Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 28th 2015 Contents The aphorism "Good artists
copy; great artists steal,"
is usually attributed to
Picasso. Over the years,
many people have mis-
construed this to mean
that the famous painter
blatantly duplicated other
hard-working artists ideas.
But that couldn t be further from the truth.
There is a huge difference between copying
and "stealing." Someone who copies merely
replicates something, while someone who steals
takes an existing interpretation and runs away
with it. Eventually, he makes it his own.
The aphorism reminds us that it s is very
rare for anyone to come up with a truly new
idea. We are all products of our environments.
We borrow from those who came before us,
and we benefit from the lessons that they
learned by walking similar paths. Simply put,
all of us are influenced by everyone else.
Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, under-
stood what Picasso meant. As he once explained
in an interview, "(At Apple) we have always
been shameless about stealing great ideas."
My team and I at Virgin built our brand by
making ideas our own. We look at industries
where an existing product or service has been
lacking, fill that gap with a standout offering,
then slap an identifiable Virgin mark on it.Sell-
ing records, for instance, was not a new concept
when we started Virgin Records, but we found
a way to streamline the process and make
music more accessible. Air travel was definitely
not new when we entered the airline sector,
but it hadn t reached its full potential, especially
in terms of customer service, so we disrupted
the industry by focusing on fixing that.
Our best ideas usually come from firsthand
experience, but in recent times we ve been
using technology to help us incubate great
concepts. I try to post on my blog at least twice
a day on weekdays, and I use social media
platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+,
Twitter, Vine and Instagram to get my messages
out. Often, the posts start debates and provoke
feedback, complaints and more conversation.
Over the past few years, these conversations
have sparked many thought-provoking ideas.
I love reading comments to see what slivers of
information might turn into inspiring business
One tremendous advantage is that these
conversations take place worldwide. In the
past, if you needed to understand a country s
cultural landscape, you had to book a plane
ticket; today I can simply check my blog. While
some business ideas that come from online
conversations are country-specific, many trans-
late across borders, and have the potential to
make a huge global impact.
When I m not debating ideas in person or
perusing the comments on my online profiles,
I enjoy visiting the Web site IdeaPod; a social
media platform for sharing ideas and collab-
orating. I met the site s founders late last year
and have been hooked ever since. By offering
a space where people can bounce ideas off
each other, IdeaPod increases everyone s
chances of coming up with game-changing
A few weeks ago, I logged onto the Web site
and noticed a discussion about what businesses
Virgin should enter next. The ideas varied from
producing a low-carbon fuel to making ride-
sharing more efficient to launching online edu-
cation programmes. We have already launched
some of the businesses that participants on
the site mentioned; other ideas caught my
interest and we may look into them further.
If you re an entrepreneur in search of new
ideas, remember that innovation is an endless
quest, and few products and services are so
good that they cannot be continuously approved
upon. This is why there is so much to be learned
from listening to people s hopes, frustrations
and points of view.
So start a blog. Get on social media. Visit
an entrepreneurial hub, a cafe or a pub. Ask
questions. Spark a debate. Join the conversa-
Then ask yourself: What are people talking
about? What are your friends and family talking
about? What are people passionate about?
Which issues are currently creating news?
What did that interesting article that you read
the other day say? And how can that be applied
to the product or service?
If you keep your eyes and ears open, you ll
be sure to find some great ideas. But remember:
Don t copy them; make them your own.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the
Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin
Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and
Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at
can follow him on Twitter at
twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered
in future columns. Please send them to
RichardBranson@nytimes.com. Please include
your name, country, email address and the
name of the website or publication where
you read the column.)
MAY 2015 • WEEK FOUR www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG15
How I come up with my best ideas
3 ways to generate ideas
Truly original ideas are rare, so
when you're looking for inspiration,
you can kick-start your imagination
by trying to figure out how to make
an existing product or service better.
You can start this process online by:
• Starting conversations on social
media: The comments that you gen-
erate can lead to inspiration.
• Engaging in conversations: Con-
versely, reading and responding to
other people's feedback can lead to
considerations you hadn't thought of.
• When you're looking into ways
you can improve the product or serv-
ice, keep these questions in mind:
What are people talking about?
What are your friends and family
passionate about? Which issues are
currently in the news? How does this
change the way you view the offer-
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