Many people dream of having their own successful business. Such dreams are much more likely to be filled with visions of innovative solutions for common problems that negatively affect and annoy people than with plans for effectively leading exercise classes, refilling vending machines, or assembling sandwiches, tasks that are core activities for so many small businesses.

I don’t think that so much focus on inventiveness is due to potential business owners being unwilling to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. An impulse to innovate often comes instead from being inspired by perceiving a mental image of the way business “should” be done, joyously anticipating the elimination of what’s deficient and irritating about how an important activity functions.

What kind of thing do I have in mind? Well, almost everyone is seeking ways to save time, money, energy, and effort. Take the waste out of whatever is being done, and you can almost always provide such benefits.

Here are some ways to develop your successful innovation:

1. Look for common problems to solve that will always need improved solutions to reduce harmful effects and annoyances.

2. Determine which problems are and will probably continue to be of greatest value and interest to potential customers and those they serve.

3. If you don’t find a promising-enough opportunity, engage in work that will permit you to gain a deeper understanding of the problems and priorities of those who typically pay for solutions, as well as the various methods by which solutions could be crafted.

4. Learn how to organize whatever business activities are needed to deliver desirable solutions.

5. Launch your business when substantial improvements can be provided that potential customers will immediately want to use.

Let’s consider what’s involved in such a mental process to illustrate lessons you can use for starting a successful business. Imagine that you’ve just noticed some highly inefficient activity, and you are now fascinated by crafting a better solution.

I had just such an experience last night that wasted a lot of time. While waiting for a streetcar on a jammed platform following a major event, I noticed that the transit authority was only sending through streetcars for routes that almost no one needed. While hundreds waited for a “D” streetcar, nine “A,” “B,” “C,” and “E” cars came through. In all but one case, just a few people got on these nine streetcars.

I quickly grasped the source of the problem: the dispatching of streetcars was following a schedule rather than seeking to minimize the delay for waiting passengers. Along with everyone else who had been waiting for over a half hour on the platform, I wished the transit authority was using a better system.

I soon thought of one possible solution: install a message board containing a camera that would allow the dispatcher to ask those on the platform to indicate which routes they needed. After seeing the responses the dispatcher could shift which routes were run to reduce the waiting times. The capital cost to do this would probably be a few thousand dollars, and hundreds of thousands of people annually would see their waits reduced by more than 90 percent.

If the transit authority couldn’t afford to make the necessary investment, I could install such a system, rent it for a few hundred dollars a year per station, and train their personnel to use a different dispatch process. If the authority could afford it and would be willing to make the equipment investment, I could design the equipment and provide the training.

That’s what I mean by imagining a business from the perspective of solving a common problem that annoys and negatively affects people. From this single example a budding entrepreneur could next think about all the situations where there’s no way now to adjust supplies of goods and services to shifts in customer needs, and then develop ways to provide low-cost, effective solutions through better information-gathering.

Now let’s consider this problem-solving process from a larger perspective. You’ve probably eaten dinner with people who have told you similar stories. They had spotted a problem and conceived of a more efficient alternative. Some of your companions may have even mentioned that they would like to start businesses to provide their solutions.

Despite such good intentions you probably also found that the problems remained unimproved for many years. Why? Most of the people who see potential solutions for problems never do anything about designing and putting actual solutions in place.

Yet many of such solutions could be the basis for successful new businesses, sometimes even substantial ones. How can this unfortunate gap between thinking and doing be overcome?

Let’s imagine now that you would like to direct your own profitable company. If you are inventive, you could begin by sorting through your many existing ideas for solutions to annoying problems that negatively affect people, pick the ones that appear to offer the greatest potential, and then start providing the solutions.

Making such selections wisely is often no more difficult than conducting a survey to determine interest among potential customers for various solutions, or putting together demonstrations of how some of the solutions would work and asking potential customers for their reactions.

While a few inventive businesses have started in similar ways, a more typical beginning is for a company founder to work first in a variety of jobs in a related industry that provide insight into what customer solutions are most needed and desired, and how to best organize such a business.

Dean Alan Guinn of Rushmore University often advises graduate business students in their career choices. In doing so, he continually encourages budding entrepreneurs to learn as much as possible about what customers experience and think, what problems bother and harm them, and what their priorities are. As an example, someone with a technical bent often benefits from working in a sales role to gain such face-to-face perspectives.

He notes that a changed mindset is essential:

Entrepreneurs should read about creating success, learn how to assess opportunity, emulate the patterns of success, come to recognize how their actions interplay with those around them, and take the best chances for success wherever they appear. Entrepreneurs should look at those around them not as chess pieces on a board with which they interact in a game of life, but as the board itself -- a board which enables them to be any chess piece in life, enabling them to make whatever directional moves on that board they need to make.”

Follow those suggestions, and you’ll make faster progress. I’m looking forward to your improvements being available soon!

What are you waiting for?

Author's Bio: 

Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit