Category Archives: Ideation

Coming up with an idea is not easy. And even though you have an idea, there may be a need to innovate and iterate to make it even better. This section provides guidance on brainstorming and creative thinking.

Try This Guide for Big Impact in Your Neighborhood

“You’ll be surprised what can be accomplished if you are willing to think big about your little place in the world.”
– Why changing the world one place at a time can lead to big things in The Great Neighorhood Book

The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking by Jay Walljasper and Project for Public Spaces
New Society Publishers, 2011, 192 pages, $19.95 USD

A joint venture between Project for Public Spaces (PPS) and Senior PPS Fellow Jay Walljasper, The Great Neighborhood Book: A Do-it-Yourself Guide to Placemaking highlights the possibilities of placemaking by using the success stories of everyday people that can inspire you to do similar things in your own communities.

The PPS is a nonprofit dedicated to creating and sustaining public spaces that build communities and placemaking is something they see as both a philosophy and a process. Architects and planners started to use the term in the 1970s but the concepts originated in the 1960s when writers offered their ideas about designing cities that truly catered to people, not just to cars and malls.

The Great Neighorhood Book is definitely meant to be used as a guide, since it is fairly structured so as to walk you through easily the first time and then continue to come back when you need to refer to a certain idea or section. The table of contents gives a great overview for anyone who’s unsure what placemaking could entail:

  1. Feeling Right at Home: How to foster a sense of community
  2. Where Everybody Knows Your Name: How to create great places to hang out
  3. Going Places: How to tame traffic and improve transportation
  4. Keeping Peace in the Streets: How to assure safety and promote justice
  5. Where the Action Is: How to boost local economic vitality
  6. Greening the Neighborhood: How to keep things clean, green and natural
  7. Pride in Your Place: How to nurture pleasure and pizzazz
  8. Getting Things Done: How to make your dreams a reality

After a preface giving the author’s experience with placemaking and an introduction by PPS about changing the world one place at a time, each chapter begins with a list of the suggested actions and challenges, as shown here:

The Great Neighborhood Book

Context is often provided with each suggested initiative with a background on where it came from and/or a quick example or two to go with it and some ideas are also then accompanied by longer success stories. Since these ideas are not very detailed in the guide, every initiative is followed by one or two resources, most of which are available online so that you can further your understanding and think about action.

I had picked up The Great Neighorhood Book the summer after I had finished my bachelors in urban planning and though I haven’t acted on any of these suggestions myself, it was a very inspirational read since these were real people doing real things to make change in their communities. It did leave me with a greater sense of placemaking which influenced my work thereafter. Revisiting the book to write this recommendation, I find the eleven principles of placemaking still resonate with me and have become almost second nature now and add to my perspectives on social change (like #1: the community is the expert).

I recommend The Great Neighorhood Book to anyone looking to create social change in their communities and need ideas – particularly if there is an actual issue in the community you feel needs to be acted upon. This book can serve as inspiration or a guide, while introducing you to placemaking. I also suggest looking at the PPS website for more, since this book is just an introduction to what they do.

Conclusively, though this book is not a how-to book on all things placemaking, it serves like a Pinterest board to give you the ideas and inspiration you need to fuel yourself to take action. It’s especially worth the read for people who see issues and want to take action in their own neighborhoods.

Mad like Tesla? It Could be a Good Thing

Tyler Hamilton’s book Mad Like Tesla takes a look at underdog inventors, particularly those with an eye on the energy crisis because as Hamilton writes, “humanity is on an unsustainable path, and changing course will require a dramatic rethink of how we obtain and use energy”.

The first chapter introduces the book and begins by focusing on Nikola Tesla, the first man to invent a radio that can broadcast across the ocean. It then continues on to the first topic, nuclear fusion.

Throughout Mad Like Tesla, Hamilton covers three main ideas:

  • Inventors who need to be appreciated, and more so to be acknowledged
  • The dangers of our environment, what we should do to change it, and what we can do to change it
  • Pursuing goals and making a better future for yourself

This book also answers the many questions about our planet and the people who try to sustain it (i.e. using less energy; turning off lights, unplugging cables). His message towards cleaner energy and the impact it would have on us is very inspiring: we should be conscious of the amount of electricity and other energy we use or else our planet would be more a murky grey than green and blue. It definitely inspired me to do better in my neighborhood, stop wasting energy, appreciate the innovations that I take for granted, and to reach for my goals.

