Coleman Fellows

Idea Generation in Creative Entrepreneurship

Creative Entrepreneurship is a communication-centered course offered to students at Lawrence Technological University who may have never taken a business class before. This seminar-style course encourages students to think about how they can use their degree -- or their hobbies! -- to create a business.

One of the first things we tackle is idea generation. Students go through a variety of exercises designed to spark creative thinking. Some of this semester's exercises come from an excellent book coming out from Wiley by ePrize founder Josh Linkner. The book is "Disciplined Dreaming" and is well worth a read by anyone interested in techniques for brainstorming anything from new business ideas to solving a specific problem.

One brainstorming exercise is the "peanut butter and chocolate" game. The story goes that Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are a magic blend of two seemingly disparate concepts; the challenge to students is: what else can you think of in your life that is peanut butter and chocolate?

In this exercise, students will likely start with food-related ideas (particularly if, like us, the class meets right before dinnertime). They might go off toward "chips and salsa" -- but they may also identify the spork as an example. Once they start thinking about it, they can start to identify services and products that represent this peanut butter and chocolate "magic." Then students make lists of four products or services, switch lists with one another, and come up with ideas about how to combine items from their original list with items on their classmates lists. Students write a two-sentence description of four ideas, then pass that along to someone else. New list in hand, students pick their favorite and give a one-minute idea pitch.

This exercise becomes entertaining, but also instructive. One student had massage service + movie theater, so he pitched a massaging movie theater seat. That led to a great discussion about movie theater amenities that do not yet exist but could (movie theater pizza delivery was something everyone agreed they would at least consider trying).

The idea generation exercises are great for those students who do not walk into the classroom with a solid idea of what they want to work on. For students who think they know what they want to do, it's an opportunity to refine or perhaps even question their initial ideas.

Idea generation without opportunity recognition is of course useless -- but it's a great first start!