How entrepreneurs like Branson hatch their best business innovations?

Why is it, when the latest clever business idea from a smart entrepreneur takes the world by storm, the rest of us are left thinking ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ Often, the greatest innovations are simple solutions to problems that the rest of us spend a lifetime scratching our heads and getting frustrated over.

How do entrepreneurs come up with these winning ideas, that not only work, but make them lots of money? Are they light bulb moments, or the result of longer term thinking and planning? The only way I was going to find out was to ask them.

Back in his entrepreneurial heyday, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson was a prolific innovator, and as he has often said, many of his best business ideas have been born out of frustration.

As a frequent air traveller in America, he was constantly frustrated by the terrible service offered an almost all of the domestic US carriers. The solution, he says, was to launch Virgin America, which now consistently tops customer service rankings.

But what about innovation in its basic form; have his best ideas been flashes of inspiration, or concepts nurtured over many years?

He said: “Light bulb moments make for great stories, but we can’t all be fortunate enough to come to realisations in the same manner as Sir Isaac Newton. For many, it’s a gradual awakening rather than a sudden flash of genius.

“The important thing is to do something with that instinct you have, don’t ignore it or come up with reasons why it wouldn’t work; get out there and give it a go.”

Some entrepreneurs just need the right environment for Eureka moments to occur. Others are more formulaic in they way they innovate.

Entrepreneur Niall Murphy came up with the idea for his business IoT cloud platform EVRYTHNG whilst on holiday, sitting on a veranda in Swaziland.

He said: “I’d been gathering data for a while about emerging technologies and pondering scenarios, so I had a jumble of information I’d been thinking through, but it was in the quiet zone that I was able to achieve clarity of thought. The concept of the business wasn’t a momentary idea, but that’s really where the vision resolved itself.”

However, Murphy also uses structured methods like scenario planning to identify innovation opportunities.

“These develop plausible futures ten or 15 years from now, and then I kind of think backwards to identify the innovation areas in technology, business model or application that might contribute toward that future state,” he says.

For some, entrepreneurship comes later in life, and their business ideas are less light bulb events, more concepts shaped by what has gone before.

After a hugely successful corporate career, spanning several industry sectors, global operations, and board level roles, Mark Whybrow recently gave it all up to launch his own leadership development business Engage Technique.

“Going it alone has always been on my tick list of challenges since I started my career,” he explains. “It took me a little longer to get there than expected, but I have a burning feeling of never wanting to look back and think what might have been, as well as a real hunger to see how it feels to make all the calls, not just those given to me.”

Was the transition from executive to entrepreneur the result of a Eureka moment or a slow burn?

“Definitely a slow burn. I’d looked at a few ideas, from a children’s play-barn/farm, to a deli-style shop called Real Food, which emphasised local provenance. Finally I came up with Engage-Technique, which combines working for myself with my two favourite subjects; people and leadership. It also helps that the timing for this is absolutely right, and that the risk is reduced through having a low startup infrastructure requirement.”

Some people, though, were born to be entrepreneurs; their lives perpetually linked to the cycle of business creativity, frustration, and innovation.

Stuart Miller began his first business at the age of 16 buying cufflinks for 30 pence (46 cents) and selling them for £15 ($23). At 26 he launched his first start-up Octopus, providing busy professionals with a phone-based concierge service, providing absolutely anything, from the mundane – organising cleaners and car insurance – to the ridiculous – hiring a lion for a daughter’s birthday and repairing a crocodile skin handbag.

Six years later, realising the market was too niche, Miller sold up and used the proceeds to start ByBox, today a £75 million ($116 million) B2B parcel locker business.

His most creative moments occur when he is constrained, by money, time or simply the pressure to solve something important.

“That’s when the best ideas are born,” he says. “For me, constraints are the cornerstone of creativity. It also helps when this happens in surroundings other than an office, for example, walking, cycling slowly or even drinking wine while mulling over a conundrum, and refusing to accept that something can’t be solved.

“We are wired to never, ever, ever give up. But we are also mindful of the need to ‘pivot’ our ideas in the face of failure, to refine the idea or move it to a different market.”

But how do you know which approach is right at the time and when to strike with a new idea?

“This is where an entrepreneur’s instinct is so important,” says Miller. “You need to be able to trust your own judgement, listen to what the market is really telling you, and to not expect to find the answer in a book. A successful idea comes from the ability to back yourself and commit to what you believe is right – ignore the naysayers.” Source: Forbs