Towards the end of the book, Tyler searches for miracles and the different ways in which we could move in the right direction. He concludes the book by advising his readers to continue to have hope and go after their dreams.

I would recommend this book to anyone, because it will inspire you to go after your aspirations. It also brings out a greater appreciation for the unknown do-gooders in our society who try to make the world a better place. Now with the book’s content and Tesla’s name shining bright and green on the cover, a lot of people may think this book is for “science geeks”; but when you read it, you’ll understand the concept of the book and see where Tyler Hamilton is coming from.

The front cover of the book is what captured my attention – the eye-catching title in big bold black and lime green letters and an outlet which connects to the message of conserving energy, though I admit that I thought the book would solely revolve around Tesla and electricity. The structure of the book is simple with a few pictures within the chapters, to help readers visualize the concepts Hamilton and the entrepreneurs were examining.

Personally, what stuck out the most from Mad Like Tesla was its main message: just keep going. Tesla had many great ideas but despite all the criticism, he made them happen and proved his critics wrong. Following his footsteps, if you put your mind to it, you too will achieve the goal you are trying to reach.

Creating your Manifesto

An apple has a core. It is certainly not something most of us eat but it is essential to how the apple came to be.

Just like an apple, we too, have a core. On the physical level, our core muscles (abdominals and back muscles) are our stability muscles. They help us maintain stability by providing us with balance. A weak core can lead to falls, stress, and trauma. In our internal selves, our core muscles are made up of our values and beliefs. Our core is essential in helping us maintain balance and stability especially when life fluctuates, When we don’t have clarity on our internal core (values and beliefs), it can lead to falls, stress, trauma, and burnout.

As an individual, identifying the core of who you are is essential in helping you develop a solid foundation in which your life can grow and flow. It helps guide you in making decisions and taking inspired action to move forward. Your core is something which reflects the essence of your being and is one in which you should be proud to share with others (if it isn’t, consider why).

As a social entrepreneur, identifying the core of your organization is equally important. What do you value? What do you believe in? What inspired/inspires you? What do you stand for?

Meaningful work comes from an alignment between your personal values and those of the organization you are with. As in any relationship, the deeper the connection, the stronger the commitment. And commitment is essential in moving through the peaks and valleys in our development as individuals and/or organizations.

Follow these guidelines to create your Manifesto

Pros and Cons of Ramping Up a Green Business

Have passion for the green movement? Thinking of getting involved?

Here are some pros and cons from the perspective and experience of someone who started his green business in 1991 and who has been creating and helping others create and grow them since.

Pros of Ramping Up a Green Business Now:
  • Be a Leader: nothing wrong with being a follower, but if you want to be known for making this movement happen, now is the time to get involved.
  • Explore the Wild West: right now the movement is trying to get grounded and determine its core principles, markets and trends. Technology and tons of money have been flowing and crucial in accelerating the process for stabilizing green business sectors.
  • Create Trends and Directions: have a serious opportunity to be the trend-setter and founder/early adopter of the green business movement.
  • Experience Guts and Glory: huge risks and rewards with so much at stake can be extremely exhilarating. Taking on the big boys’ manipulation of Congress can be a LOT of fun.
  • Use High Levels of Creativity: to move big habit-busting ideas and trends forward takes huge levels of creativity and passion.
  • Get Established: by getting started now, be known as an expert in your industry before the masses get on board.
Cons of Ramping Up Now:
  • Lots of Risk: want others to make the mistakes and learn from them before you try. Instead, start with basic things the masses are already doing.
  • Deal With the Unknown: while science and business at odds and business manipulating Congress, there are lots of knuckle-biting moments ahead.
  • Complex Set of Issues: science and society are constantly evolving around the complexities of our environmental ills. This can cause stress and uncertainty.
  • Take it On the Chin: from all the naysayers and people/businesses whom feel threatened by the changes the movement is creating.
  • Change of Habits: both yours and others. For most, not easy to adapt to.

Bottom Line: if you’ve got the passion for being a serious player in the green movement, willing to take the heat and flack from all the naysayers, and have a passion for helping solve some of the biggest challenges known to man, then GO FOR IT!

And if not, you may want to sit on the bench a bit longer and do much simpler tasks that can also make a difference for the planet and society.

Now that you’ve seen the pros and cons of running a business, read further on how to determine whether you want a green business.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted from Is Now the Time to Get on Board the Green Biz Train?

