Creating Ideas for Your
Next Million Dollar Product
Human imagination is the starting
point of all human accomplishment.

Direct Sales Journal

by Michael L. Sheffield
CEO The Sheffield Group

What do a Bull and a Bicycle have in common? If you're Pablo Picasso, plenty. One day the legendary artist was out in his yard, not doing much, just kind of looking around. As he turned to go back inside, Picasso noticed a rusty old bicycle. The bike wasn't doing much either, just kind of leaning there, propped against the porch.

Studying the bicycle, Picasso observed how the handlebars resembled the horns of a bull. Hmmm. Reaching for a wrench, he removed the handlebars, took them into his studio, and using them as a model, proceeded to form the sculpture of a charging bull. What is this gift that enables a person to take two seemingly unrelated ideas and produce a priceless work of art?

Creativity is defined as, the expanding on one theme to create another. It is the making of the new or the rearranging of the old in a new way. While most people can see the obvious creativity in the Picasso story, you and I must dig deeper to understand its importance. No matter how you define it, creativity is the starting point in your development of new and exciting product ideas. It is the propellant powering the early stages of a company's launch. It's the infusion that brings fading companies back to life.

Even if your present product line is going great guns, you need to know that most products have a life cycle. Some cycles last a long time. Shaklee's "Vitalee" multi-vitamin and Amway's "SA 8" laundry soap have been around for years. Because of their quality and perfect positioning, these products have earned brand name loyalty from distributors and customers alike. Other product durations are fairly short. That's why ongoing research and development should be an integral and ongoing aspect of your business.

And like the products they sell, the individual business model of every Multi-Level corporation has a life cycle. Of course the Amways and Shaklees have endured the tests of time. But most companies aren't so fortunate. The fields of free enterprise are scattered with the remains of many MLM ventures that boomed — and bombed. This need not happen to your dream.

Your product and organization can enjoy a long, healthy, happy life. But to achieve this success, certain key components must be in place and operating effectively. Product sourcing is of course, the most basic of those essential elements. Your enterprise lives or dies by its ability to develop or procure products that are new, unique and non-duplicable. Omit this element and your undertaking may meet the undertaker.

Companies with great management, capital, compensation plan, marketing system and competent "can do" distributors have folded because they were strapped with an outdated "me too" product. Too late they learned that with respect to the market, they were the MLM equivalent to Find Waldo. Lost against a backdrop of a lot of other "me too" merchandise, they couldn't establish and secure a unique brand position.

In other words, Multi-Level and Direct Selling organizations also peak and pass away for a lack of outstanding, "Hey world, look at us!" ideas.

On the other hand, there are numerous examples of companies with unsophisticated managers, insufficient capital, inexperienced distributors, an average to poor compensation plan and marketing systems who have emerged as MLM giants because they had the right product at the right time.

When it comes to creativity — especially in product sourcing — the mind follows a pattern that is just as predictable as a car coming down an auto assembly line in Detroit.

This process follows three steps. They must be taken in sequence — one without the others or a change in sequence won't work. Likewise, you can't install the wheels before you've bolted on the axle.

STEP I — Ingest Information
Stuff yourself with raw data, known facts and figures, reports, results, and developments. Include details based on your direct observations. Collecting information is simple, but it isn't as easy as it sounds. It can be tedious, time consuming and just plain boring. That's why more people don't do it. Everybody's waiting for a bolt out of the blue. You can't sit around waiting for the spirit to move you. The trouble is, when you insist on inspiration you frustrate the creative method. Inspiration will come, but it will usually happen further into the process.

At this point in the procedure, you will be gathering two types of material: (1.) General and (2.) Specific.

General Information Is the Breeding Ground
Locate all the relative information you can regarding your proposed product concept. Every magazine and newspaper you read, trade show, seminar and symposium you attend will provide fuel for generating your creative ideas. As an educator, I've found that general preparation is the breeding ground for new enlightenment. It is important to be constantly reading, listening and examining your environment. With creative imagination, you can see product parallels in everything.

The more independent bits of information in your imagination, the greater the potential for new relationships and combinations.

Specific Information Is Needed for New Ideas
This is material relating to your own company; it's mission, present products, distributors and customers. It's not enough to pay lip service to knowing your products and people. As a corporate leader you must have an intimate understanding of both. This understanding isn't always easy to come by and most of us stop too soon in the process.

On the surface, products are products are products. I mean, how many ways can you formulate a skin cream? But if you take a deeper look, comparing each product to the other, you'll find unique characteristics that make them different. It is recognizing the relationship of these distinctions that can lead to new ideas.

STEP II — Mentally Munch the Material
Chew on this information for awhile. In the same way you must masticate your food in order to swallow, knowledge must be broken down in order to enter the mental digestive system. This is difficult to put down on paper, because what's going on here is all in your mind. I know this may sound "gross", but it's taking bytes of information and moving them around in your mental mouth. You take a byte of this concept and then a byte of that idea: position them together and see how it tastes.

Your goal here is relationships. How do two seemingly unrelated thoughts look when you fit them together? Caution! Don't try too hard. In fact, sometimes it helps to avoid looking at your ideas too closely. It's similar to looking at a Magic Eye.

You've probably seen these in art stores, gift shops, or maybe even your doctor's office. The Magic Eye picture is a computer dot matrix design. Looking directly at the design, you see one picture. Then, by looking at that same picture with divergent (crossed) sight, you see another picture.

I've seen some folks become totally frustrated when they couldn't see the second picture the first few times. When they finally relaxed and allowed what the ancients called their third eye to see, the hidden picture came into clear focus. And furthermore, the more they practiced; the quicker and easier it became. It's the same with ideas.

