For any entrepreneur there’s only one thing worse than a blank page. Yes, it’s even worse than a blank bank account (that can always be fixed).
Nothing is more frightening than a blank mind.
Run out of ideas, whether it’s for a blog post, a killer app, or a company that’s going to let you buy a small Caribbean island one day, and you’re dead in the water. Without a plan of your own, you’re back to working for The Man and living off someone else’s dream — while they take the bulk of the cash.
Thinking up profitable new ideas has always been tough. If it weren’t, everyone would be doing it. But it has now become a lot easier… thanks to Twitter.
That might sound strange. It’s bizarre enough that a system that lets people send messages of just 140 characters would be interesting and addictive. But inspiring too?
And yet it is, and in a number of different ways.
Talk Up an Idea
Perhaps the easiest way to use Twitter to generate ideas is just to get involved in the conversations. While Twitter might be best known as a place to send messages, what makes the site really effective is the messages that come back — its power as a virtual watercooler.
Unlike the traditional corporate talking space though, the chatting on Twitter is often to the point and productive, rather than gossipy and wasteful. It makes you think rather than gives you a break from thinking for money.
This snippet, for example, came from the updates posted by Bill Thompson, a technology journalist who reports for the BBC, and was sparked by aaroscape asking whether a blog is a good model for building a website:
For an entrepreneur with a head for programming, an exchange like that might just spark plans to create the perfect content management system. For a tech-minded blogger, it could inspire a post about the best model for building a website.
For everyone on Twitter, it suggests that there are golden exchanges floating around between the notifications of missed deadlines and the descriptions of cheese sandwiches for lunch.
Ask for Help
But you don’t even have to go looking for inspiring ideas on Twitter. You can also ask the ideas to come to you. This is a strategy that Darren Rowse, the professional blogger behind ProBlogger.net, used once. He simply asked his followers to submit any questions that they’d like and promised to answer a selection of them within three minutes each. He called it “speed posting.”
That gave his followers the opportunity to get the benefits of his knowledge. It gave Darren’s site a lively discussion with plenty of good content that he didn’t have to write.
And it also give him a large stack of ideas that he could mine for future blog posts if he wanted to.
For Darren, that’s a relatively simple strategy. He has over 5,000 followers and is known for having the sort of valuable information that people who use Twitter would find helpful.
If you’re well known enough, or if people see you as an expert, inviting your followers to ask questions in this way can certainly be a good strategy. But just asking your own questions works too.
If you’re a blogger, at the beginning of each month, ask your followers what topics they’d like to see discussed over the following weeks. If you’re a programmer, ask them what features of WordPress, Joomla or anything else they’d like to see improved.
Obviously, you don’t have write about any of the topics you receive or build anything that’s on anyone’s wish list if you don’t want to. But the results should certainly get you thinking.
Become a Stalker
Conversations between Twitterers and their followers are certainly valuable. That’s true whether you’re involved in the chats or just reading someone else’s. But Twitter was really built for stalkers — the sort of people who enjoy finding out what’s happening in the lives of strangers who vaguely interest them.
Fortunately, on Twitter, those strangers don’t mind, so feel free to stalk away.
But choose who you stalk follow carefully. There all sorts of interesting and important people on Twitter, including apparently Sun’s CEO. When they tweet there’s a good chance that much of what they say will get your mind whirring. At the very least, it could be news for a blogger to post about.
Tracking down really famous people on Twitter though is difficult, and even if you can find them, there’s no way of knowing whether you’re following the tweets of the real Steve Jobs or just another faker.
One alternative then is not to look for a person but a profession. Include a good smattering of people who work in fields related to yours in your follow list and you’ll be receiving opinions, news and updates from the front line. Any of those could be powerful idea-sparkers.
A really good idea can be worth a fortune. Used carefully, Twitter can be an effective way to dig more out more frequently.