Do you ever feel you need more ideas? Given the ever-increasing pace of change, ideas are essential for your business to thrive. Even though money doesn’t grow on trees, the next great idea that could lead to increased profitability just might.
What is this magical tree that bears ideas as its fruit? It’s called a concept tree, and smart business people have been growing them for decades.
The concept tree is a powerful, visual idea generation technique that is particularly useful when you want to leverage current ideas to generate many more or when initial ideas are too general and not actionable.
To successfully use the concept tree technique, you first have to differentiate between concepts and ideas.
A concept is a general approach or thought about the outcome that you desire. They are categories that can hold more than one idea. Concepts tend to be non-specific and are not actionable.
For example, promoting your business is a concept. It is not actionable as stated without referencing one or more ideas.
In contrast, an idea is a specific way of doing something and is actionable. In the above example, mailing flyers, having a website and advertising on television are all ways of promoting your business. They are ideas.
Assuming you have a clear outcome identified, the first step in creating your tree is to write down your initial thoughts on the subject. Then, categorize those thoughts as either concepts or ideas. For each thought ask: is this thought actionable and just one example of something else?
If so, it is likely an idea. If it is not actionable or specific, it may be a concept.
Next, develop one or more concepts from your initial ideas and one or more ideas for each of your initial concepts. You can develop new concepts by asking: this idea is one way of doing, or one example of, what? You can develop new ideas by asking: what are other ways of doing, or examples of, this concept?
After you have developed additional concepts, develop more ideas for each of those concepts. You can repeat the last two steps until you have generated enough ideas.
Applying the technique to our example above, let’s assume that the desired outcome is a 15 percent increase in next quarter’s sales over the previous year.
We have already identified and categorized one initial concept, promoting your business, and three initial ideas, mailing flyers, having a website and advertising on television. Additional ideas that are examples of promoting your business are sending out text message coupons or an email newsletter.
But what about the initial ideas of mailing flyers, having a website and advertising on television? Of what other concepts are they examples? They all could be ways of brand development.
Brand development is a distinct concept. Ideas for brand development might include training your staff to provide excellent customer service, using a consistent logo and color palette on all marketing materials and sponsoring community service events.
Sponsoring community service events is also an example of community engagement, another distinct concept. Additional ideas for community engagement include holding a company volunteering day and offering job shadowing opportunities to local college and high school students.
Do you see what happened? The initial list of three ideas has grown to ten ideas after only two iterations of the technique. After you are satisfied with the number of ideas generated, you can then evaluate them to see which ones will help produce your desired outcome.
For a visual of how you would draw the example concept tree, go to http://tinyurl.com/ltl6fyr.
Jason Anderson is director of the Georgia Southern University Small Business Development Center. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anderson, Jason (2013, October 14). Small business: Money doesn’t grow on trees, but ideas can. Business in Savannah. Retrieved from http://businessinsavannah.com/bis/2013-10-14/small-business-money-doesnt-grow-trees-ideas-can#.UmgTUCbD-71