When you're in a creative mode, it helps to get a little cross-eyed. Don't worry about how crazy it seems, and don't get frustrated. Just put your ideas down on paper or in your PC. Don't give up! The fresh new concept will come somewhere during the next step in the idea generation process.

STEP III — Metabolize the Material
This is where it gets exciting. You've done all you can do. Stop thinking — turn the idea process over to your subconscious mind. This step is just as important as the first two.

Go for a hike. Read a book. Watch a movie. Engage in some kind of diversion. After a while, your third eye will pick up the picture of a new product, and you'll be amazed that you couldn't see it before.

Seize the Inspiration!
When the concept comes, be ready. It may be at a moment when you least expect. Ever have an idea, reached for something to write with and couldn't find a pen or paper? Then you thought, "This idea is so hot, so strong, I'll remember it forever. It is permanently planted in my mind." What happened the next day? That's right, your mind was blank.

That's why you must be ready to seize the moment. Enter an "ideas" section in your computer or day planner. Keep a notepad beside your bed, or perhaps a small tape recorder.

For many people inspiration comes at night or in the early morning. Don't even turn on the light. Speak into the recorder, or take your pen and write or sketch as fast as you can.

Nourish New Ideas.
Now the big question: How do you find new products properly suited to your company philosophy and over-all mission? The best place to start is right under your roof. Create an environment that nurtures new ideas. It's amazing the concepts people can come up with when they feel free to be creative.

Who is the person presently in charge of your marketing? Since this is already their field, they're probably the most perceptive to new product concepts — and the key word here is perceptive.

With respect to new product sourcing and development, your company's product manager must be able to recognize and adapt to change. I recommend that you encourage them to subscribe to the philosophy: "I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind."

Also, you can expect to receive new ideas from your existing distributor network. Pay close attention to your independent sales representatives. Your most focused and fervent distributors can provide invaluable insight to the perspectives of their peers. Here is a sales truth:

  • We rarely succeed in selling people what they need.
  • We are always successful in selling people what they want.

Brainstorming
A time-tested way of nourishing creative ideas is brainstorming. Not only does it stimulate a lot of new ideas quickly; brainstorming energizes a creative atmosphere. While you can brainstorm by yourself, it's a lot more productive and exciting to involve others.

Think of all the input you could get by brainstorming with your manufacturers, suppliers, employees, distributors and customers about potential products for your company. While each person has their own unique perspective, the pooling of several imaginative thinkers results in a phenomenon called the group — or mastermind. This mastermind is exponentially more creative than any one of the individual thinkers by themselves. Here are some rules for effective brainstorming:

  • Write fast. Don't worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation.
  • Write everything. Put down whatever comes to mind, no matter how far out it seems. Don't second-guess your ideas.
  • Don't edit your ideas. Leave them uncut.
  • Doodle. Draw sketches, cartoons and flow charts to illustrate your ideas.
  • Have fun. Relax and enjoy the process.

After you've brainstormed awhile, arrange your ideas into homogenous groups, and evaluate them with respect to their potential.

Here are some ways to become more creative:

Trust Your Own Ideas
Groucho Marx once quipped,"I wouldn't belong to a club that would have me for a member." Who knows how many great ideas have been lost because a person assumed that if the idea was really all that great, it wouldn't have occurred to them. You have as much right to imagine as anyone on earth. Sometimes you have to go with your gut feelings.

Listen To Other People — But Not Too Much
Remember that everyone is influenced and conditioned by things that have happened since they were born. Because of their background, a lot of people tend to see more of what's wrong with an idea, than what is right. Funny how those people find their way onto committees. Most committees will neutralize 90% of what's right with an idea with the 10% that may present a problem.

Sometimes It's Okay To Imitate
We've talked so much about being original that it may strike you as strange for me to encourage your imitating someone else's idea. Clearly, conscience dictates that we respect the originality of a persons plans. But when it comes to Multi-Level Marketing, not a lot is original. In fact, most multi-level company product ideas as well as their marketing strategies, are considered communal. This means that they develop and evolve as the entire community of MLM companies determine a product need they can serve. The secret to success is recognizing the success principles practiced by others.

It All Begins With An Idea
Napoleon Hill observed: "Just as the oak tree develops from the germ that lies in the acorn, and the bird develops from the germ that lies asleep in the egg, so will your material achievements grow out of the organized plans that you create in your imagination. First comes the thought; then the organization of that thought into ideas and plans; then transformation of those plans into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination."

It's true that an idea is where success begins. Human imagination is the starting point of all human accomplishment. The creative thought always precedes the creative act. But I would be remiss if I didn't remind you of this fact: It's one thing to have a great idea, it's another to bring that idea to life. This takes planning, proper procedures, goals, guts and grace under fire. Most of all, it takes action. I trust that these thoughts will challenge and empower you to make your dreams a reality.

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About the Author:

Michael L. Sheffield is the CEO of The Sheffield Group, a full-service direct sales and multi level marketing (MLM) consulting firm. He is a Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Multi Level Marketing International Association and in 2001 he was inducted into the MLMIA Hall of Fame. He and the Sheffield team have assisted in hundreds of national and international MLM corporate start-ups as well as offered a full line of services for established direct sales companies including consultation on MLM Website development. As the most noted expert on compensation plans, he has been a guest lecturer on the subject for the DSA, University of Illinois, University of Texas, Berkeley and Harvard Alumni Association. He has helped launch over 200 new products marketed by direct selling companies around the globe. He can be contacted at 480-968-6199, The Sheffield Group, 2239 N. Hayden Road, Suite 103, Scottsdale, AZ. 85257, website address: www.sheffieldnet.com.

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