After studying some of the one million business owners who use Shopify, we discovered that founders tend to fall into one of five personality types. Which one are you? Start with our quiz.
You’re a born entrepreneur, Stargazer—you just know it! So why can’t you come up with a business idea? Don’t worry, the idea is just the seed. The important work happens as you tend to and grow that idea with all of your natural entrepreneurial traits. But until the seed is planted, you might feel stuck. So how do you get unstuck and train your brain to produce great ideas?
If that one big idea is the only barrier between you and the life you’ve always wanted, roll up your sleeves. It’s time to do the work!
If that one big idea is the only barrier between you and the life you’ve always wanted, roll up your sleeves. It’s time to do the work! Ideas might strike like lightning when you least expect it. But often they need to be actively summoned with, say, meditation, a change of scenery, or structured ideation techniques.
QUIZ: Discover your entrepreneur type
How you best come up with ideas will depend on your personality type. Do you ideate effectively in groups? Are you inspired by art, nature, or books? Understanding a little more about you will allow us to unlock the best strategies to help you come up with a winning small business idea.
Take our quiz to discover your Founder Sign. Already know your Sign? Skip ahead.
How to come up with a successful business idea
Let’s be clear: no new business idea is guaranteed to be successful. But if you’re running your ideas through the right checkpoints, asking the hard questions, seeking feedback, and being open to pivoting, you have a solid chance of reaching success—whatever success means to you.
But first—the idea. We have to start with the raw ingredients before we add fire and bake them down to a refined dish. Brainstorming is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ideation, but even brainstorming takes many forms, from a solo freestyle approach to organized group sessions.
Later, we’ll discuss the different formats for more structured brainstorming exercises, but as a warm up, let’s explore some methods for limbering up our brains and releasing creativity.
10 ideation boosters for aspiring entrepreneurs
Simple routine changes in your life can kick-start a flow of ideas. Exercise, better sleep, more water—all common recommendations for whatever ails you. But taking care of your basic physical needs can have positive psychological effects like improved confidence and motivation. And you’ll need plenty of that on this journey, Stargazer.
Try these ideation techniques, life hacks, and simple exercises to give your brain a boost and come up with new business ideas:
1. Break your routine 📆
Shake up your usual routine by taking a new route to work, eating outside rather than at your desk, or doing something new on a Saturday night. A rigid routine might keep you productive, but it’s easy to move through it on auto-pilot, missing out on inspiration.
2. Chill out 🌞
There won’t be any vacancy for those fresh ideas if your mind is booked solid with other concerns. Carve out time that’s dedicated to self care, whether for you that’s swinging in the hammock or getting absorbed in hobbies.
3. Doodle 🖍
Think of this as completely unstructured visual brainstorming. Just start drawing and let your page fill with scribbles, words, and images that flow from your mind. Don’t judge your drawing ability—this exercise is meant to spark creativity.
4. People-watch and observe new surroundings 👓
Be present and take a look around you. Park yourself on a public bench or on the patio of a café you’ve never visited before and take note of what and who you see. Observing how people interact with their surroundings might spark an idea that solves a problem.
5. Meet and engage with new people 🤝
Gain energy from people with different perspectives and run ideas by new friends. Join entrepreneur social groups to engage with folks who are keen to swap ideas and give/get feedback. You might even meet your future business partner this way!
6. Consume content and culture 📺
Read books, listen to audio books or podcasts, watch documentaries, or try a new album or genre of music. Whatever your medium, get inspired by other creators. Don’t limit yourself to just business content—even fiction stimulates creative thinking.
7. Try journaling 📕
Ideas might strike you in the middle of a dream or a bike ride. Get in the habit of jotting them down to revisit later, even if you don’t have the time to fully flesh them out in the moment. If writing doesn’t come naturally to you, try a journal with structured sections, questions, or exercises.
8. Ask for feedback 🎤
Don’t live in a vacuum. As you start to come up with a few ideas, workshop them with friends or people who would fit the description of your potential customer.
9. Test half-baked ideas 📈
If you’re having trouble validating your ideas on paper, what if you tested them out through a prototype or beta version of your idea, shared with a select testing group. Informal polls or surveys on social media might help confirm your idea’s viability.
10. Meditate 🧘♂️
This is “Chill out 2.0.” Mindfulness has been shown to improve divergent thinking (that is, using a free-flowing creative process to explore multiple idea paths). There are plenty of resources, from apps to guided meditation podcasts, that can help you truly access the power of mindfulness.
Structured brainstorming and ideation exercises for great business ideas
Now that we’re limber, let’s start the workout. Formal brainstorming techniques can help squeeze out more startup ideas now that your brain is primed for creativity. Whether you opt for a solo practice or a formal exercise with a group, try these methods of brainstorming at any stage—from coming up with a business idea to growing your dream even bigger:
Classic brainstorming (verbal)
In its most widely accepted format, brainstorming is the process of throwing out any and all ideas unfiltered. Participants call out words or thoughts verbally then engage in conversation to help each other build on ideas. You can set your own rules for the session (like time limits) but the fewer restraints, the more vast the ideas. If you have a lot of people or an imbalance of voices, try a round-robin approach, where each person around the table must submit at least one idea in sequence.
Brainwriting is similar to the verbal version but is done silently, on paper. This method may be preferable if you are in a larger group—that way all voices have equal opportunity to be heard. You can use Post-it notes to gather ideas, then discuss as a group. Other variations on silent brainstorming to investigate are: brain netting (online version using a tool like Miro), rapid ideation (lightning round), or method 6-3-5 (timed and structured).
