Larry's Articles

 Look for Larry's articles every Monday in the Enterprise section of the Globe & Mail.
Monday, April 12, 1999
  Look for Great ideas outside the box

A few lucky individuals are born with this capability, but most acquire it through trail and error. Great ideas come from thinking outside the box.

There are some key things to consider when looking for your great ideas. Understand that they are everywhere. But your own world view will determine which ones you can easily see. From an early age, each of us has absorbed paradigms - conceptual frameworks that determine what we believe to be acceptable.

For example, if you were brought up to believe a salesperson dresses conservatively, you may think a candidate for a sales job shouldn't be sporting casual clothes. Your paradigm does not allow for the possibility that person could be great in sales. It's the same with great ideas. They may be all around you, but your standpoint prevents you from seeing them.

Your paradigm is a kind of box that permits ideas to enter that are in line with your expectations, while other concepts are rejected. To open yourself up to all ideas, you have to think outside this box.

For example, many would-be-entrepreneurs believe their dreams of fortune lie in knowledge-based industries, such as high technology. In reality, very few high-tech companies make any money. Most entrepreneurs who achieve success do so by finding a better way to satisfy customers at a profit.

On entrepreneur realized a number of years ago that with the coming technology boom, companies would want a single place to shop for computer supplies and accessories. He build his company by satisfying one customer at a time. The business has expanded each year to current annual revenue of more than $20-million.

Here's another old paradigm to break free of - that you start your business, expand it and stay with it for the rest of your life. Most business concepts only last about 18 months. Many have a very short time span from concept to demise.

One manager perceived the need for timely delivery of information, so he created a service to provide data to clients by fax. He made a lot of money until E-mail came along and reduced his margins.

So he moved on to look at another venture. This is the pattern of most business these days. So constantly look for new opportunities and keep moving.

Fortunes can be made from mundane products. For example, one entrepreneur saw that restaurants needed a regular supply of sharp knives. Kitchen staff didn't have the time to sharpen them, or didn't do a good enough job. Now, most kitchens in that region use the entrepreneur's service, which provides sharp knives once a week. The founder saw a customer need that was not being satisfied, and figured out how to do it at a profit.

Most opportunities you find will not be far from your life's work. One hair stylist noticed his clients kept asking for tools of his trade to do it themselves. He started a company to supply beauty aids in addition to the hair styling business, and now has 10 locations.

Larry Ginsberg is co-author of Small Business, Big Money, and can be reached by E-mail at
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