For several years I’ve been sharing an idea in my How To Support Your Wanderlust seminars, but suspect I’ve never convinced anyone to try it.

I’ve suggested that a photographer might set up shop near famous tourist spots and take pictures of visitors which they turn into postcards. Not only would this appeal to solo travelers (like me), but lots of tourists would enjoy sending unique postcards with themselves in the picture.

To my delight, someone has finally done something  similar. Michael Lato founded, a site where you can turn your vacation photos into postcards. Hazel will print and mail your postcard anywhere in the world for $1.50.

Got an idea for a business but think it’s already been done to death? Consider putting a new spin on an old idea. It’s another way to stand out from the crowd.

That’s precisely what Paul Hawken did when he returned from Findhorn in Scotland wanting to import the gardening tools he’d discovered in the UK. Despite warnings from the experts that Americans would never buy gardening tools from a mail order company, Hawken and his partner David Smith printed up their first little catalog, mailed it to their friends and Smith & Hawken was born.

The possibilities for adding a twist to an old idea are endless. For instance, touring famous destinations has been around for centuries. A popular variation on that business is offering tours after dark.

You can take a helicopter ride over the Las Vegas Strip or tour Jerusalem’s Old City after the sun goes down. In London, a popular night time walking tour follows the trail of Jack the Ripper. It just wouldn’t be the same in daylight.

Jim Denevan, an artist, surfer, chef and founder of the Slow Food Movement, has turned the ordinary picnic into a foodie’s delight. His company, Outstanding in the Field, hosts picnics at beaches, vineyards and other outdoor venues.

You won’t find fried chicken and potato salad on his menu, however. Denevan flies in top chefs from major cities to prepare the special cuisine. His company is currently undergoing a global expansion with events planned in Italy, Spain, France and Australia.

Or take your business to the customer as massage therapists, dog groomers and car detailers have done. It’s an idea that’s served Tupperware and Avon nicely and seems especially appealing in our busy times.

Have you uncovered—or started—a business that’s put a new twist on an old idea? If so, we’d love to hear about it.


Hardly a week passes without some study or article about what it takes to be an entrepreneur appearing. One of the latest purports that entrepreneurs are born, not made. While I couldn’t agree less, there is one quality that seems to be present in all successful entrepreneurs: resourcefulness.


Resourcefulness is a close cousin to ingenuity. My dictionary says it’s “clever at finding ways of doing things.” I think of it as valuing and using the resources at hand.


In her wonderful book, If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland tells would-be authors, You must become aware of this richness in you and come to believe in it. But it is like this: if you have a million dollars in the bank and don’t know it, it doesn’t do you any good.” It’s not just writers who need to take Ueland’s advice to heart. 


The best way to cultivate resourcefulness is to purposely practice it in everyday life. Here are a few ways to do just that:


* Ask Resourceful Questions. Is there a better way? Who would find this useful? How can I do this in the most creative way? Questions like these will add momentum to your ideas and you’ll start bringing more of them to life.


* Go on an Idea Quest. “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum,” says Robert Wieder. “The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” 


Although entrepreneurs sometimes bemoan the fact that they have too many ideas, that doesn’t stop them from getting more. Ideas, after all, are our real stock in trade. Keeping the pump primed means paying attention to unlikely, as well as obvious, sources of inspiration.


Whenever your creative spirit needs a lift, intentionally go looking for ideas. Sign up for a seminar or sit in a park or mall and watch people. Visit a business you wouldn’t normally go to and open your mind to the unexpected.


* Find Your Funny Bone. Laughter not only reduces stress and has a positive impact on our health and well-being, it can also put us into a more resourceful state of mind. Last year, I stumbled across an audiobook at my library that had me in stitches. It was a collection of Prairie Home Companion’s Joke Shows. Lots of the jokes were corny, but there were plenty that were hilarious. I couldn’t stop telling my favorites to anyone who would listen. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that several great ideas for new projects popped into my head after this laughter fest.


* Notice and Respond. When I received a clipping about an interesting business idea from one of my subscribers, I also noticed this invitation printed above the story. It said, “Have you taken the bold move of stepping out into the world of entrepreneurial self-employment? Send the Tribune a 150-word description of your business and we will enter your business in our editorial lineup.”


Opportunities are everywhere if  we open our eyes—and accept appropriate invitations.


* Make Brainstorming with a Group of Creative Thinkers Your New Hobby. There’s nothing quite like spending time getting and giving fresh ideas and perspectives. Start your own small group and commit to meeting (in person or by phone) once a month for half a year and see what happens. Sharing ideas with others opens your mind to new and better ideas of your own. Nice bonus.


Of course, events like Follow Through Camp are packed with creative brainstorms. Avoid such experiences at your own peril.


* Notice resourcefulness in action. I was delighted to receive my new copy of one of my all-time favorite books, Make the Impossible Possible by Bill Strickland. Although I’ve read it twice, I promptly began reading it again. This true story of resourcefulness in action takes my breath away. It will take yours away, too.

It’s ridiculously easy to become an information junkie these days. The Internet puts an astonishing array of facts and figures at our fingertips. If you’re starting a business, hundreds of Web sites will happily flood you with more information; whether it has anything to do with your enterprise is another matter.

There’s no question that information is an essential part of creating a successful business, but it’s only one part of the equation. That seems obvious to me, but when I look at the popularity of how-to formulas, whether in books or seminars, I realize that many people are missing the pieces that really make a business stand out. What I’m talking about isn’t information at all: it’s the raw material of creativity.

Recently I was thinking about some of the entrepreneurs who have inspired me. Without exception, they’re all people who haven’t followed a formula, people who have put their own imprint on a business and done so in a way that’s totally unique. That’s not a new phenomenon, of course.

In 1937, Fortune magazine wrote a profile of the folks behind Neiman-Marcus in Dallas. Here’s what the author discovered about the family whose business bore their name:

Herbert Marcus and his sister Carrie Neiman, and his three sons in the business, have sublimated and channeled every ounce of their considerable selves into four floors of beautiful merchandise. The reason is not that they lack other interests…it’s the other way around. They are exciting business people because in one sense they aren’t business people at all; and they live the store, not by lacking outside interests, but by transferring them all inside. With his mobile Jewish expression, Herbert Marcus quotes Plato or Flaubert at you, displays a Canaletto in his dining room and dreams of owning a Renoir. But his real creative and artistic self is released on Neiman-Marcus. Similarly his sense of drama is expended there, his sense of prophecy, his powers of psychology, his strong moral sense. It isn’t a matter of being 100% on the job (though all of them always are), but rather of being dedicated to some austere and lofty mission.

Inc. magazine founder Bernie Goldhirsch frequently reminded his staff that entrepreneurs are artists and business is their canvas. Like a conventional artist, feeding your imagination with ideas, images and inspiration from a multitude of sources keeps your creative muscles limber.Sometimes the journey to building a great business starts in a museum.


I’ve been singing the praises of Laser Monks for years. Now the NY Times chimes in. Love those monk/entrepreneurs.