From The Startup Equation, by Ja-Nae Duane and Stephen Fisher.

You want to start a business. But out of thousands of ideas, how do you pick the right one for your business? Do you go with an obvious choice or the option that’s off to side? Sometimes those random, accidental ideas can become amazing businesses.

Take Velcro for instance. George de Mestral returned from a hunting trip and found burrs stuck to his clothing and his dog. He examined these tenacious objects under a microscope. He found binding “hooks” magically connecting the burrs to the fabric. He worked for years to perfect his discovery, and it was critical in the Apollo missions to the moon.

Of course, big ideas, accidental or not, can happen without trying, but it’s a huge mistake to gamble your business on a “maybe.” You need something more to refine and develop your BIG idea and build your own Startup Equation.

You need brainstorming.

But wait a minute. Brainstorming seems like a waste of time. How does thinking about your business lead to actually building a business?

You’d be right, except for one thing. No idea is perfect the first time around, and the quality of your idea matters. So you need to test it for weak spots, and if you don’t have an idea, you can’t exactly dive into selling and marketing your business without having something to sell and market.

You need thoughtful, tested ideas that solve a problem. That’s where brainstorming comes into play.

First, make sure you’re clear about a few things:

  1. Do you know what problem you’re trying to solve?
  2. Why does this problem still exist? Have companies tried to offer a solution or are customers not interested in paying for a solution?
  3. Based on your experiences, what would you do differently?

You may end up with a list of problems and solutions. And that’s OK for now. You can use your brainstorming session to clarify your goals.

Brainstorming can happen both individually and in groups.There’s benefits to both options. Group brainstorming creates a good environment for idea generation. But several studies suggest that individual brainstorming can lead to more and even better ideas.

For instance, going it alone means you get to avoid egos and critical opinions. But you will miss out on the the valuable input of people with different experiences than you.

To get the most from your brainstorming, try sketching out your ideas. Seeing our ideas (even if they’re stick figures) can be a powerful tool for finding answers. Beyond business ideas, you can use sketching to explore different questions like what business model to choose and how your product should look, other key elements in your personal Startup Equation.

With your big list of brainstormed ideas in hand, you can start fine tuning. What patterns do you see? If an idea seems too vague, what do you discover by asking, What if…?” Finally, make sure you’re really clear about the idea you’re trying to solve. Can you describe it in five words or less?

By this point, your idea may be taking shape. Let’s push it over the finish line and figure out your unique snowflake.

Yep, you read that right. What’s your unique snowflake?

  • Does your idea apply to a current product or service? Or does it act as a hub for other products?
  • Does your idea make it easier to for someone to try something new because it costs less or is more convenient?
  • Does your idea have competitors or are you the only one?
  • Does your idea fit into an existing market or are you creating one?
  • Does your idea change the market?

Brainstorming, fine tuning, and your unique snowflake are all about helping you get a clear vision of your BIG idea. And the better your idea at the beginning the more confident you can feel about the business you want to build. Just try it. In this case, thinking trumps doing. You never know, that accidental idea might be something that changes the world.