Key Domains with Opportunities in Big Data

Even though “Big Data” has now been around for a few years, the opportunities seem to keep growing as the amount of data keeps growing. According to IBM, companies have captured more data in the last two years than in the previous 2000 years. This data comes from sensors, social media posts, digital pictures and videos, purchase transactions, everywhere.

Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data — much of it unstructured and far beyond the capability of conventional databases. Hence one segment of the opportunity is the need for new database technologies.

In 2012, Gartner formalized their Big Data definition as a “3V” framework – high Volume, high Velocity, and high Variety information asset, requiring new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision making, insight discovery and process optimization. IBM adds a fourth “V” of Veracity to add trust and noise filtering to the challenge of Big Data analysis.

The opportunities from Big Data have the potential to create a next wave of successful technology companies that could change the way we all live and work. I will summarize here some of the key business domains with large opportunities, based on a McKinsey Global Institute study and other sources:

  • Targeted marketing. Big data can mean big profits. By understanding what you want to buy today, companies large and small can figure out what you’ll want to buy tomorrow — maybe even before you do. By transforming a single shopper’s path into data points, companies can see how you move through a store, and how that tracks with sales.
  • Protecting the environment. Analyzing the massive sets of data available on toxic emissions and weather patterns can help us understand environmental threats on a systemic level. We now have the sensors to track and model future environmental shifts — and how to stop them while we still can. We just need big data tools to do the analysis.
  • Health care. Health care is a large and important segment with huge data challenges, mostly not structured or linked. It has multiple and varied stakeholders, including the pharmaceutical and medical products industries, providers, payors, and patients. Each of these has different interests and incentives, with real money to spend.
  • Social media and web data. Social media postings and e-Commerce transactions are just a couple of the sources of external data that are of great interest to many companies. Facebook now exceeds a billion users posting, the Internet has 650 million websites, and there are 200 e-Commerce items ordered every second. That’s a lot of data to analyze.
  • Automated device generated data. Another big data opportunity is the vast amount of sensor data—machine generated data—that exists and is growing at an exponential pace as more machines become internet-enabled. Examples include data generated from traffic cameras, parking meters, toll collection, and black boxes in airplanes.
  • Scientific research in overdrive. Data has long been the cornerstone of scientific discovery, and with big data — and the big computing power necessary to process it — research can move at an exponentially faster clip. The Human Genome Project, which took 13 years, could now be completed in hours. There are many more waiting.
  • Global personal location tracking. Processing personal location data is a domain that includes child safety, law enforcement, tracking terrorists, and travel planning. The data generated are growing quickly, reflecting the burgeoning adoption of smart phones and other applications. This domain is a hotbed of innovation for startup opportunities.
  • Global manufacturing. Manufacturing is a global industry with complex and widely distributed value chains and a large amount of data available. This domain therefore offers opportunities at multiple points in the value chain, from bringing products to market and research and development (R&D), RFID tracking, to after-sales services.
  • Data is the new weapon of defense. The traditional battlefield has dissolved into thin air. In the Big Data era, information is the deadliest weapon and leveraging massive amounts of it is this era’s arms race. But current military tech is buckling under the sheer weight of data collected from satellites, unmanned aircraft, and intercepted messages.
  • Public sector administration. The public sector is another large part of the global economy facing tremendous pressure to improve its productivity. Governments have access to large pools of digital data but have hardly begun to take advantage of the powerful ways in which they could use this information. Much change is needed here.

Written by Martin Zwilling
Adapted from Big Data is Getting Bigger as a Startup Opportunity

Ways to Simplify a Concept

We live in a world ruled by information. Much of our lives are involved with the consumption of information from newspapers, meetings, email, billboards, television, the internet, and more. Our minds become so full of information that the words become noise. We feel tired from the constant demand on our attention at work, at home, and on the weekends.

Less is more. Clarity is more. Personally, when I am hit with a lot of information, my mind shuts off and I move on to the next thing. To be heard and understood, it is vital to keep things simple.

The ability to simplify any concept is an incredibly valuable skill in this information rich society. Not only is conciseness a vital skill in business, but in any and all communication. It demonstrates clarity of thought. It allows you to communicate information and ideas to be easily digested and understood.

But how do we distill information down to just the most important parts? David Margolis is an expert at simplifying information. I recently asked him, “What are your suggestions to becoming a master at distilling information?” Here are the most important points from that conversation:

1. Find the Pattern

Make a habit to look for patterns in words and pictures. For example, if you picked up a copy of a new magazine, you will not notice any patterns apart of its style consistency. But if you saw the last 12 copies of the same magazine, you will start to notice patterns.

