by Nikos Acuna, author of “Mindshare: Igniting Creativity and Innovation Through Design Intelligence“
Millennials have a unique collaborative skillset. They are bright, eager, and are passionate about being successful. They are tech-savvy, creative, conscious about their health and the environment, and they are extremely social, often having many overlapping concentric circles. Some employers would criticize Gen-Y for not having enough focus to excel in careers that require tenacity and the discipline to see projects through to the end. This perspective perhaps comes from the assumption that millenials are unsure of their career path, so they tend to float around from job to job, lacking the stick-to-it-iveness that hardcore entrepreneurs need to be successful. But this is a false assumption.
Brazen Gen-Y careerists could actually make the diverse variety of their interests work for them. All they need to do is build a platform through which they can express their ideas, explore the enterprises that interest them, and collaborate with as many people as possible — which often leads to lucrative opportunities. Here are seven ways millennials can leverage their skills while learning how to build something meaningful.
Assemble a list of companies that inspire you.
Influence and imitation is the key to innovation. The key is to bring together ideas from your favorite brands, companies, and products. There’s a reason why these products help define your lifestyle and identity. What is it about these brands that move you in meaningful ways? If you could create a similar product to solve a problem what would it be? This doesn’t just apply to thinking up new business ideas, this also works for solving major business challenges.
In his book “Borrowing Brilliance: The Six Steps to Business Innovation by Building on the Ideas of Others“, David Kord Murray posits that in order to create, first you have to copy. You can solve business challenges by utilizing solutions that have worked in other industries to approach similar problems. “You build your idea on a foundation of well-defined problems. Once defined, you borrow ideas from places with a comparable problem. You start close to home by borrowing from your competitors, then you venture farther by borrowing from other industries, and finally you travel out- side of business and look for ideas with that problem in the scientific, entertainment, or artistic worlds,” Murray writes.
Write up a brand vision.
Got a list of the companies and brands that move you? Do you understand why these brands are meaningful to you? Then it’s time to think big. All big ideas have small beginnings. But it’s about getting you out of your head and getting these ideas on paper. Every great idea starts with a vision. More importantly, what you need the means to shape that vision. Shaping a vision starts with a rough draft. Don’t be afraid to put bad ideas on the table. Like the prolific author and marketer, Seth Godin wites—“You will never have good ideas if you can’t think of bad ones first.” But you have to put your fingers to work.
Wireframe the website you always wanted to build. Draw and model the user experience from end to end. What are the goals of your project? Draft a business plan with rough notes. It’s okay if you don’t have every detail fleshed out yet. The details will come only after you give structure to your thoughts. The key is to externalize. Don’t keep your ideas in your head. You will find that all of your breakthrough ideas happen when you are working to get them out into the real world, and refine them through a process of iteration.
Step away from it all.
Brainstorming and externalizing ideas can be exhausting. Now is the time to leave room for your unconscious mind to do the work for you. Once you get away from the project at hand, you’ll be blessed with an idea while you’re relaxing or partying. Yes — it’s more than okay to enjoy yourself. Mix and mingle with friends. Catch a thought-provoking movie. Take a long walk. Work out. All of these activities increase the likelihood of you coming up with good ideas worth pursuing.
According to Teresa Amabile in “How to Kill Creativity“, “Indeed, plodding through long dry spells of tedious experimentation increases the probability of truly creative breakthroughs. So, too, does a work of style that uses ‘incubation,’ the ability to set aside difficult problems temporarily, work on something else, and then return later with a fresh perspective.”
After a stimulating diversion through incubation, the serial entrepreneur has stoked her creative bonfire and combined the best ideas to create new visions. Now she uses this energy and gets back to work. At this juncture the problem is well defined. Ideation has already taken you in many possible directions. You will start to see the instinctual path. You’ve also explored all available resources — financial, human, and technological. You may have already achieved results or created previous prototypes that have failed quickly to get to the next breakthrough.
Get it into the hands of early beta testers. Use your friends, your family, or your parents. Get your product in the hands of your idea customers. A ripe market is waiting for you to conquer it with your innovation. Getting feedback for your ideas is the key at this stage.
Combine and refine the platform you’ve created.
Once you’ve launched your initial prototype and garnered detailed feedback from your beta-testers, it’s time to get back to work. Now is a good time to start pruning bad ideas and implementing optimal ones. If you aren’t sure if an idea is good or bad, put it on the back burner. Ideas on the back burner can be revisited later or used for reference to measure against other new ideas. You can always recycle and cultivate an idea later — as long as you are meticulous about organizing your ideas to deliver the desired results.
Magic happens when you start to integrate the various ideas into something new that specifically addresses the problem you’ve set out to solve. After letting acquired knowledge simmer and launching like madmen, experienced entrepreneurs begin to combine and refine their ideas. Serial producers cultivate them by writing an outline with detailed bullets for each good idea — taking it to the next level while tossing what’s not working. The critical factor here is that you need to have a strong understanding of what success looks like. This usually comes in some form of customer satisfaction. Then go back to redefining the challenge. Ask more questions and explore how your quality ideas directly affect resolving the challenges you or your customers wish to overcome. Diversification is the key to ideation.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Do it all over again, but this time, mix up the order in which you execute the process. After going through the entire process once in sequence, it’s recommended to mix steps. Varying the process often amplifies creative output. Allowing ideas to lead the way, letting them flow into new designs, is the nature of how the creative instinct works. Having an awareness of this process ignites your productivity, your passion, and focuses your vision into a mission that will define your career path.
Nikos Acuña is a creativity and innovation specialist, operations and marketing executive, media strategist, and entrepreneur. He is currently the SVP of operations and marketing at digitaladtech, a digital platform innovation company that connects brands and media companies with audiences in meaningful ways. He is also the creative director of Nioverse Media — a creativity, innovation, and design company.