The leaves are falling, even the warm breeze has a chilly edge, and the store I went into today has started to set up their Christmas department (I'm exercising great will power not to go into a rant about that!). In the old days, this was harvest time, so maybe you'd care to consider a few ideas I've harvested lately.
1: Be a Follower
Duncan Bannatyne, one of the members of the panel on the U.K. inventors' program, "The Dragon's Den," is writing a series for the Sunday Times on how to win at business. His first piece of advice: don't be obsessed with finding a totally new idea.
He made his initial fortune by taking advantage of the fact that Margaret Thatcher's government decided to fight overcrowding in hospitals by paying private businesses to look after the elderly. He sold his house, car, TV set and borrowed to the max on three credit cards to help finance his first nursing home. Ten years later, he sold the business and pocketed £30 million (about $54 million). The next trend he followed was the fitness boom, establishing a string of gyms that are now valued at £120 million.
His advice: "Spot the trends and then follow the yellow brick road. The revolutionary concept that nobody has thought of before is for your ego, not your wallet. Be sure your idea is at the beginning of its lifecycle…that your idea isn't already mature and interest is waning."
ACTION: Take a little time to brainstorm the newest trends in your area. For example, for writers this might involve the new methods of distributing content. How could you take advantage of the momentum?
2: Two Lessons from a Man Who Shows You How to Eat Your Own Face
I recently heard an interview with a man who did something different. He enjoyed cooking and he also likes special effects. He was driving along and suddenly had an idea: what if you combined the two?
He experimented for six months and developed 50 recipes for food that does something - for example, a 'volcano' cake that actually erupts. And a 'eat your own face' recipe where you make a mould of your face and then make it in Jello.
He published the book of recipes himself (originally with just a photocopier). It was a great hit around the holidays, especially Halloween and Christmas. The book received coverage in lots of newspaper food sections. His biggest break was being featured on the national U.S. Food Network. Over a period of almost ten years, he's grossed $5 million with this one product.
For Brainstormers, this story illustrates two lessons. One is that a good new idea often is what seems an unlikely combination of two existing ideas. The other is that if you have an idea that you know will appeal to the media, half your marketing is done for you.
ACTION: If you're looking for a breakthrough product or service to add to what you offer, brainstorm unusual combinations (and don't judge them too soon). When you come up with something, make potential media interest one of your main criteria for whether or not you proceed.
3: Are You Speaking Their Language?
In HOW magazine, designer Jeff Domke writes about how he tailored the self-promotion pieces he sent to companies that he hoped would hire him. He says, "I reviewed their website or job posting, found the specific words they used to describe good design and then dropped those into my project descriptions. The effect was powerful." By using their language he helped establish rapport with the recipients. They probably felt "he's one of us" without knowing exactly why.
ACTION: Whenever you are going to communicate with someone, try to find the language they use to describe what they are looking for, and then work that into your letter, e-mail, or conversation.
4: Who Can Solve Your Problem?
Generally inventors and innovators come up with something that solves a problem and then ask people with money to back them. According to Business 2.0 magazine, now backers are reversing the process and posing a problem and offering a specific reward for anybody who solves it.
Example: two venture capitalists are offering $2 million for anybody who can invent a cell phone battery that lasts five times as long as current ones. Similarly, anybody who needs a particular piece of writing or art or design (among other products) can go to www.elance.com, describe it, and specify how much money they are willing to pay, and artists or writers will bid on the job. A bidding service for people looking for computer programs exists on www.rentacoder.com.
ACTION: If you're stuck on a challenge, you might consider doing something similar on a modest scale among your friends, family, and colleagues. The "fee" for the best solution might be a gift certificate for a book, a dinner, or a bottle of wine.
5: New Insights on Procrastination
You probably didn't know there is a Procrastination Research Group, but there is, and it's run by Prof. Timothy Pychyl at Ottawa's Carleton University. His studies reveal that there seem to be two ways people function: some are action-oriented, and they switch easily from task to task; others are state-oriented, and they are more likely to procrastinate and suffer more from uncertainty, frustration, boredom and guilt.
If you're state-oriented, the Professor suggests acknowledging that you don't feel like doing the task, but promise yourself you'll do it for ten minutes. By the time you get to the end of that period, most likely your state will have shifted and you'll be able to continue.
ACTION: What's one thing you've been putting off? Can you schedule ten minutes to work on it today? Time it so that you have time free to continue with it if you feel like it. If you don't, then just stop and schedule another ten minutes for it soon.
6: And a Quote to Consider…
"If you go to your grave without painting your masterpiece, it will not get painted. No one else can paint it."
Gordon MacKenzie (author of a wonderful book called "Orbiting the Giant Hairball")