2. Capture the Essence

Pick out the main points and key principles. Try reading 100 pages of a book and pretend that you had to explain it to a large audience, in only a few sentences. This is a good practice to help simplify your thoughts. I do this with every personal development book I read. After each chapter, write down one sentence that clearly exemplifies and captures the meaning of the chapter.

3. Ask Questions

Be proactive as you read or listen by asking yourself questions. Some example questions might be:
a. What are the most important points here?
b. What is the author trying to say?
c. What are the conclusions?

4. Find What Jumps Out

Take note of what leaps off the page. Be sensitive to and feel what resonates with you. What would you highlight if you had a highlighter? What points do you feel will be helpful to know and valuable to pass on? What were the ‘ah-hah!’ moments you experienced while reading it?

5. Consume More Information

I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but the more information we consume, the better get at filtering for what truly matters. Similar to finding patterns, this one is more to do with practice. Here’s what David said:

Read voraciously, listen to audio books and attend conferences – after a while you’ll start to notice the same messages filtering through everyone’s book or talk – those are the most important points – the ones that universally keep cropping up.
When I read my first book about the law of attraction, 100% of the info was new to me. The next book I read, 80% of the material was new. The next one I read, 60% of the information was new. These days only 2-5% of the info is new. You know the key information and supporting info and while we’re always open to learning – there’s a shift from books to real life experiences that help to apply the theory.

Written by Tina Su
Adapted from Think Simple Now, 5 Keys to Simplifying Any Concept

Image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some Advice on Developing Your Idea

When I started on the entrepreneurial journey over two years ago, I had this naive notion that I could do everything on my own and that I needed to keep my ideas a secret.

Three websites and a startup incubator program later, I learned some lessons I wish I knew at the beginning as an entrepreneur.

1. An idea is worth nothing.

A company consists of many moving parts at any point in time — an idea is simply a starting point. Given an idea, it snowballs into many different ones and you can go in a 100 different direction. The outcome depends on many variables, akin to what makes predicting the weather an inexact science. Imagine you have an idea for a building — the HOW, WHERE, and the CONTEXT are much more important than the WHAT. It’s very easy to have ideas — you can have hundreds of ideas a week.

There are almost seven billion people in the world. The chance that your idea is original is virtually
zero.

This is why an investor will never fund a startup simply based on an idea, but examine other factors such as the team (ability to execute), the competition, and early traction. In fact, some investors don’t consider anything else except for traction (# of users, paying subscribers, etc.).

When a company becomes successful, you often hear people say “I had that idea too!” But that’s like saying “I had the idea for building a resort in Vegas too!” Share your ideas and find that others will shed a different light and foster new ideas to lead to something you haven’t thought of. It’s people, not ideas, which make a successful company.

2. Don’t fall in love with your ideas or your product.

If you’re looking for funding, traction is everything (unless you have built a successful company before). Investors could care less about your product as they see thousands of them every month. They do care about your product, indirectly, through traction.

Ideas are not worth anything, and being able to build things is not enough. So don’t worry about adding features and making them perfect. Keep launching and see how the features “take.” As Thomas Edison said, “Vision without execution is [delusion].”

3. Maintain optimism and patience, but be wary of unrealistic expectations.

Entrepreneurs start out on our ventures because we think we have a good chance of succeeding. We hear of many stories of perseverance and success like those of Tony Hsieh of Zappos and of AirBnb and think that if we persevere, we will succeed like they did.

However, there are about 20 failures for every success story. We never hear about the failures. Beware of false encouragement. People are skittish about telling their acquaintances that their significant others suck. Same goes with startups. Take a moment every so often to step back and reflect so you see a better bigger picture of how much users like it and where your startup is going.

Written by Stella Huh
Adapted from 9 Startup Lessons Learned From a Serial Entrepreneur, published in Women 2.0

Click here for a few more startup lessons from Stella about being an entrepreneur.

Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Importance of Thinking Big

Most of us get stuck in our way of thinking. We forget that what we think is not necessarily the only way to think and many times not the best way to do something. Yet it is familiar to us and we just go along with it.

