The Key to Innovative Business Ideas: Cross-Pollination

bee on a flower

Gather round, everyone. It’s time to have “The Talk.”

You know the one I mean. You’ve started asking lots of questions and I can tell you’re ready for it, so make yourselves comfortable and let’s go over the basics.

Because if you’re in business, you need to know about this. It’s crucial to your success. Mastering this technique will put a spring in your step, and bring new life to your ventures.

Plus, it’s actually pretty fun.

Birds do it, bees do it

The birds and the bees do this naturally, and we can, too. It’s called cross-pollination.

They fly from one flower to another, or one tree to the next, picking up bits of one plant and carrying it to the other.

The plant on the receiving end of this pollination is hardier and able to reproduce with greater variety. It meets environmental challenges more successfully because it’s genetically diverse.

In the same way, when you cross-pollinate ideas, you make your business stronger. You’ll be better able to weather the difficulties that every business and brand has to face to survive.

Keeping your eyes open to sources for ideas is the first step. Having a system for gathering and using these ideas is important, too. Really great ideas can be found where you least expect them.

Get started here

First, the obvious sources. Cross-pollinate your business with innovative new ideas by:

  • Reading books, magazines and websites outside your field.
  • Talking to people in different industries. Find out what their challenges are and how they’ve met them. Ask yourself how you can apply their solutions to your own business.
  • Learning from your customers. Design thinking is a concept that is built around staying in close touch with your customers’ needs, and building your products and services around meeting them.

Look for love in all the wrong places

You can find great new ideas in places you never expected, too.

  • Get inspiration from your fiercest competition. Your competitors are fighting the same battles you are. What are they doing that you can learn from? How have they solved the same challenges you face? What techniques do they use to succeed? What are some problems they don’t solve particularly well, where you could fill in the gap?
  • Learn from your own failures. The School of Hard Knocks can teach you more than anything else. Look back on your projects and learn from what went wrong, so that you can get it right the next time.

Keep the innovative ideas flowing

Finally, it’s easier to keep the new ideas flowing in to your business if you have a structure in place that allows cross-pollination to happen on a regular basis. Here are some techniques:

  • Create an informal Board of Directors.. Gather a group of 3-5 people who are willing to support your efforts. Meet with them in person or by phone at least four times a year. Update them on your goals, the progress you’re making, and your struggles. Let the ideas flow, and take good notes.
  • Join a Mastermind group. Many groups meet monthly, some more often. Some Chamber of Commerce organizations coordinate them, but you can also find virtual Mastermind groups with a quick web search. The group supports each member, so you’ll both offer and receive encouragement and ideas.
  • Join a virtual private community. Authority is a great place to connect with like-minded people and generate exciting new business ideas.
  • Consider working with a coach. Because business coaches speak to many different clients, they’ll naturally cross pollinate your conversations with ideas they’ve picked up from helping other people.

Small business, big ideas

We all want a more resilient business, and a lot of Copyblogger readers have very small organizations. Letting ideas flow freely between your small-scale operation and the larger world will build a business that withstands the challenges of the marketplace.

How about you? Are you gathering and applying ideas from all over? Buzz down to the comments and cross-pollinate them with some thoughts of your own.

About the Author: Pamela Wilson has been in the same Mastermind group since 2004. She cross pollinates her Big Brand System site with ideas to help small businesses use the power of design to grow.

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Reader Comments (79)

  1. says

    Hey Pamela,

    I do get a lot of great ideas meeting people from different businesses. You mention to be part of a mastermind group. Wow..this will make a huge different and take a business to another level. I will encourage individuals to reach out and put together a mastermind group.

    Chat with you later…

  2. says

    Great post Pamela.

    We want to avoid “looking for love in all the wrong places” but you never know where your next great idea might come from. Casting a wide net has certainly worked for me.

    My little blog is definitely a mash-up of inspiration I find throughout the blogosphere. Colonel Saunders inspired a bible-study plan. Captain America provided a reminder of how to persevere in the midst of life’s difficulties.


  3. says

    Great post Pamela!

    I think that cross-pollination is one of the greatest strengths of freelancers. Unlike the corporate player who may be stuck always facing a very narrow work task, we freelancers are exposed to a wide of variety of organizations with greatly varying needs.

    Personally, I’m always on the lookout for new things to learn as well. (And, I’m enjoying my Third Tribe membership.)

    • says


      Surely, if the corporate world continues to hide away from the ever diversifying land of opportunity for much longer then smaller competition will begin to take over.

