Bored and stuck at home? Put on your thinking cap!

Tonio Palmer

Creative thinking and problem solving are wonderful power skills that all of us can learn to do. Every profession needs people who can identify opportunities, develop new concepts or products, be willing to solve difficult problems, be creative and open-minded about the future and be able to manage the creative process. The entrepreneurial mindset is a power skill every employer is looking for and college is a great time and place to learn it.   

Like any skill, it takes practice, patience, resilience and practice (did I say practice?). It also helps to understand the process and know that it is a long and winding road from the spark of an idea to the launch of a venture and another long and winding road to build that venture from there. The liberal arts education you are getting at Williams is a perfect fit for embracing the complexity and uncertainty of developing ideas.

So why not get started today? It is easiest to innovate from a place of knowledge, so think about things you already know a lot about: your daily life, a sport you practice, a hobby, your thesis topic, music, how you communicate, or, now, how to keep from touching your face or how you study remotely. Write down at least three ideas a day (many more if you can). All ideas: the good, the bad and the ugly. Quantity is better than quality! You can do a “wouldn’t it be great if…” like, “Wouldn’t it be great if I could look at people’s eyes when video chatting” without knowing the solution, or you can dream up a product idea like a toothbrush with the toothpaste loaded inside. All is good. Better yet, get some friends online and brainstorm with them. Pick a topic and everyone dumps ideas (wild ones too please!) — no analysis or critique of any ideas during this phase (very important), just riff.  

Having fun yet? Next, form groupings of ideas/themes/problems and see if some promising ideas jump out.  Pick one that excites you and you would like to explore. Then comes the research (does it exist, what comes close, who needs my idea, what do they really need, how can I improve this idea, etc.). As a Williams student, you are already practiced at doing research. If you are part of a team, divide and conquer what needs to get done. Become the expert. I call this part the care and feeding of an idea. Talk to as many people who might use your idea as possible, and not just your friends. Talk with alumni and use the amazing library databases. Be ready to have your idea change dramatically during this process. Now you will be in a better place to understand if your idea has a chance and you will have a clearer idea of how to make it a reality if you want.

Now you have an idea that is well thought through with a clearer path to making it happen. Executing on the idea is a whole different thing and usually better left for after graduation. But tell a potential employer what you went through to develop your idea and ask them about the problems they are facing, and I promise you will get their attention! 

Tonio Palmer is the Director of Entrepreneurship at the Career Center. He advises students interested in working in startups. He also teaches a Winter Study travel course on entrepreneurship, runs the annual Venture Pitch Competition and mentors student teams working on venture ideas.