Very predictable and safe. These days, this trap in thinking is a serious liability. With globalization in full-swing and competition increasing all around us, big thinking:

  • Creates powerful solutions — By shifting your way of thinking, most likely you’ll cause others around you to shift their way of thinking. The combination of which usually creates powerful solutions.
  • Creates excitement — Big thinking creates energy. Energy creates momentum towards your vision. And the combination of momentum and excitement generates more excitement and energy.
  • Attracts a big team — People love being around people with great visions of tomorrow. With your team thinking big with you, exponential results ensue.
  • Causes you to step up — Since it was your big thoughts, you are much more likely to step up and do it. The energy and excitement will feed you to make it happen.
  • Transcends the pettiness — When thinking big, the little that had been tripping you up falls by the wayside.

UnReasonable VS Unrealistic

When most people think big, they think beyond their capabilities. Nothing wrong with that unless the unrealistic thinker shuts down if/when their expectations aren’t met.

To think big and then make sure it happens requires two things:

  • Passion — Obsession of your vision. You think about it as much as you can.
  • Conviction — You absolutely know you will be successful. You may not know how, but you know you will I don’t believe that an idea would succeed if you did not know the power of your thoughts, if you were not passionate about your vision and if you were not convinced they would ultimately succeed.

The same should apply to your thinking. Now consider these ways to think big.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted from The Importance of Thinking Really Big

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ways to Think Big

I’ve talked about why it is important to think big.

Tired of thinking the same old way? Breaking out of your mindset requires being clear on what you are committed to.

1. First, get clear on what you are committed to in the area you are mentally stuck. For example, if you are not sure how to ramp up your business, get clear on what your vision is for the company. Make sure you are passionate about it and convinced you will succeed.

Those two components are absolutely necessary to be successful.

2. Next, determine what you need to make your vision happen. Resources like your team, coach, experience, time and capital.

3. From here, you build your strategy and plan. Make sure to break it into manageable segments.

4. Then get started immediately. Have your team and coach support you as you go forward. They will be crucial in helping you deal with your obstacles and unknowns.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted from The Importance of Thinking Really Big

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ways to Implement a Bold New Idea

Organizations are in serious trouble when they are not taking on bold, new ideas. A product or service can work really well when it is first introduced. But if you become complacent, you most likely quickly will end up struggling.

We call these organizations “shooting stars”. And they are everywhere, especially now. So how does one break out of this dangerous predicament?

For it is your current thinking that has gotten you exactly where you are today. All fine and good, unless you’re not happy with where you are!

What if you think beyond “reason”? Into the realm of the UnReasonable — stretching yourself beyond what you thought possible?

If you do, there is a whole new world of possibilities awaiting you. And there is an important distinction: there is a difference between being UnReasonable and being unrealistic or irresponsible in creating your bold, new goal.

Six Steps For Implementing a Bold New Idea:

  • Ask powerful questions: When you want results to happen beyond what you normally see or expect, you must reframe your thinking. For example, instead of, “How can I make money this month?”, ask “What is the fastest way to generate $10K in the next six weeks?” Your brain goes to work answering that question instead.
  • Manage limiting beliefs: These may be your blind spots or you may be well aware of them. First, ask others who know you to help you determine what trips you up. For example, you feel you are not a “numbers person” and therefore cannot keep track of your organization’s finances. Next, determine workarounds or solutions to that belief.
  • Shake the cobwebs out: Often times we’re deep in our routine. And we cannot fathom breaking out of it to a better or more-efficient way of getting it accomplished. For example, you get a coffee and perform social media posts on Facebook and Twitter for two hours each morning. To break out, assess the impact of your actions to the original purpose for doing your routine.
  • Build a support team: This is crucial for really stretching yourself. It is easier for others to see our blind spots that we don’t see for ourselves. Create your team of like-minded, committed people that are “up to” serious things in their lives will and will move mountains for you. Or contact me and I’ll get you onto one of our teams.
  • Create your strategy: Break down your bold, new idea into the three top components. Take your support team and determine fresh and innovative ways to build a powerful set of solutions for achieving what it is you want to achieve. Build a plan around this.
  • Perform Risk Analysis: Compare the magnitude of the potential consequences to the probability it will happen. Break down your bold new direction into the possible risks involved. Assign potential consequences and probabilities to them. From there create a plan to hedge or protect yourself if you decide to pursue your new, bold idea.

In the end, it really does depend on your comfort with risk. True success, no matter how you define it, is directly correlated to your stomach to risk.

Written by Stefan Doering
Adapted from Avoiding the Risk: The Opposite of an Entrepreneur

Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net