How to Come up with an Idea for an Essay or Project in College

Newton’s Apple

For example, someone would like to create a social enterprise and solidarity in college, but he or she has no idea how to implement it. Humanitarian actions, traveling, associations – all of that is just a big mess in a person’s head. The student’s world is full of entrepreneurial ambitions, but many projects remain in the boxes because they have not been clearly defined. So, how can we find the good idea, the founding intuition that will constitute the backbone of the project and allow it to succeed?

Team Brainstorming

Time to Brainstorm

Even if you managed to come up with something on your own, you will need a team to move on with your project. In order to make an idea go forward, start by gathering a small motivated college group (from 3 to 15 people) and engage in the activity called brainstorming. From this point onwards, it is a question of formulating as many ideas as possible together in a limited time. Before starting this brainstorming session, be sure to set the rules for the exercise; clearly state the subject of the research and ask the group to respect the CQSS: C– criticism is forbidden (we do not criticize any ideas that come out and never say «Oh no, it’s not your idea!» to block anyone); Q – quantity of ideas comes first (we have to get out a lot of ideas without looking at this stage if they are feasible); S – silly is welcome (it is often by unraveling one’s imagination that one becomes creative); S – systematic reduction (one listens and bounces on the ideas of others, the goal is not to push your own idea but to move forward together).

Draw a Mental Map of the Project

Whether you are in a group or alone, you can also clarify a project using the mind mapping technique or the mental map. It is a method of representing all aspects of a question visually. You write down the subject for which you are looking for some ideas. Then, you have your thoughts attached to it using arrows and different colors. You should try to group similar points in the same area. This allows you to locate the different panels that need to be processed. For example, for an entrepreneurial project, there may be a product zone, a customer profile area, a needs or social utility area, etc.

Use Inversion or Exquisite Ways of Expression

Unique Ideas

There are two techniques which help stimulate creativity. The first one is a reversal technique: to find solutions to a problem (like reducing the food waste), look for the opposite objectives first (how to maximize the mess). Not only is the exercise fun because it allows you to let go, but it also highlights the key elements on which to rely to solve the initial problem. The second technique involves the inducer words or «exquisite corpses»: it is a question of stimulating new angles of approach by associating the words in an unusual way. To do this, indicate the central topic you are working on at the center of a sheet (trip, evening, new product, social service, etc.), and associate a dozen random adjectives with it. This can lead to associations of ideas that lead to some new and unexpected solutions.

Test Your Ideas by Doing Surveys

You have ideas, but how to sort them and find the right one, the one that will meet the most success and which would meet a real need in the world, find its market and its customers? Which idea will seduce those to whom you want to address? You have to move on to the market research phase: you can use various survey tools and surveys, for instance, to create an online questionnaire to be completed by a panel of the selected people. But the first thing to do is to clearly define your goals. What do you want to know exactly? Will an online survey help you identify trends or patterns (such as the popularity of a mobile phone among your users)? Will it be useful to establish an informed product development plan? Do you just want to know your net recommendation rate? Or do you plan to send an online survey to attract more people to your next trade show? Maybe you are trying to regain the trust of the dissatisfied customers? To create an effective online questionnaire, you must first define your goals: this is the only way to ask the right questions.

Refine Your Idea with the Matrix of Discovery

Another technique for sorting your ideas and arriving at the right concept is the matrix of discovery. When you have already more or less defined your project, there may still be some points that need to be clarified. This combinatorics method makes it possible to test various combinations in a somewhat more rational way than in the combination of unusual words:

– break down the problem by identifying the key elements that can vary in the definition of the product, service, project (price, target, theme, objective);

– build a double-entry table, putting the project name, product, service or the core idea online in one column and the various criteria that my vary in the other;

– examine each combination by asking yourself: is there already a response or a product for that? If so, can any additional value be added? If not, is there an opportunity for innovation? To increase the effectiveness of the discovery, we must carefully choose the various criteria of the matrix, limit their number and systematically analyze each combination.

Summarize Your Idea in a Form

Did you find your idea? Simply formulate it in a few lines on a piece of paper. If the idea is well conceived, it can be clearly stated on the paper. In turn, these words will prove that it may be easily turned into reality. Similarly, a good idea must be easily communicable. Quite often, you get excited during a creativity session, but no one is able to tell what really came out the day after that. This small form of self-control must protect you from this risk and allow you to go further: implementation, communication, fundraising, slogan… At the same time, it does not prevent you from continuing being creative at each stage.

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