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How to Become an IDEA Leader

October 16, 2012

Every small business needs to have a steady stream of new ideas to stay ahead of the pack.

You need new ideas to push your small business forward, but where do these ideas come from? New ideas can come from TV, a conversation in the lunch room, a magazine article, or chatting with the person who serves you your morning coffee. In other words, anywhere and everywhere, according to a insightful book that’s been recently published.

The best ideas people have often aren’t their own. These people know how to take good ideas and repurpose them to help push their own company forward, say the authors of The Idea Hunter. Also, the best ideas aren’t necessarily new, they’re a combination of old ideas and current ideas, they argue.

Andy Boynton, Dean of Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, and Bill Fischer, a professor at the Swiss business school IMD, studied what made some of the best business leaders and most creative companies in the world tick and distilled what they’d learned into principles that can be understood and executed by anyone running a company.

Their book explodes the myth that innovation is all about creative genius. Becoming a great idea hunter is a skill that can be learned and practiced by anyone, its authors say. “We started with the belief that habits and behaviors are more important than sheer brain power, that it’s not the brightest who perform the best, but it’s people who have figured out how to really prosper in an idea-rich society,’ Fischer said in an interview with Inc. “What we realized was that they were not only good at getting ideas, but they were really good at infecting other people with their ideas, spreading those ideas through an organization.”

The authors came up with the acronym I-D-E-A to explain the attributes necessary to be a good idea hunter:

• You have to be Interested and curious;

• You need to have a Diverse set of sources from which you get your ideas;

• You have to hunt for ideas Every day;

• You need to be Agile.

The key trait that’s required is open-mindedness, not imagination. Staring at a blank sheet of paper waiting for a eureka moment isn’t going to get you the next big idea. You need to create a collaborative culture within your company where people feel free to voice ideas, no matter how crazy they seem, and where you can all sit down and kick around an idea to see if you can make it work in your business.

The key message (and an empowering one for the 99% of us who aren’t geniuses) is that when it comes to ideas the smartest guys in the room aren’t necessarily just working on their own.