When you can’t find another head
Many of the great companies were started by multiple founders.
The electronics company Hewlett-Packard was started in a garage in Palo Alto, California by Bill Hewlett and David Packard.
The electronics company Apple was started in a garage in Los Altos, California by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
The software company Microsoft was started in a garage in Albuquerque, New Mexico by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.
The search engine Google was started in a garage in Menlo Park, California by Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
The lesson is obvious – start your company in a garage! The other lesson is that two heads really are better than one. Having someone who understands your journey and shares your ambitions to bounce ideas off is an enormous advantage.
So what is the entrepreneur who starts a business as a solo act to do?
Many of the brainstorming and ideation techniques you find on this site and elsewhere begin by saying “assemble five or six people in your organization”. That’s great except you are on your own.
Entrepreneurs are problem solvers. It’s their nature to come up with a solution and move the problem to the done column.
But! Have you found the best solution, or just the first solution?
Working in a group can prevent this but it’s just you, so give yourself time to come up with multiple solutions. Fortunately, many ideation techniques can be adapted for use by the solopreneur. The trick is to force yourself to come up with many ideas.
Ask why, and why again
When you are working on a problem alone, try to shift your thinking by moving up “the ladder” from the problem at hand by asking why this is a problem. Often the answer will beg another question, up the chain.
I recently wrote about how Houston airport made the walk to their luggage carousels from the plane longer so that by the time they reached the luggage claim they didn’t have to wait.
Imagine you are working on this problem. Why do people complain about the luggage taking too long to arrive? Because they have to wait. Why do they have to wait? Because they get to the carousel before the luggage does. Why do they get there faster? Because the route is faster.
Read and listen widely
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs was a fierce advocate for collecting new experiences. If you are stuck for an idea, reflect on the diversity of your experience and knowledge. What other places, cultures, technologies, industries, creative products can you find inspiration in to solve your problem?
Listen to podcasts, read blogs, watch Youtube to get a different perspective.
Go for a walk
In her TED Talk, behavioral and learning scientist Marily Oppezzo outlines the evidence she found that just walking on a treadmill increased the rate at which experiment participants came up with novel and appropriate ideas – whether they first walked then thought, or thought while walking.
One can speculate on why this is. It might involve increased cardiovascular activity. But it is nice to see the evidence that it really works so clearly presented.
In their paper on the subject, Oppezzo and her colleague Daniel L. Schwartz found
“Walking had a large effect on creativity. Most of the participants benefited from walking compared with sitting, and the average increase in creative output was around 60%.”
Sleep on it
Like going for a walk or reading a book, sleeping on it is a great way to bring a “different head” to the problem. In each case, you are giving the idea time to just sit in the back of your mind so you can come back to it with a different viewpoint.
I have written a lot about SCAMPER, so it should come as no surprise that I offer it as another way to tackle a problem with multiple ideas. SCAMPER and its seven different angles for looking at a problem are a great way to avoid fixating on a single solution, either as a team or as an individual.
Look outside your company of one
If you can’t find a group of people in your company, because you are the company, then the next option is to get together with other entrepreneurs in the same situation. They may not know your business as well as you do, but that might be a good thing. They will definitely have a different perspective.
I recently wrote about the growth sprint – a structured way to get a group of people to develop new ways to grow their company. I have developed a workshop that does this for solo entrepreneurs, letting business owners who normally only have their own ideas to work with exchange ideas in a productive, efficient way set up so everybody comes away with an actionable growth experiment.
If you are in the Greater Toronto Area, join us June 1st!
The next Growth Sprint Workshop is June 1st. A limited quantity of early bird tickets are on Eventbrite now. I hope to see you there!