'Tis the Season to Get Innovating

The holidays provide chances to connect and reconnect. And, with unemployment in the U.S. currently at 10%, how about using them to hatch new business ideas? Serendipity strikes when diverse groups congregate, and season's greetings can turn into season's meetings when people share creative ideas. A number of industry giants were founded in the months of December and January; Nike (NKE), Gap (GPS), and Yahoo (YHOO) to name a few. As the saying goes, entrepreneurs zig while others zag; so while others are focused on closing out yearend numbers, why not reach out to discover what comes next? As you raise a glass this holiday season, adopt an innovator's approach. Here are a few ways to spread the merriment and spark some new ideas. Holiday GatheringsCorporate holiday parties can be a boon if you go with the mindset to collaborate. A number of large corporations have either spawned or inspired innovative businesses. Were it not for Xerox (XRX), for example, Adobe Systems (ADBE), 3Com (COMS), and Apple (AAPL) wouldn't exist. The chance to connect and brainstorm at a holiday gathering could produce real results. So seek out colleagues outside of your immediate team. Take advantage of this informal channel to offer an idea to your boss. Be sure to thank your assistants, support staff, and junior team members for their contributions. Be open to people talking to you; remember, good ideas can come from anywhere. Microsoft (MSFT), eBay (EBAY), and Google (GOOG) were all founded by friends. Reconnecting with old acquaintances and friends over the holidays can spark new inspiration. The chance to have dinner, meet for drinks, or join a potluck provides a means for exchanging points of view or to experiment with new ideas. Friends can be both a reality check as well as allies in building new ideas. Family celebrations are also an opportunity to tap cross-generational perspectives. After all, you could be pitching your next business partner. The U.S. Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners reports that 87% of U.S. firms are family-owned. They make up one-third of Fortune 500 firms and generate half of American GNP. So, when you sit down for the big holiday meal, bring up a business idea to see what kind of response you receive. Marriott (MAR), Nordstrom (JWN), and Disney (DIS) all started as family businesses. Listen for OpportunitiesAnd while some of the most valuable resources are not financial, access to capital is often critical. A Kauffman Foundation study released November 2009 reveals that just as many startup businesses are funded by family and friends as receive bank loans. Creatively thinking about what resources might be available can open unanticipated doors. Don't miss this opportunity for shared success. Successful innovators spot gaps, connect dots, or transplant good ideas from one place to another. Janet Hanson started 85 Broads, a global network of professional women, based on listening to the needs of Goldman Sachs (GS) alums. Similarly, Sara Horowitz heard the cries of freelancers who lacked health insurance and founded Freelancers Union to serve their need. A great innovator is someone who listens. This is a unique time of the year when people gather from across geographies and sectors. Listen to them talk and be alert to excitement or frictions that might uncover new opportunities. And remember, not all gifts come wrapped under a tree. The holidays bring an opportunity to tap into resources that may not be readily apparent. An experienced family member might offer professional advice, or a friend might help build a Web site, create a marketing pitch, or conduct a financial review. It could be a referral or even office space. YouTube, for example, started in borrowed LinkedIn office space in Palo Alto, Calif. (The founders of both companies were friends from their PayPal days.) So don't wait for New Year's resolutions. The holiday season is for innovators. As you meet and greet this winter season, adopt an innovator's approach.

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