When looking for an idea, I am very fond of lateral applications, which I define as taking a concept in a sector or geography and applying it to another sector or geography where it is not yet being successfully applied.
In my own example, having experienced how modern trade practices had evolved in the West helped me anticipate what probable evolution the trade in Russia could experience. Some problems that were bound to emerge as they started moving towards international standards were the need to simplify communication between supermarket buyers and their suppliers (they were still using phone and fax), to automate order placements directly from computer to computer by using standard EDI messaging, to improve the timeliness and accuracy of transactions, to optimize the tracking of stocks…
At the same time, I could see how similar problems had been solved in other industries like the commodity sector by implementing automated auction solutions between parties.
All these considerations may seem quite technical and hermetic when applied to a field that you do not know, but they can be quite powerful in your domain of expertise.
You could apply the same approach to your own industry. What are the problems faced by actors in your sector of activity? Is there a practice being used somewhere that is not implemented in your region? What about a solution from a different sector that could be transposed to yours?
As another example of lateral thinking, I will mention a project I started in 2007 when I was already a ‘home dad’ in Spain and was looking for a part-time project. I searched the list of the 500 most valuable websites in the US to see if I could transpose one of them to Spain. After eliminating the brand-centered projects that could not be easily copied and the projects that were capital-intensive, I noticed there were two e-retailers of contact lenses among the top 500 US websites. Interesting, isn't it?
Contact lenses are good e-retail products: they are high-value items, light to ship, and periodically purchased. At the time there was no major player in Spain, and I launched a contact lens e-commerce website.
The website represented a small investment and quickly gained traction with consumers. It was a good idea. Positioning oneself early represented a great financial opportunity for an exit or merger… but not for me. I had not realized the full extent of the consequences of being an e-retailer of physical products. It automatically impacts your free time because of imperative and time-sensitive logistics.
These problems can be solved once you reach a critical mass, but I was not willing to commit to another transition period. That was not my goal after all. I ended up selling the company to a larger internet operator. I did not make a profit but recovered my investment and learned the valuable lesson that I needed to add another requirement to my ideal business model: to only deal with virtual products!
·Since I became a digital nomad changing location every 2 to 3 weeks, my ability to transpose new business ideas has greatly expanded. It’s not that I am more creative or smarter, but I have been exposed to many new concepts from other parts of the world.
·For example, when I visited Japan, I was surprised by the number of food products flavored with matcha green tea. It is everywhere. They have matcha Kit Kat, matcha Oreo cookies, and matcha popcorn... Do you think that an e-commerce website only selling green tea-based products and carrying these types of unusual items could represent a business opportunity in Europe now that the green trend is expanding?
You cannot travel to Taiwan without noticing the number of bubble tea shops. They are extremely popular with younger crowds. Their operation is very simple and requires very low investment. Don’t you think the product could be appealing in the West? Some entrepreneurs have already jumped on the bandwagon, but the landscape still has a lot of open spaces.
And when you go to the USA and see food trucks all over, do you ever wonder when they will enter other markets in a significant way?
You do not have to go so far to generate ideas. It is about looking around and wondering why it does not exist in your hometown. Do you like French fries? Everybody does! So why is it that French fries shops are mainly found in Belgium? Why aren’t there any in many cities? What would it take to open a shop… or create a franchise near you?
One lateral thinking practice that has proven quite successful for me is to visit a bookstore every week. I only spend 30 minutes and quickly go through the table of content of a few business books. Just from this table and maybe a page or two, I will get the gist of the book and I try to apply the concept to my world and in areas that the author may not even have thought about.
As an example, I once saw a book about 40 small business ideas. Just from the back cover, I gathered that the author had traveled around the world for a year and collected 40 unusual business ideas.
Now I could have read the book, but did I need the fluff that characterizes so many business books (that's why I write in bullet points 😂)? Just from the table of content, I could quickly get the type of ideas he covered. I could also take the idea of traveling around and apply it to other topics. Would it be interesting for someone to attend one or two TEDx talks every month and report on their learning? What about covering something original in your area of interest across geographies? How many people do that? Or what about a similar survey of small businesses in your city that you would compare with other cities? The possibilities are endless. There has not been a time when I left a bookstore without a new idea or technique to explore further in my life. These 30 minutes always expand my horizons.
TRAVEL UPDATE - STAGE 7
Distance: 16.4 km
Cumulative Elevation: 437 m
Time: 3.5 hours
Weather: Cloudy / Windy