      Will they really allow that to happen? I mean, they take their time “learning” and do a lot more talking then action. Will this ever change…

  4. says

    I like to think that I’m usually pretty good with my observation skills – I rarely have problems getting fresh, geeky ideas to apply somewhere. I’ve never tried actually talking to someone else one-on-one though until recently, when I tried out a consulting package offered by someone I trust.

    Not only did they provided fresh angles on issues that I was already concerned about, they added a lot of “to-work-on” points that I hadn’t even considered. The little light bulb over my head was working overtime after I finished that email. It was brilliant.

    Incredibly good points here, Pamela!

    • says


      This is a typical “been there, done that” situation that many people have faced before.

      I wouldn’t have been able to get as far as I have (which is still not that far, just yet!) without the constant support and advice of veterans in the industry.

      Very important individual to have on board. :)

  5. says

    Josh, my Mastermind group has made a big difference in my business.

    I’ve been a one-person shop (with freelance help) for a long time. My Mastermind cohorts have seen my business develop, know my personal and professional history, and they hold me accountable for my goals.

    And because they’re in industries that are very different from mine, our conversations are cross pollinated with all sorts of ideas. They have been helpful and supportive, and I leave our meetings with lots of new ideas.

    • Nicole Klein says

      Hi Pamela,
      Great post and I’ll be tweeting it shortly. I’ve always ascribed to the concept of cross-pollinating ideas and can’t agree more with the hows and whys. Including the idea of joining/forming a Mastermind. I joined a bunch of incredibly dynamic and intelligent folks for lunch, we scheduled another and before long we decided to format our gatherings into a mastermind group. Sometimes we were successful and productive in our meetings and other times less productive. Unfortunately it dissipated and I’ve since moved away. But I’m committed to the idea of Mastermind groups because I know first hand the benefits. Each time I left energized and ready to try new ideas formed within the group. So in my “new” hometown (the Denver suburb Highlands Ranch, CO) I’d like to begin to re-form (or join) a new group. I’d love to hear any insights you’d like to share…what’s worked, what hasn’t, ground rules, number of members, frequency of meetings, length and format, etc. Thank you!

  6. says

    Funnily enough I have been thinking about this a lot recently after listening to Eben Pagan and Yanik Silver say how instrumental to success mastermind groups have been in their businesses.

    I get a lot of support online from both The Remarkables and Third Tribe forums but think it’s time for some face to face otherwise it just feels like an imaginary world!

    If there are any UK people in the South-east that would like to form a mastermind, give me a shout. Think cross-polination for business owners is a fabulous idea – thank you Pamela!

  7. says

    I second the point you made about working with a coach-it is invaluable. Simply get a list of influencers and ask them for some advice. James from MenWithPens is giving out so much advice that he recently started charging for more consulting times :)

    Always ask but always be prepared to do something in return, however small.

    It matters. And it makes you look good too.

  8. says

    It’s funny how leaving and reading blog comments is a great way to cross-pollinate, but many choose not to do either.

    I took a comment from a Copyblogger post 9 months back and turned it into a website with Sean Platt.

    Sure retweeting a post is great, but it’s not cross-pollination because you’re not leaving anything behind for the host flower.

    • says


      Really, that’s incredible!

      Although not surprising, the community at CopyBlogger is special. :)

      Don’t know where I’d be without the added thoughts from commenters. Someone could really shape an great blog post just through the series of comments.

  9. says

    Shane Arthur said: “It’s funny how leaving and reading blog comments is a great way to cross-pollinate, but many choose not to do either.”

    Lol, I was just about to do exactly that — busted!

    Thanks, Pamela, for another great post. I’ve been wanting to be part of a mastermind group for a long time, but I’m not clear on how to find one. Or do you just form one with some friends? Since I don’t personally know any small business people IRL, face-to-face wouldn’t work. What I’d rather do is have an online mastermind group. Or is that counterintuitive?

  10. says


    I’ve benefited from a hybrid of your last four bullets. I’ve joined together with a small, but strange collection of guys that include a marketing strategist, a church program director, two clinical therapists and an entrepreneur. I get more ideas (and metaphors) from this little group than any of the “normal” and “traditional” stuff I keep up with.

    It’s kind of a mastermind group meets coaching with some informal board duties sprinkled on top. Very serendipitous for a marketer and writer like me!

    I appreciate your post.

  11. says

    LaVonne, I found mine online, and it’s virtual. We meet by phone once a month and have a message board where we keep in touch between calls. We’re scattered all over geographically, but we’ve managed to get together in person a few times, too.

  12. says

    Thanks for this post Pamela – lots of really great info. I take part in both a mastermind group and online community that both forge ideas as you described.

