21 Days To A Big Idea 

By: Bryan Mattimore



“The best way to have a good idea is to have a lot of ideas.” Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner.

There are simple yet powerful creative thinking techniques that unleash the creative potential of groups to help generate “lots of ideas.” But what if you don’t have the help of a group? The 21 Days to a Big Idea thinking program created by creativity guru Bryan Mattimore is designed to help individuals create a large number of ideas on an on-going basis… from which one or two might well prove to be the “Big Idea!”

The 21-day program is divided into four sections:

  • Discovering your passion
  • Five creative thinking strategies for discovering idea opportunities
  • Nine creative techniques for generating big ideas
  • Choosing and developing the best ideas

Even though the program is designed to be taken over a twenty-one day period by devoting about an hour each day of creative thinking time, it doesn’t have to be completed on consecutive days. Nor does it even have to be taken alone. It’s easy to form a “big idea club” with co-workers, friends or family to meet whenever you have an hour of time, maybe once or twice a month.

To get started, you’ll need a journal (your “Big Idea” notebook) to record your ideas. This will help you keep track of all the ideas that come out of creativity exercises you’ll be using in the program.

Day #1: Discovering Your Inventive Passion

Take a moment to think about how you hope to feel when you finish this book summary. What will you be thinking? What will you have gotten out of it? Be specific.

Now, take a moment to think about “a success footprint” for a new idea you want to create. Identify the characteristics of that successful idea that would make it a great idea, before you know what that idea actually is! For instance, you might ask, “What could my idea be worth?” “To whom might it most appeal?” “What’s could be its biggest benefit?” Or even, “Where, when or how might it work?”

Building a success footprint for an idea you’ve yet to create will not only help you judge the relative value of the new ideas you do create… it’ll also help you to persevere until you find that one big idea that meets your original “success footprint” criteria.

Day #2: Courting Your Passion

Create a list of arenas for new products, services, or business concepts you’re passionate about. Try to write down at least 30. Generating this many “arenas of passion” will help open the world of creative possibilities. Are you be excited about inventing a new children’s toy or game, household product or tool; a new service for artists, or non-profit to help retirees; an international travel shopping service or a time saving device for commuters?

Day #3: Finding the Right Stimuli

To push ideas to the next level – ask yourself, “What will make my idea both different from and superior to what’s currently on the market?”

Day #4: What’s Your Problem? The First of Five Creative Thinking Strategies

Find a problem that you want to solve. Since we know that quantity leads quality, try to come up with twenty different problems. 

Day #5: Solving Problems… and Finding New Ones

Now, with your twenty problems, do your best to come up with some solutions. Sometimes addressing one problem challenge may help you solve another.

Day #6: Adapt an Existing Idea or Technology

Find one or more new technologies that intrigue you. List at least twenty capabilities, features, points of difference and/or benefits of it. Then, combine it with one of your arenas or passion to create a new product or service concept. For example, an Israeli inventor recently created a low-cost, waterproof bicycle made almost entirely out of a specially treated, extra-strong cardboard. What other inventions might you create with this kind of cardboard?

Day #7: Save Money, Save Time

Create a list of things that waste time or money at work or in your personal life. Pick one or two of these time or money wasters, and create a new product or service to address it.

Day #8: Facilitate Self-Actualisation 

Watch a variety of online speeches, presentations, or YouTube videos from experts in one of your areas of passion. Then, based on what you see, hear, and learn, create at least one big idea for a new product or service that will help people “self-actualise.”

Day #9: Wishing for the Impossible… and Then Making It Real

We’re trained to be realists. But when adults can recapture the unlimited imagination of their childhood, breakthroughs can result. Create a list of at least twenty wishes. Push beyond the mundane or practical and wish for the impossible.

Then, look at your list and ask, “Is there a wish that can inspire a breakthrough new idea if I somehow made the wish practical or real?”

Day #10: Three Ideas in Thirty Minutes: The Questioning Assumptions Technique

The Questioning Assumptions technique is about uncovering possibilities for new ideas by questioning the assumptions we make about anything and everything in the world around us. So for example, if we question the assumption that a chair has four legs, we might come up with the idea for a “no-legged” or beanbag chair.

Pick an arena of interest and try to list at least fifteen assumptions about it. Then create three ideas for a new product or service inspired by questioning these assumptions.

Day 11: 20 Questions, One Big Idea

Generate a list of twenty questions to help you think about your creative challenge in a different light. Use prompts such as “How can ___,” “What are ___,” “How about ____,” and “If ____.” You may discover that the process of asking and answering the questions, you will create a new idea.

Day #12: Expecting the Connecting: The “And” Technique

Create five new products or business ideas by combining a word that represents an area of great passion for you with words that you find by opening a dictionary to random pages. Most new ideas are created by simply combining two existing things in a new way.

