How are good ideas made?

Maybe it’s not money that makes the world go round. Maybe it’s ideas. Or is it both? We all know that good ideas have the potential to make money.

Richard Bartlett, a founding member of the Enspiral startup Loomio, said in a recent debate on Facebook that ideas change the world through execution.

There’s no defying the truth in that statement. I shouldn’t be surprised – Richard knows a lot about creating ideas. Loomio is essentially a tool designed to help people make group decisions and think collaboratively, from anywhere in the world.

“Ideas change the world through execution.”

As entrepreneurs, our livelihoods depend on the execution of good ideas. The execution half of the equation that solves for success is often an entirely controllable variable. If we work hard, network diligently, take risks, and practice prudence, there is a reasonable chance that we have already solved for execution.

Creating a good idea, however, is not an easily solvable variable.

As we embark on our quest to uncover life-changing ideas, it is not immediately important to map out the physical processes in our brains that are involved in fabricating a winning “lightbulb moment.” It is difficult, at times, to control a train of thought, let alone arrange patterns of communication within our brains that will create the perfect idea.

What is substantially easier to control are triggers of creative thought processes. We each have different stimuli of innovation, or places and situations that put us in a state of mind that makes it easier to envision a revolutionary concept. The sooner we individually recognise what those might be, the sooner we can begin walking down the path towards a good idea.

Watch this video by Stephen Johnson.

In his book, Stephen says that, historically speaking, most ideas that eventually led to groundbreaking inventions and discoveries were developed through the sharing and swapping of “fragments” of the concept between great minds. Although the digital age has arguably weakened our intellects by hitting us with a strange urgency to develop products and services that make us think less, that constant connectivity shows its positive side as a service that helps us to instantly share and swap particles of brilliance. Our ability to make groundbreaking discoveries is no longer limited by distance.

According to, there are generally two main ways that entrepreneurs generate ideas.

  • lateral thinking – solving problems through an indirect and creative approach. Often referred to as thinking outside the box
  • blue-sky thinking – open-minded thinking where everything is possible, and you are not restricted by realities.

There is undoubtedly a myriad of sub-categories beneath those two broad methods, but we, at New Zealand Entrepreneurs, have found that the majority of startups that we’ve had the pleasure of interviewing have sprouted from an idea that was created in the first of the two above ways.

We have also seen that those ideas are rarely taken “as is” upon conception. Most startup founders go to incubators, friends, business mentors, and other key influential people with their core idea, and that concept is then polished, reinforced, and pitched against the current market before plans to execute them are set in motion.

We are no longer thinking along the lines of “let’s make the wheel round” but rather “what is the best language to write this app in.” However, the method of creating ingenuity that was used 6,000 years ago has yet to change.

If all else fails, you can try one of these 77 (slightly comical) ways to come up with an idea, specifically numbers 47 and 69.

What have you found to be most helpful when coming up with winning ideas? Tell us in the comments.

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