  13. says

    I joined forces with some online friends to form a mastermind group. We had our first meeting via Skype just week and it was brilliant! Having read this, mingled with the memory of how inspiring last week was, I’m so glad we made the decision to start.

    Like you talk about, I love getting ideas from lots of different places but what I haven’t done yet is found a reliable way to record everything. A quick note on my phone is as far as it goes. Thanks for making me think.

  14. says

    Hi Pamela,
    Great post. I’m really enjoying reading your stuff. I’ve known for a long time that you were a great designer but you have the rare ability to put into words what you do visually. Really great stuff.

    I’m looking forward to getting in a Mastermind group myself. I’m hoping to start one this fall. Everything is in place and with a little luck it will help guide me as your has helped you.

    Keep up the great work.

  15. says

    I remember reading about this in On Writing by Stephen King, how he created Carrie.

    I started thinking about this from another Copyblogger post. Since my community is small if any at all right now, I started reading Yahoo Answers for some ideas on what questions people were asking related to my niche. It opened up to what others were wondering about instead of just my own questions.

    I’ve checked out the competition and they are light years ahead of me, but miss some small things that help beginners get started. It takes too long to learn their site in some cases.

    I’m not clear on a mastermind group either, as LaVonne mentioned. Does Third Tribe help with getting your site ranked and listed on page one of Google? I’ve been trying different programs, but they all want me to buy so much extra software and write hundreds of articles. Talk about overwhelm… I would like to join a community – that would help I’m sure.

    • says

      @Gabrielle: Sounds like you could benefit from Jon Morrow’s course. Hurry though, it closes tonight:


      • says

        @ Shane – Ha ha! I already signed up :) I can’t wait to start! I’m ready to “dive into the pool and master my strokes” through Coach Jon’s help.

  16. says

    Guys, you need to have your mastermind people on instant messenger and talk to them EVERY DAY. Also, try to meet up in meatspace once per week at least.

    For social bonding, lots of time passage, synchronization of minds, and repeated IRL exposure is key. Another thing that is important for bonding is, counter-intuitively, making mistakes together.

  17. says

    Thanks for this great post Pamela! It’s another great piece to add to the work I’m doing in your My Big Brand System – which I would recommend to all small business owners struggling with updating marketing materials, developing a cohesive marketing brand, or doing a business makeover.

    In any case, the piece about checking out the competitors has fueled much of the innovation part of my makeover and is a key point. When I first started my consulting practice in my industry, there really was no such thing. But now others have emerged particularly with the whole evolution of web 2.0. So I’ve looked at what others are doing to make sure that I am filling in cracks that they aren’t filling and that has also been reinforced by surveying the market. The market has also indicated that the cracks I’ve identified are ones they’re interested in.

    I have used cross-pollination from the start of my business and feel you are right on target with its value. Thanks again for sharing your perspective!

  18. says

    Thanks Pamela.

    I like to cross-pollinate my career blog with strategies from the direct marketing world.

    I love it when readers send me feedback saying, “I never thought about it like that before!”.

  19. says

    Solid thinking. Loaded with good tips and well thought through insights. I must note here about the cross-pollination rule—many innovations have had their genesis through observing creation. Thanks for reminding me of the truth of this as it applies to new business ideas.

  20. says

    I do have lots of ideas on my mind for business startups over the internet and offline but the problem really is the implementation. Gt this idea and did not implement it right away till somebody got that and implement it. What a waste and it did happen several times. Hope next week I can implement one.

  21. says

    Great Post!

    I find that reading blogs that have nothing to do with copywriting (everything from hypnosis to being homeless to spiritual connection), give me ideas, fodder to not only come up with better blog posts but also exposure to different writing styles, helping me to learn and improve my craft.

    I also study photographs and product and shop descriptions on Seeing how small business owners there promote themselves gives me more ideas on how to write sales copy…something I struggle with more than blogging.

    To @HippyHop, don’t try to implement an entire plan at once. Pick one small piece to act on during the next couple of weeks and see where it takes you. Once you’ve worked on that piece for two weeks, pick a new piece and start again. No one eats a whole cow in one sitting, nor should you expect yourself to. :)

  22. says

    Hi Pamela,
    I agreed that resilient people should work with each other to create better result in anything they do. Cross pollination does not only complies on marketing or business, in real life too. Being human made us not perfect, no matter how much genius gen we have in our brain. Exchanging ideas with people other than ourselves broaden our mind and perspective. Gathering and exchanging ideas with others would generate more thoughts, and even better, debates. These discussion and arguments made our ideas bloom.
    Like flowers, different pollen bloomed different colors. Made our ideas colorful.Get connected 😉

