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Ideas on a napkin please

Techniques

American Airlines has hijacked the urban myth that winning business ideas get scrawled on a napkin. In partnership with innovative business website Wakefield, they launched a competition asking for business pitches in exactly that format.

Stating that “in the spirit of innovation, American is giving you the chance to think big and win domestic air travel” it taps in to the idea that we can get caught short (in the paper and pen sense) when inspiration strikes.

Entrants are allowed to submit an idea for a product or business related to a start-up, something new or an improved product. Written descriptions and/or sketches submitted on special competition napkins (this is an American competition so napkins are paper tissue, not fabric as in the UK) would be judged by a panel of experts based on novelty, creativity and viability as a product or business.

Entrepreneur proves this method of business innovation is not just a myth with five examples from a chile distribution firm to medical equipment rental.

Dan Roam has made a business out of doodling on the back of napkins, teaching executives to do the same. From an article in Businessweek:

Take the story of Southwest Airlines: During a dinner meeting with his lawyer in 1967, Texas entrepreneur Rollin King jotted down the names of three cities on a napkin—San Antonio, Houston, and Dallas—and connected them to form a triangle. A small airline that offered nonstop flights between these hotspots, he explained, would have an edge over big airlines like American and Continental, which forced travelers in the region to fly through expensive and time-consuming hubs.

Sometimes the best ideas are written on the back of an envelope, such as the birth of Martin Miller’s Gin. Can scrawling on a scrap of paper lead to a successful business? According to Martin Miller’s growth of around 100% per year in China, the Middle East, Australia, Southeast Asia and Spain, it can.

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