Day #13: Smart Move: Benefit Word Mashing

Invent a “big idea” in an area of passion by mashing it up with one of the following benefit modifiers: 1) smart/thinking 2) speed/quick 3) educational 4) informational 5) healthy 6) virtual 7) digital 8) futuristic 9) mobile or 10) growing/expanding. Example: What’s a “smart”… basketball, cooking pot, travel app, bicycle, lock, or fork?

Day #14: Transformation Transfer: The Idea Hooking and Patent Prompting

The Patent Prompts Technique can help you create a new idea by considering a wide variety of different, but related new inventions and technologies. Here’s how it works: Identify a challenge associated with the design or engineering of one of the new inventions you’ve conceived thus far. See if you can break down the challenge into two words. Search the United States Patent and Trademark Office database using these two key words.

Scroll through the lists of patents that come up from the search and look for inspiration.Hopefully, by reviewing other related inventions and technologies, you can find principles and mechanisms of action you can adapt (without of course infringing the original patent) to help you create more and better ideas of your own.

Day #15: Getting Hotter All the Time: Trend Bending

Keep looking for different stimuli to trigger your inherent connection-making ability. Use trend reports from the Internet and see if you can “bend the trend” to a specific area of interest. Ask “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of each of the trends, and you may discover a new business opportunity.

Day #16: Saving the Worst for Last

To use the Worst Idea technique, begin by writing a list of the worst ideas you can possibly think of in an area of interest. These ideas should be ridiculous, inappropriate, and stupid. After you make this list, see if you can turn these worst ideas into good ideas by: 1) doing the exact opposite, or 2) somehow using this worst idea, modifying it in some way, to inspire a good idea.

Day #17: Final Exam: Bringing It All Together

Combine the techniques covered in the past eight days: Wishing, Questioning Assumptions, Twenty Questions, the “And” Technique, Idea Hooks, Trend Bending, Patent Prompts and the Worst Idea Technique to create at least three entirely-new big ideas in one of your areas of passion.

Choosing, Developing and Selling Your Biggest Ideas With a wealth of big ideas you’ve created in the past seventeen days, it’s now time to begin to develop these ideas into marketable propositions for new products and/or services.

Day #18: A Simple Concept Development Technique: Billboarding

Billboarding enables you to create a kind of “elevator speech” for your new product or service by helping you identify the idea’s key benefits. Like a billboard you’d see on the highway, in the Billboard Technique, you’ll create a headline, a visual, and a tagline for your new idea. Here are the steps: Figure out exactly what your idea is. Consider how it could actually work and give it a name.

List all the benefits of the idea. You should be able to come up with five or six.

Pick the single most important benefit from your list and create a short headline that communicates the benefit. It doesn’t have to be clever, but make sure it’s clear.

Create a visual that communicates the key benefit, or one of the important features, of your idea.

Create a tagline with a reason someone should believe in your idea.

This exercise will help you be explicit about the benefits of your idea, so you can clearly and concisely communicate these benefits to others.

Day #19: Researching and Developing Your Favorite Ideas

You don’t have to spend a great deal of money in focus groups to gain critical insights into the market viability of your idea. Start simply by interviewing friends, family, and co-workers. You can also do low or no-cost market research with non-profits/charities, colleges or universities, or local clubs. Just make sure your research questions are designed to learn, not to “sell” anyone on your idea.

To gain added insights from your research, create prototypes, even rudimentary ones. It’s much easier for someone to tell you what they like and don’t like if you present them with something specific to react to.

Day #20: Business Building Techniques: Let’s Get Visual

To help you develop your best ideas, create a Creative War Room. Using a whiteboard, corkboard, or entire wall will help you visualise and organise all the components of your big idea in a single place. Think of your Creative War Room as both a creative problem solving and project prioritisation tool. Fill your idea wall with everything from prototype drawings to names you are considering; from possible PR and advertising campaigns to new sales strategies. Committing your big idea to a physical space will make it more real, and help you generate that many more actionable ideas.

Day #21: Generating Selling Concepts: The Opportunity Redefinition Technique

How you plan to market and sell your product or service may be as critical to its success as the actual idea. The Opportunity Redefinition technique helps you generate innovative new sales programs by more broadly defining: 1) who’s doing the selling, 2) how and 3) to whom.

To do the technique, you simply create a variety different “who’s”, “how’s” and “to “whoms” – and then re-combine these words to create a new selling strategy.

For instance, maybe you assumed a traditional salesman would sell your product, but could the “who” be:

a broker, a client, a friend, a freelancer, an overseas agent...

Maybe you assumed “how” you’d sell your product would be with telemarketing but maybe it’s with:

in-person demos, late night TV ads, co-marketing, Google key words, as a premium, etc.

And maybe you even assumed you’d be selling your product to let’s say, retirees, instead of:

doctors, nurses, health insurers, a government agency, medical students, children of retirees, etc.

Once you have these lists, you then simply start mixing and matching entries from each list – three at a time – to create literally thousands of new selling strategies. Example: How do we get a broker to use Google key words to sell our new service to children of retirees?

With all the techniques summarised in 21 Days to a Big Idea, you should never feel you can’t create that next big idea to grow and improve your business... and your life!