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And connect more dots.
And connect more dots.

One of the most important attributes of being a successful entrepreneur is having the ability to generate fresh and meaningful ideas, often. Then, connect the dots to move your business forward.

Many times circumstances for entrepreneurs make this pretty darn challenging. You have a microscopic budget, no staff, juggle two full-time jobs to pay your bills and your cat has the chicken pox; all while you’re building your dream.

No problem. Some of the biggest and best ideas are birthed because of the above. Why? Because you are forced to be a truly creative problem solver.

My best creative thinking happens when I stimulate my brain by exposing myself to other cool ideas that empower me to recognize patterns, think in a metaphoric way, and absorb a lot of information quickly.

Here are 4 easy ways to increase your idea flow.
1) Visit online and offline, high-volume idea venues.
Trend reporting websites like Springwise and Iconoculture are two of my favorites. Springwise showcases entrepreneurial ideas from around the globe, and Iconoculture recaps top consumer and business trends with a good mix of recent market facts and statistics in a free newsletter.

Schedule a trip to a shopping mall. Don’t go to shop. Go to discover with a conscious eye. Watch how people behave and respond to marketing initiatives; evaluate displays, and listen to conversations.

Annually attend industry tradeshows in innovative sectors. Journal what you see; the good and bad, pick up marketing collateral and take pictures of exhibits and people.

2) Pay attention to smart, successful companies and people.
My list includes competitors and random organizations, both large and small. I keep an admiration notebook and folder on my computer. I include words, images, and processes that I find intriguing.

3) Develop a habit of producing idea quotas.
This means, need a solution or big idea? Set a daily volume quota for your ideas. For instance, need a new product name? Jot down five possibilities a day for two weeks. Invite a friend or colleague to do the same. In 14 days you’ll have at least 70 seeds for finding your big idea. Remember, don’t set any limits for your ideas, the wilder the better. Ignore budget restrictions and don’t strive for the perfect idea; aim for quantity.

4) Master the art of scan and skim, and read more.
Early in my career I attended a workshop on how to read the Wall Street Journal in less than 15 minutes. This 60-minute class dramatically increased the amount of information I can absorb which, in today’s world of massive data deluge, is a necessary skill to have.

Here’s the fast track on how to be a better scanner and skimmer of publications.

Turn off distractions like music and the TV. Go straight to a publication content summary, sometimes this is the table of contents, sometimes it is a special section that features top stories. Find subjects that interest you, jump to those articles. Then read the subheads, the intro and the last paragraph. This filtering method is a quick and efficient way to cover a lot of ground. I also scan all visuals, images, and charts and graphs and set a reading time limit on a publication. I also use an index card to underline what I’m reading and I highlight information I want to retain.

New, different, and sometimes even recycled ideas are the vital ingredients for problem solving and connecting the dots. The better and bigger the idea flow, the higher propensity you’ll achieve success.

About the author: Karen Post, a.k.a. The Branding Diva® is an international authority on branding, marketing, and entrepreneurial matters. She has been featured as a business expert in print publications; on TV, radio, and on Web channels. Karen authored the best-selling book Brain Tattoos, Creating Unique Brands That Stick in your Customers’ Minds and she is co-founder and CEO of Oddpodz.com.