A back-of-the-napkin idea is a concept that is normally created on the spur of the moment and is quickly captured by jotting down a few quick notes on the back of whatever type of paper happens to be available at the time. The term itself is indicative of how an idea may occur while dining with others, and the basics of the idea are quickly recorded on the back of a dinner or cocktail napkin while they are still fresh in the mind of the creator. The concept may be immediately shared with others, or put away until later when the concept can be refined and structured to a greater degree.
In most cases, a back-of-the-napkin idea is a spur of the moment flash of inspiration that may be triggered by a conversation that is taking place, or by something that is happening in the immediate area. Ideas of this type are usually rudimentary in nature, and form the basis for a detailed approach at a later date.
Depending on the setting, the back-of-the-napkin idea may be shared with others even as the originator is sketching out the basics of the inspiration on the back of a paper napkin. The scope of the idea can be just about anything, from sudden inspiration on how to adapt a given product to fit a new market, the creation of an ancillary product that will work well with existing products, or even a new way to restructure a business or department in order to maximize efficiency. The depth and detail of the back-of-the-napkin idea will vary, although it is not unusual for the inspiration to serve as the basis for a more detailed presentation at a later date.
In some cases, the back-of-the-napkin idea develops out of necessity. For example, an advertising executive who just found that his or her idea for a client is highly unlikely to be acceptable may suddenly get an idea for a completely different approach. At that juncture, the executive will quickly jot down the essentials of the idea and pitch the concept to the client. If the client is intrigued, arrangements are made for a more comprehensive presentation at a later date, giving the executive the opportunity to flesh out the inspiration.
The importance of back-of-the-napkin ideas cannot be underestimated. The creation of many different types of goods and services have come about due to this type of spur of the moment inspiration. As a tool for generating additional discussion, inspiring new ideas, and generally motivating the creative process, this approach offers a great deal and can easily be useful to salespeople, product developers, entertainers, and just about every other type of business professional.