Besides finding uninterruptible time, another great way to generate business ideas is to pick a brain.

The “Buy you lunch?” offer is too seldom used. Several of my businesses have grown out of having lunch or casual conversations with business associates. I remember one such experience with a trusted friend and associate from New York, David Fishman. In December 2003, Dave and I had prearranged a call to catch up, as we had both been extremely busy during the year. During the course of the conversation, Dave mentioned that he was aware of several sources for telephone-generated mortgage leads, and asked if I knew of anyone who could use them. I happened to have a connection, and based on that discussion, a highly profitable business was created.

Personal connections are often a significant factor in success as an entrepreneur. Identify a few people associated with the area you are interested in pursuing and pick their brains. Take them to lunch, listen to what they say, and ask questions. I have found this to be most effective when I’m talking to someone face-to-face, but a telephone conversation can also produce positive results.

Another great way to pick a brain is going to an industry-specific trade show. For me, this has been a very successful method for not only coming up with ideas, but, more specifically, for validating concepts and quickly progressing through the learning curve of the industry.

Early in my time with Mitsubishi, we wanted to manufacture motherboards for video games, so we decided to attend a video game trade show in Las Vegas. As a result, we met several great contacts and spawned a successful division. I remember another trade show where we were considering developing motherboards for gambling machines. All indicators looked good. However, after asking some very pointed questions of the industry experts who were there, we became aware of very unfavorable government controls that would have made it difficult to move quickly and become viable. If I had not attended the trade show and picked those brains, I would have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars. What type of questions should you ask in these “pick a brain” sessions? Here are a few of my favorites:

• What are the services or needs in your industry that are not being met?
• What are two or three things you would change about the products or services you rely on?
• What do your customers like about the service or the product they are buying?
• What do you think the next big opportunity or change will be in your industry?

Ask open-ended questions, but be sensitive to concerns with intellectual property and confidentiality. There have been times when I have had individuals come to me attempting to clone my business. This is not only brazen, but offensive.

Two other key secrets to success: first, make sure these relationships go both ways. And, second, thank everyone you talk to—everyone! You cannot expect to take and take from your friends and associates without giving up time, insight, and information helpful to their success. Life is not like Monopoly; there can be more than one winner. Casting some courteous bread across the waters will return in kind.

Porter’s Points – Pick a Brain

• Call today and schedule lunch with one of your idea-generating friends.
• The next time you attend a trade show, prepare relevant and direct questions for the experts. Ask, listen, record.
• Thank everyone you talk with and consider ways you can contribute to their venture in return.

My next suggestion to come up with ideas is to catch a wave. Sounds like more fun than picking a brain! Stay tuned….