Formal brainstorming techniques can help squeeze out more startup ideas now that your brain is primed for creativity.
Storyboarding is a visual method of brainstorming that you may use in the latter part of your ideation journey. Say you’ve come up with a great startup idea, you’ve gathered feedback, and you’re ready to flesh out that idea. You can use a storyboard to illustrate scenarios or situations that apply to your idea or work through solving a problem via narrative. Also try other visual methods of brainstorming, such as vision boarding or mood boarding.
Mind mapping (visual/written)
Mind mapping is a brainstorming format that is great for solo ideation. It involves writing the central idea or theme at the centre of a page then “mapping” word associations off of that idea. You can then continue to branch out additional word associations from each of those spin-off ideas. This exercise can also be done in a group using a whiteboard or online whiteboarding tool.
Bring your big idea to life and try Shopify free for 14 days
Ideation strategies for every Founder Sign
Now that we’ve overloaded you with tips for how to ideate, let’s discover which ones work best for you, based on your entrepreneur personality.
👟 Skip to your sign:
Feature sign: The Trailblazer
No shortage of ideas here, Trailblazer! You’re full of them. Where you might stumble is focusing on just one or doing the work to validate that idea beyond your passion for it. For you, ideating in a group is ideal, because you could use voices of reason to balance your gut instincts.
How to come up with a business idea as a Trailblazer
Ideation techniques picked just for your personality type:
Warm up your brain for ideation by engaging in activities that improve your focus, say guided meditation or a brisk walk in fresh air.
Seek feedback at every stage. Tap into your community to share your ideas widely and use outside perspectives to help shape and hone your ideas. Be sure to share early—if you fall too deeply in love with an idea, you may have a hard time hearing constructive criticism.
Try visual brainstorming techniques like mood boarding, mind mapping, or storyboarding that let you express yourself creatively.
Ideation is hard for you, Outsider, because you like to operate within a strict routine. Inside the bubble you’ve created for yourself, it may be challenging to gather inspiration. Pushing outside of your comfort zone will expose you to creative stimuli and help shake off the brain dust. But first, you have to be open to new ideas. Therein lies your biggest challenge.
How to come up with a business idea as an Outsider
Get unstuck and open your mind to new ideas by trying these techniques, handpicked for you:
Try a more structured brainstorming approach that prompts you with set questions rather than a brain dump style which may be too overwhelming.
- Get out of your comfort zone. Even baby steps like breaking routine or visiting a new restaurant can bring inspiration into your life.
- As a lone wolf, ideating in a group may be uncomfortable for you. Instead, seek outside perspectives through online surveys or send partly fleshed out ideas or a skeleton business plan to trusted friends and family for their asynchronous feedback.
What’s your North Star, Mountaineer? What’s that one big idea that has your undivided attention? Chances are, you’ve already found it and you’re pushing toward it with pure, uninterrupted dedication. If not, you might be feeling a little lost right now. You’re driven by goals that you map the rest of your life around. So let’s find that one big thing, shall we?
How to come up with a business idea as a Mountaineer
Discover your true calling through these ideation techniques picked just for you:
Call on your most trusted allies—ideally a group of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives and who are confident enough to challenge your ideas. Bounce ideas in an informal brainstorm or organize a structured session.
Expand your circles. Seek out new experiences, travel, and meet new people. Expose yourself to situations that inspire and spark ideas.
- Devour media of all kinds—go to a gallery, start a new book, follow online creators. Soak up creativity from work that influences you.
Ideas? You’re dripping with them, Firestarter. If we know you, you’re probably chasing down half a dozen of them right now. Ideas are what drive you, so you’re not looking to nail yourself to just one. Leave that to the Mountaineers. For you, finding deep pools of inspiration, ideas, and collaboration is where you’ll thrive. So where are they?
How to come up with a business idea as a Firestarter
Try these methods for gathering ideas, picked for your personality type:
- Get out there. You are nothing if not the life of the party and the center of the action. Surround yourself with folks like yourself who inspire friendly competition, but also seek out counterpoints. Healthy debate with those who think differently will only strengthen your ideas.
- Don’t settle on just one. Narrow your ideas to the most promising and put them into practice. The best ones will reveal themselves through trial and error.
- When you’re ready to grow a business idea, formal brainstorming exercises with a group can help supercharge the ideation process.
You’re equipped with all of the qualities to lead a productive ideation session, Cartographer. Your attention to detail and ability to examine all angles tend to produce iron-clad ideas. Where you falter is in letting go. Being too rigid at this stage of the process might cause you to miss truly creative and wild ideas. Early in the ideation process, don’t worry too much about the fine detail—we’ll get to that part later.
How to come up with a business idea as a Cartographer
Try these ideation strategies picked just for Cartographers like you:
- As a creative, you probably already know what inspires you and your work. But as a creature of habit, you may find that you revisit those same sources over and over. Eventually, you’ll deplete those resources. Read a book by a new author, try a film genre that you don’t normally watch, and crowdsource some new podcast recommendations from your friends.
- Solo mind mapping is a great exercise for Cartographers because it marries creativity and structure.
- Validate your idea. After gathering inspiration and landing on a new business idea, it’s time to give it shape. Market research, informal focus groups, or surveys can help you gather qualitative and quantitative data to support your sharp instincts.
If you’ve yet to determine your Founder Sign, take our quiz, then sign up for our newsletter. The Founder’s Zodiac runs every month and offers up advice and relevant content curated just for your type.
Illustrations by by Alice Mollon