How To Turn Ordinary Ideas Into More Unique Ideas

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Ideas don’t matter, execution does. You’ve heard this before. But ideas do matter. Recognizing whether it’s a good or bad one, and making it better. Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists live here. Recently, a friend of mine who works at an accelerator confided to me that the organization has finally started thinking more deeply about the quality of the ideas that they get pitched.

In his words: we see a lot of copies, and we’re really asking ourselves what we can do to turn those initial ideas into more original ideas.

This is a common problem at accelerators. Especially the accelerators that don’t have a strategy for what ideas to back. With that said, whether you’re an accelerator, entrepreneur, manager, venture capitalists; here’s a quick and dirty guide to turning common ideas into great ones…

Unexpected ideas have fewer competitors

So, is there a trick you can use to turn an ordinary idea into something more interesting? Yes, and it all starts with a provocative question: What if?

But before getting to that question, we have to understand the context of the idea.

What’s going on?

To differentiate yourself from everyone else who’s operating in the same space, you have to define the situation in the industry, segment, or category that you want to challenge. This means a 10,000 feet view. Here’s how this might look like:

  • This is an area where everyone seems to be stuck in a way of operating and nothing has changed in a long time.
  • This is an area where everyone charges customers the same way.
  • This is a category where everyone sells the same benefits and there is no real excitement.

Once you have a situation to focus on, ask yourself: What is the most unexpected solution we can deliver for this situation?

What are the cliches?

Like people, businesses make assumptions all the time. So, your next step is to identify the assumptions that seem to influence the way people think about an industry, segment, or category. The cliches, the widespread beliefs that govern the way people think about and do business in a particular space.

Searching for cliches is not easy, so here are a few tips that will help you jump-start the process.

Start by getting online and identifying a handful of direct competitors in the industry, segment, or category you’re focused on. If there are hundreds of them, you can possibly consider them all. Instead, group together those with similar characteristics, strengths and strategies. Select three to six competitors that are representative of the group as whole.

Now, do a little research on each competitor and make a list of the cliches that keep everyone doing the same thing, competing the same way, or operating with the same assumptions.  You can go very deep with this research, the quickest and most efficient way to do this is to explore company websites, examine their advertising, and read what people are saying about the companies and their products on blogs and other social media platforms.

What’s the provocative question?

Once you have a list of cliches that are influencing the business situation you’re focused on, it’s time to start provoking the status quo. In this step, a creativity tool like SCAMPER can be very handy because you want to rearrange the pieces to provoke a different way of looking at the situation.

What is SCAMPER?

It’s a framework that helps up manipulate existing ideas and solutions to create new ones. As author Michael Michalko put it, “Manipulation is the brother of creativity.” SCAMPER helps us work through the many ways we can reshape an existing idea or product.

Here’s a pic that illustrates what SCAMPER stands for:

Here’s are some questions you are looking to ask about the cliches of the situation:

  • What can we substitute?
  • What can we combine?
  • What can we adapt?
  • What can we magnify (scale) / modify?
  • What can we put to another use?
  • What can we eliminate?
  • What can we rearrange / reverse?

Ask a provocative “what if?” question for each of the questions above.

Now, let’s look at an example of a restaurante to give you an idea of SCAMPER works in practice…


  • Cliche: Restaurants provide customers with a menu when they arrive (interaction).
  • Hypothesis: What if a restaurant provided customers with a menu only when they leave?


  • Cliche: Customers pay for food and service (price).
  • Hypothesis: What if customers were not charged for food and service?


  • Cliche: Restaurants offer a three-course meal (product).
  • Hypothesis: What if restaurants offered a 30-course meal?

This restaurant actually exists, and it’s one of the most famous in the world; it’s called El Bulli.

El Bulli, Spain

  • Founded by Ferran Adria; considered best Chef in the world.
  • Rated best restaurant in the world a record 4 times (2002, 2006, 2007, 2008).
  • It’s only open at night from April to September and is booked years in advance. Over 800,000 people call or email for a table each season.
  • It’s a 5 hour experience of 30 courses.
  • Turns eating into an experience.
  • At the end of their meal, guests receive a menu from the kitchen detailing the 30 courses they consumed, signed by the Chef.

Bottom line: Reality is malleable.  To imagine things as they never were ask what if?!