You're uncertain or maybe even stuck.

You are looking for a great idea for a business. It could be your encore, or your initial foray into entrepreneurship.

That doesn't matter. What does matter is that you don't really have an idea for what you want to create.

When they find themselves in that kind of situation, most people begin by asking, "What am I good at?" And then they go from there, figuring they will start a company that capitalizes on their strengths.

It's certainly an adequate place to start. But it is probably not the best place to start.

Knowing who you are, who you know, and what resources you have is a very good thing, but the very best first step is to ask, "What do I actually care about?"

It's pretty obvious actually. Desire motivates you to act. It makes you persist when you encounter obstacles. And it makes you more innovative. The net takeaway: It makes it more likely that you will create an idea.

Your desires will break down into two types. There are those things that we can call "ultimate" desires--things you want simply because you want them. The defining characteristic is that you actually care about "it." ("My favorite thing in the world is helping people reach their full potential.")

When you have an ultimate desire, guess what? You already have an idea. ("My favorite thing in the world is helping people reach their full potential.") What you're actually looking for is how to do it. What you are looking for is an acceptably low-cost next step within your means at hand to make it a reality.

So don't get confused. Don't say you don't have an idea. You do. ("I want help people reach their full potential.") You just haven't developed the next step. ("I am not sure what helping those people is going to look like.") The thing you most need to do at this point is figure out how to get moving.

The second kind of desire is when you want something because you think it will bring you something else. Here's an easy example: "I really like the idea of starting my own company, not because I want to run a company, but because I think that's going to provide me with gainful employment."

The specific thing isn't what you want so much as what you think it's going to lead you to. Think of these things as "instrumental" desires, things that you want because they lead to an ultimate desire.

These are the cases in which you need an idea.

How do you obtain one? Thinking, analysis, and introspection aren't bad--they could trigger an idea--but you also want to be acting as soon as you can. You want to be doing something. If that thinking, analysis, and introspection are a substitute for  acting, they're not so good.

If all you do is think, all you will end up with is thoughts.

You may say you don't have an idea. But the reality is when you dig a little deeper, invariably you find have LOTS of ideas--"Maybe I'll open a restaurant; maybe a personal shopper service; maybe...." So why did nothing happen?

Maybe you thought none of them were any good. Or maybe you are spending all your time trying to refine them, or playing "what if" games, pondering dozens or hundreds of scenarios that might or might not happen.

In this kind of situation you would be far better off getting out and doing something, because action changes reality and thinking doesn't.

After every action you have new opportunities; potentially new partners, fresh ideas. If you are sitting at your desk just thinking and not acting, nothing happens.

Sure, ideas can arise in a flash of insight. But more often (and more reliably) your ultimate idea will surface and develop through your interactions with other people or the marketplace. You don't need the idea as much as you need to get started. Worst case? You take a few tiny steps; discover you don't like what you're doing. Or it's impossible. If that happens, you reboot, and move onto something else.

Published on: Mar 3, 2015