  23. says

    What a hoot. I just posted an article on my blog yesterday “Five innovative approaches to a creative business” and ‘cross-pollination’ was one of them. Must be the great minds, great ideas, perfect times scenario. Thanks Pamela.
    Great comments too, and it’s so true that Copyblogger is about much more than blogs, in the end. Best to all- Tory

  24. says

    I love the example of the bird and the bee. They can do it, why not us? I think it is a bit harder but not something impossible. Great article :-)

  25. says

    Great concepts used to discuss the topic of giving Pamela. There are plenty of people out there touting this message of give before you receive… but it works. Getting along to mastermind groups and offering ideas and suggestions (in a non know-it-all fashion), often results in people more willing to share their knowledge and ideas with you.

    Do you have a list of virtual mastermind groups you know of, such as the one you are part of, or is there a website that offers this service?

  26. says

    I get some of my best ideas from other industries. I always try to think how I can incorporate some new ideas into my business. I can find inspiration anywhere.

  27. Andy Richards says

    Nice article. I think investigating into areas outside of your usual field not only helps to come up with innovative strategies but it also gives us a break mentally from thinking and focusing on the same issues and problems all the time. That way we can come back fresh and maybe a new angle of attack.

  28. says

    It still amazes me how much pest control permeates all niches and industry types. People love using examples of bugs and creepy crawlies to demonstrate a real-world solution to an exisiting problem. Brilliant piece – as ever – here on copyblogger.

  29. Annie Stith (@Gr8fulAnnie) says

    Hey, Pamela!

    Thanks for a great post! As someone in the midst of developing my “business” (my site’s really all about creating community rather than marketing), posts like yours help me develop a stronger structure before I even launch.

    For myself, it’s more important to reach out and help people in an area that’s not even a niche –yet. I do have plans for sales of some of my writing later on, with the community acting as a platform.

    Two things I use not mentioned here are meditation/visualization where I see the end result and creatively work backwards to imagine ways I achieved success, and frestyle writing which is a way to free associate by just letting go and letting it flow. It’s after I finish these solo tools that I take my ideas and cross pollinate by checking with friends and colleagues about my way-out ideas and get them translated into real world plans.

    Thanks again for the great post!


    • says

      Annie, I just recently started using freewriting and I agree: it’s amazing! I learned about it after I wrote this post, so it’s not included here, but it’s a fantastic tool. And of course meditation is great for quieting your mind long enough to let the idea flow. Thanks for these two great points.

  30. says

    Hi Pamela, great article, simple concept but so true. Internet Marketing can seem so overwhelming to newbies, who perhaps hope for instant results – but the truth is, success only comes with hard work, study, understanding, and having access to other great people who help, support, and kindly criticize you! I have also recently written a blog post about the tribal or shared marketing concept, which is a happening and important trend – enjoy!
    Thanks again, Kathryn Wilson

  31. says

    Do we need innovation in our businesses? Yes. Do we need support from others who are in the same situation? Yes. Are mastermind groups a good idea? Yes.
    I agree with all that. Working with a coach is what got me where I am. But, I did try the informal board of directors idea and that didn’t work for me. As a small business one of the advantages we have is the ability to react quickly to changes in the market. My informal ‘board’ slowed me down at a crucial point, so it’s not something I’ve gone ahead with. Perhaps I didn’t organize it well.
    On the plus side this year I’ve been part of a forum and a mastermind group and both are invaluable.
    Thanks for a very interesting post.

    • says

      Lesley, the quality of your informal board of directors will always vary based on who the members are, and even where they are in their business and personal development. It’s a shame it didn’t work for you, but I’m glad to hear you’ve found other ways to get support.

  32. says

    I get together via telephone once a week with a couple of woman I met through (online) business. Great brainstorming time.

    I am also coordinator of the Central New York Network Marketing group through

    We meet monthly- some months only one or two people have shown up. We have had some GREAT meetings sharing business idea’s, marketing techniques and more.

  33. says

    Good insights. It really is more about people, community, and group innovation than considering all of your knowledge proprietary these days. I call it the power of “We”. Hop on board and let’s push and pull each other to the top.
    I look forward to meeting you!
    Brett Relander
    TacticalMarketingLabs dot com

  34. says

    great post. Of all the blogs I subscribe to – I always read this one. There is always something of use.
    Thanks for the push. I have been wanting to start an informal brainstorming group with some local colleagues and now I’m going to go ahead and do it!


