How To Come Up With Clever Business Ideas

In one of his comedy routines, the late George Carlin used to say: “Nail two things together that have never been nailed together before and some schmuck will buy it.”


I’m sure Carlin didn’t realize it, but his statement was actually revealing part of the secret to coming up with clever business ideas. If we add one simple phrase to what he said, the secret becomes more clear.

“Nail two things together that have never been nailed together before and, if it delivers value, someone will buy it.”

The trick is attracting enough people for whom this new idea provides value to make the whole enterprise profitable. But that’s a whole other topic. For now, we’re going to talk about how to come up with clever business ideas:

New business ideas don’t necessarily need to involve a completely new product, as Carlin’s quote might suggest to some. In fact, more often than not, profitable new businesses are created around ideas that improve upon some product or service that already exists.

The way to come up with those ideas is to ask questions. But you have to ask the right kinds of questions – questions that spur innovation. Here’s a list of some questions you might ask in relation to your chosen industry or area of interest:

  1. What are some of the rules and assumptions that the industry I’m exploring currently operates under?
  2. What if the opposite were true?
  3. What are the buying criteria of an ideal customer today?
  4. What will be the buying criteria of an ideal customer three to five years down the road?
  5. What are my “unshakable” beliefs about what my prospective customers want?
  6. What could shake those beliefs?
  7. Who might use my product in ways I never anticipated?
  8. How can I use that knowledge to improve existing products or create new ones?

These questions might seem a little nebulous to you, or not quite applicable to your particular industry or area of interest. That’s okay. The list isn’t intended to be all inclusive. Rather, it’s intended to get your own innovative juices flowing so you can start to develop your own questions – questions that are applicable to your industry or area of interest.

As you work on developing your own list of questions, it’s best to:

  1. Do so over an extended period of time rather than in one brainstorming session, although that’s a good place to start.
  2. Keep a list on your mobile device or a small paper notebook that you can carry with you for a few days or weeks, adding questions as they come to you.

Developing these questions will help you to think more outside the box. As you ponder these questions, you’ll begin to imagine and explore business possibilities that may not even exist yet. That’s an exciting prospect.


If you enjoyed this article, you may also want to check out these others:

A Quick Guide to Sparking Conversation Online
Creating for a Living: How to Infuse Your Life and Work with Innovation
How to Use Social Media to Grow Your Business
Rookie Social Networking Failures and How to Avoid Making Them
How to Get Business Referrals at Face-To-Face Networking Events
4 Ways To Grow Your Business Using LinkedIn
How To Amp Up Your Visibility With Facebook
4 Ways Business Blogging Helps Build Trust In Your Business
Grow Your Business With Email Marketing


This article is published by Will Sherwood | The Sherwood Group |Website Design | Graphic Design | Marketing Communications: The Sherwood Group has over 30 years of experience working with all sorts of companies, small and large. Our clients range from entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 firms, in nearly every business sector, from across the street to around the world (and yes, even Europe, China, and South America). Our goal is to create advertising,  graphic design, website design, and marketing communication that still looks fresh and relevant 10-15 years later. Our mission is to stir your imagination and leave your competition shaken and wondering,  Now what do we do?”  We are located in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

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  • By Alija Balta 13 Aug 2014

    I would like to say: Have you thought about starting a new project. The project brings money. That is, the idea is the most important, and then its implementation. Since I’m a freelancer, so works.

  • By Eleanore Strong 16 Aug 2014

    Nice one! Love the Carlin quote – he said so many funny things that were totally spot-on. 🙂 That’s basically how I developed my Avatar Discovery Course – there are tons of courses that teach marketing, but they all presuppose that you already have customers. I saw an opportunity to teach how to nail your “ideal customer profile” before you even have a business – plus how to use the tech tools that you need to make it happen. The feedback I’ve gotten so far is that people haven’t seen anything like this before! 😉