I asked ten successful entrepreneurs, from right across the business spectrum, to share their best ideas and how they get them, and the good news is, they were all happy to spill the beans....
Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, acquired by Amazon in 2009 for a cool $1.2bn, and bestselling author of Delivering Happiness.
Top 3 ideas: Customer service, company culture and community. They aren't my ideas - everyone has heard about the importance of each in other businesses and industries - but at Zappos, we've decided to fully embrace all three as our business strategy.
Where and when: In bars, mainly, and it's usually spontaneous, because random conversations tend to spark new thoughts and ideas.
Top tip: Anything to get into a different mindset that you aren't usually in, for example, reading books, meeting and talking with people from different backgrounds - or taking a shot of Fernet Branca.
Top 3 ideas: They are the ideas that have underpinned every business decision throughout my life; if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it; make sure everything you do stands out and differentiates you from your competitors; and learn the value of delegation.
Where and when: Some ideas are borne out of frustration. Virgin Atlantic was partly inspired by the fact that I hated travelling on tired airlines as a record executive. But I find inspiration everywhere I go; for our beautiful game reserve, while in South Africa; whilst in Morocco for the Balloon launches I stumbled across the Kasbah Tamadot, and here on Necker Island. The atmosphere is very relaxed, but there’s plenty going on that helps me to come up with good ideas in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning.
Top tips: Striking a balance between working hard and finding space to be creative is vital for coming up with original ideas. Collaboration, throwing ideas around between friends and colleagues also works. Plenty of new Virgin ventures started life that way.
Top 3 ideas: The Destination games, obviously; raising sponsorship for the games, as the attractions are featured on the board and box and are essentially advertising for them; and regionalising the games. The model works in every city.
Where and when: I think better when I am on my own and not being disturbed. I often take a pad and pencil into the bathroom with me, as I’ve had some of my best ideas while taking a bath.
Top tips: Think positive as much as possible. Believe in yourself. And don't always ask everyone and his dog for their opinion! Trust your own judgement and follow your gut instincts.
Top 3 ideas: Pursuing our goal despite naysayers; creating products that harness the energy of existing behaviour, and making a FUNctional soccer ball.
Where and when: Our inspiration comes from all different avenues, from an article on the latest innovation on the tech market to our daily commute. We believe inspiration comes more from a frame of mind, so we stay active and have as much fun as possible.
Top tips: Take time to travel. Experiencing different cultures allows a temporary reprieve from your home culture and allows you to see things through different eyes. And be courageous; challenge the status quo, and do what others say you can't.
David Hickey, Dentist and Philanthropist at Southport Road Dental.
Top 3 ideas: Recruiting a full time marketing manager, someone who is constantly focused on promoting the business. Setting aside time each week to work on, rather than in, the business; and measuring everything, so we know what works and what doesn't at all times.
Where and when: I sound most new ideas off my wife Rashmi, who is a partner in the business, usually when we are relaxing at home in the evening, discussing how other people's business ideas could work for us. We both have very different perspectives and if I’m honest, most of the best ideas are hers. She does seem to appreciate the emotion of the situation.
Top tips: Spend time around your contemporaries. See what works for them and tweak it to work for yourself. There are few people in the world who have truly unique ideas day in day out.
Jamie Dunn started his first business at the age of 12 selling unwanted items at school. Today, aged 20, he is a co-founder of Made By Young People and chair of the A Fund.
Top 3 ideas: That’s hard to say, but here’s one I think would be a winner; the age-old concept of a crisp sandwich. I’ve always loved having crisps on bread and butter; I know loads of other people who do, yet nobody has thought of releasing a range of ready-made crisp sandwiches.
Where and when: At night; around 9pm I’ll sit down with a beer, some music, and a piece of A3 paper. I think the best ideas emerge when you are fully relaxed and not concentrating too hard.
Top tips: Do something different every day; walk a different way home, or get a different train. Your brain becomes conditioned to routine, so changing that routine will force it to think in new ways. Music helps, too.
Top 3 ideas: Setting up my own company; embarking on a business venture that makes the financial markets accessible to people who may not have a background in finance, and setting up the Knowledge to Action Foundation.
Where and when: I feel the most creative at the crack of dawn, knowing that the financial markets are about to open for a fresh day of trading.
Top tips: Keeping in touch with your workforce and your clients and being constantly exposing yourself to feedback helps you to bounce new ideas around and come up with solutions to problems you might not otherwise have realised you had.
Heather Townsend, business coach, networking guru, and author of 'The FT Guide to Business Networking'
Top 3 ideas: Writing a book on joined up networking; using social media to market my business; and offering folks £250-ish worth of my IP in return for posting a review of my book on Amazon.
Where and when: Often it’s being with other people who spark off a train of thought, however I have to have capacity to think about these ideas. If I’m stressed or overworked, ideas don't happen because there’s no space for them to happen.
Top tips: New ideas need time and space to appear. Allow your subconscious to produce them over night by posing a question in your mind and then sleeping on it. An answer may pop out in the morning.
Top 3 ideas: eBookers UK, the first EU electronic online travel agent; ConceptLabs California, an incubator, management support and VC fund combo, founded with several ex-Apple employees, but wiped out by the dotcom bust; and PicoSecond Pulse Labs, producer of electronic test equipment components.
Where and when: Good ideas don't care about time and place, and they don't care if you are awake or asleep, working or playing; they just pop to the front of your mind. The key is to capture them, test their validity and then subject them to the insights, challenges, energy and inputs of others.
Top tips: Understand the importance of luck. You need a lot of it. And learn to deal with a failure; stand up, brush yourself off, and move on. Many of the mistakes I’ve made in the past have turned out to be blessings in disguise.
Phil Cameron, founder and CEO of airport lounge company No.1 Traveller
Top 3 ideas: My production of Journey's End, the No.1 Traveller brand, and the decision to put prices up at a seemingly illogical time.
Where and when: It’s impossible to create on demand, but it’s easier when it’s part of your everyday life. You can’t turn creative thinking on and off, so I get struck by ideas at the oddest times, which is not very handy if you’re running to catch a train or having a swim.
Top tips: To innovate you need to be in a frame of mind that asks, ‘why not?’ You can always reject an idea, but to keep the ideas flowing, initially everything needs to be 'possible', because after some thought even some of the most unlikely ideas can find their own route to viability.
This article originally appeared in Entrepreneur Country Magazine. Read the full issue here.