Create a System

Have you ever noticed that whenever you walk into a McDonald’s, the French fry machine is always to your left? 

This is because McDonald’s created a system. They have determined that the most efficient way to set up a kitchen is to always have the French fry machine on the left when you walk in.

You can do the same thing and just adapt it to your business.

Let’s say that you know that your most productive salespeople are making the most sales between the hours of 3 and 7 pm. If the other salespeople are working from 9 am to 4 pm, you can potentially increase productivity through something as simple as adjusting the workday.

Knowing how to measure productivity allows you to set up, monitor, and fine tune systems to maximize output.

4. Evaluate, Evaluate, Evaluate!

We’ve already touched on using these productivity numbers to evaluate and monitor your employees, but don’t forget to evaluate yourself using these same measurements.

If you have set up a system to track and measure employees’ performance, but you’re still not meeting goals, it may be time to look at your management style. After all, your management is a big part of the input side of our equation.

Are you more of a carrot or a stick type of manager? Maybe you can try being more of the opposite type to see if that changes productivity. Are you managing your employees as a group? Perhaps taking a more one-on-one approach would be a better way to utilize each individual’s strengths and weaknesses.

Just remember that you and your management style contribute directly to your employees’ productivity.

5. Use a Ratings Scale

Having clear and concise objectives for individual employees is a crucial part of any attempt to increase workplace productivity. Once you have set the goals or objectives, it’s important that your employees are given regular feedback regarding their progress.

Using a ratings scale is a good way to provide a standardized visual representation of progress. Using a scale of 1-5 or 1-10 is a good way to give clear and concise feedback on an individual basis.

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It’s also a good way to track long-term progress and growth in areas that need improvement.

6. Hire “Mystery Shoppers”

This is especially helpful in retail operations where customer service is critical. A mystery shopper can give feedback based on what a typical customer is likely to experience.

You can hire your own shopper, or there are firms that will provide them for you. No matter which route you choose, it’s important that the mystery shoppers have a standardized checklist for their evaluation.

You can request evaluations for your employees friendliness, how long it took to greet the shopper, employees’ knowledge of the products or services, and just about anything else that’s important to a retail operation.

7. Offer Feedback Forms

Using a feedback form is a great way to get direct input from existing customers. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind when using feedback forms.

First, keep the form short, 2-3 questions max with a space for any additional comments. Asking people to fill out a long form with lots of questions will significantly reduce the amount of information you receive.

Secondly, be aware that customers are much more likely to submit feedback forms when they are unhappy or have a complaint than when they are satisfied.

You can offset this tendency by asking everyone to take the survey at the end of their interaction. This will increase compliance and give you a broader range of customer experiences, which will help as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

8. Track Cost Effectiveness

This is a great metric to have, especially if your employees have some discretion over their budgets. You can track how much each person spends and how they spend it against their productivity.

Again, this one is easy to plug into the equation: Productivity = amount of money brought in ÷ amount of money spent.

Having this information is very useful in forecasting expenses and estimating budgets.

9. Use Self-Evaluations

Asking your staff to do self evaluations can be a win-win for everyone. Studies have shown that when employees feel that they are involved and their input is taken seriously, morale improves. And as we all know, high employee morale translates into higher productivity.

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Using self-evaluations is also a good way to make sure that the employees and employers goals are in alignment.

10. Monitor Time Management

This is the number one killer of productivity in the workplace. Time spent browsing the internet, playing games, checking email, and making personal calls all contribute to lower productivity[1].

Time Management Tips to Improve Productivity

    The trick is to limit these activities without becoming overbearing and affecting morale. Studies have shown that most people will adhere to rules that they feel are fair and applied to everyone equally.

    While ideally, we may think that none of these activities should be done on company time, employees will almost certainly have a different opinion. From a productivity standpoint, it is best to have policies and rules that are seen as fair to both sides as you’re learning how to measure productivity.

    11. Analyze New Customer Acquisition

    We’ve all heard the phrase that “It’s more expensive to get a new customer than it is to keep an existing one.” And while that is very true, in order for your business to keep growing, you will need to continually add new customers.

    Knowing how to measure productivity via new customer acquisition will make sure that your marketing dollars are being spent in the most efficient way possible. This is another metric that’s easy to plug into the formula: Productivity = number of new customers ÷ amount of money spent to acquire those customers.

    For example, if you run any kind of advertising campaign, you can compare results and base your future spending accordingly.

    Let’s say that your total advertising budget is $3,000. You put $2,000 into television ads, $700 into radio ads, and $300 into print ads. When you track the results, you find that your television ad produced 50 new customers, your radio ad produced 15 new customers, and your print ad produced 9 new customers.

    Let’s plug those numbers into our equation. Television produced 50 new customers at a cost of $2,000 (50 ÷ 2000 = .025, or a productivity rate of 2.5%). The radio ads produced 15 new customers and cost $700 (15 ÷ 700 = .022, or a 2.2% productivity rate). Print ads brought in 9 new customers and cost $300 (9 ÷ 300 = .03, or a 3% return on productivity).

    From this analysis, it is clear that you would be getting the biggest bang for your advertising dollar using print ads.

    12. Utilize Peer Feedback

    This is especially useful when people who work in teams or groups. While self-assessments can be very useful, the average person is notoriously bad at assessing their own abilities.

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    Just ask a room full of people how many consider themselves to be an above average driver and you’ll see 70% of the hands go up[2]! Now we clearly know that in reality about 25% of drivers are below average, 25% are above average, and 50% are average.

    Are all these people lying? No, they just don’t have an accurate assessment of their own abilities.

    It’s the same in the workplace. Using peer feedback will often provide a more accurate assessment of a person’s ability than a self-assessment would.

    13. Encourage Innovation and Don’t Penalize Failure

    When it comes to productivity, encouraging employee input and adopting their ideas can be a great way to boost productivity. Just make sure that any changes you adopt translate into higher productivity.

    Let’s say that someone comes to you requesting an entertainment budget so that they can take potential customers golfing or out to dinner. By utilizing simple productivity metrics, you can easily produce a cost benefit analysis and either expand the program to the rest of the sales team, or terminate it completely.

    Either way, you have gained valuable knowledge and boosted morale by including employees in the decision-making process.

    14. Use an External Evaluator

    Using an external evaluator is the pinnacle of objective evaluations. Firms that provide professional evaluations use highly trained personnel that even specialize in specific industries.

    They will design a complete analysis of your business’ productivity level. In their final report, they will offer suggestions and recommendations on how to improve productivity.

    While the benefits of a professional evaluation are many, their costs make them prohibitive for most businesses.

    Final Thoughts

    These are just a few of the things you can do when learning how to measure productivity. Some may work for your particular situation, and some may not.

    The most important thing to remember when deciding how to track productivity is to choose a method consistent with your goals. Once you’ve decided on that, it’s just a matter of continuously monitoring your progress, making minor adjustments, and analyzing the results of those adjustments.

    The business world is changing fast, and having the right tools to track and monitor your productivity can give you the edge over your competition.

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    Featured photo credit: William Iven via unsplash.com

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