  35. says

    Great post and a fundamentally great concept. I coach my clients regularly to engage, educate, and emulate as much as they can. Being a small business owner can often lead to unintentionally “fencing” one’s self off from the rest of the world while being bogged down with “taking care of business”. And this, of course, leads to an anemic and one-dimensional approach to everything from marketing to managing to client fulfillment. Keep up the great work!

  36. says

    Funny. I commented on a post here the other day to the effect that sometimes I get as much or more from the comments than I do from the post. When the quality of the posts is high (and they are, thanks), the discussion just makes it even better.

    Keep it up

    • says

      Brendon, I saw your comment the other day and I wholeheartedly agree: the comments section at Copyblogger is just as compelling as the content. Lots of smart people hanging around who are willing to share their struggles and help one another. It’s a very nice vibe!

  37. says

    Learning from the birds and the bees — what a clever post! I totally agree with this “..when you cross-pollinate ideas, you make your business stronger.”

    Learning from others, sharing and contributing ideas is indeed great for personal growth, as well as business growth. Truth is, we need each other to survive!

    • says


      So true, the world would never have evolved to its current state without a little cooperation and like minded people forging a path to a better tomorrow. :)

  38. says

    Thanks for sharing Pamela. I’ve actually received quite a bit of help in the form of ideas by looking at the some of the copyblogger headlines :-)

    Even though my blog is about Stress Relief for Caregivers, I seem to always come up with a post when I’m stumped simply by looking through old copyblogger posts.

    Thanks Brian, Sonia and all the rest :-)

  39. says

    Great post, Pamela.

    The power of a MasterMind group can be incredibly powerful.

    Some of us who took health coach training together formed a group that continued after the class was over. When we challenged ourselves to see how we could really help people in February 2009 in the pain of the economic downturn, we realized the losses people were experiencing were a form of grief.

    Long story short: The 6 of us wrote a book, published in Dec 2009.

    You can check out our business and book here:

    MasterMind groups can go beyond brainstorming ideas to challenge each other and hold each other accountable. I’m a believer.

  40. says

    Mastermind groups are the best way for solo-preneurs and small business owners to build on the strengths of others without having a huge staff to pay for.

    I wish that there were more organized ways for people to gather in this fashion, not in large communities, but groups of 3-8. This is where the million dollar ideas are hatched and this is where every member of the mastermind group can be propped up to help each other succeed.

    When you are a member of one fo these groups, you can let your gaurd down, because you are all in it to help each other. every secret is shared and you don’t have to worry about competing against each other. You are competing against everyone else outside of your mastermind.

    How about it?

    Anyone with me?

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  41. says

    Awesome article, I do get a lot of ideas reading books, meeting people and from those that I admire whether be it’s a direct competitor or not. I try to learn from their failures and create a new idea from existing one…..

  42. says

    Following professionals from other industries on Twitter is one way I do this. Even if I don’t follow the news from these other industries, following the patterns and differences of how that industry promotes itself is often unique to each one – which gives me an ever-changing flow of marketing ideas.

  43. says

    I’m a big believer in cross pollination because you’ll find that where it’s missing within a small group of people the same (sometimes incorrect) information is often passed around repeatedly.

    This potentially incorrect information becomes enforced by different people repeating it over and over. I’ve seen it happen before in small forums.

    Opening yourself up to acquire knowledge from many different sources prevents this happening and keeps things fresh.

    Anyway, another excellent post. Your blog was highly recommended to me and rightly so.

    Best regards,

  44. says

    Following professionals from other industries on Twitter is one way I do this. Even if I don’t follow the news from these other industries, following the patterns and differences of how that industry promotes itself is often unique to each one – which gives me an ever-changing flow of marketing ideas.

  45. says

    I think communicating with your competition is huge. Being in the carpet cleaning business, I was always intimidated by others in my market. After I started talking with them I realized they are just hardworking people just like me and in reality I gained all kinds of insight into the workings of my market place.

    I also recommend contacting those that have retired from your specific field, they are a wealth of knowledge. Thanks,


  46. says

    This is another great post from you Pamela, thanks! The wealth of information is not solely present in the write up but also in the comments. I surely learned a lot.

    Lately, I can barely see “competition.” With the unending wealth of information one can get and the unnerving tasks ahead, thinking about competition and shying away from people of the same business that I’m in is actually stunting the growth of my company. I am in constant communication with another company in Lebanon and we share ideas. We learn a lot from each other and business is good for both of us.

  47. says

    I urgently need some help with my Business and Travel Opportunities Network– your cross pollination of any ideas about how I can add value for my 780 members and therefore make money for myself will be greatly appreciated.


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