how to have better ideas

How to come up with better business ideas

May 4, 2011: 3:16 PM ET

Tireless curiosity beats a high IQ every time, and learning to ask the right questions is crucial, according to a pair of new books.

By Anne Fisher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Where exactly do good ideas come from?

The word "idea" comes from the Greek idein, which means "to see." That's no coincidence. As co-authors Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer (with journalist William Bole) point out in their book, The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make Them Happen, great business ideas don't occur as bolts out of the blue.

Instead, they're usually just lying around in plain sight somewhere, waiting for someone to notice them -- like, for instance, the little scrap of lightweight material Henry Ford picked up off the ground at a racetrack in Palm Beach in 1905. A bit of debris from the wreck of a French car, "it was very light and very strong. I asked what it was made of," Ford later recalled. "Nobody knew."

The stuff turned out to be a steel alloy containing vanadium, which was not manufactured in the U.S. at the time. Ford put his best R&D team on it and, three years later, his company rolled out a more durable, lightweight line of cars that gave Ford (F) a decisive advantage in the crowded, chaotic auto market.

The Idea Hunter draws on dozens of other examples from iconic U.S. companies like Disney (DIS), Google (GOOG), Wal-Mart (WMT), and American Express (AXP) to make the point -- an encouraging one for those of us who are no geniuses -- that "curiosity…can more than make up for a lack of brilliance." (As Albert Einstein once said, "I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.") More

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