Innovation, Product Strategy, Product Thoughts

Ideas are a Dime a Dozen


I know: ideas are a dime a dozen (or perhaps cheaper with inflation these days). Yet the process of creating, nurturing, and executing on ideas is one of the most critical tasks we do. Getting ideas from start to finish (from inspiration to the point of execution) faster means that you can choose from more of them and learn faster. This is a simple list to help you start this process to create ideas and then decide which ones to act on.

You might use this process to decide on a new startup or product idea, to imagine what your ideal customer might want, or simply to rank a list of initiatives you’d like to try when resources are not infinite (that is to say, you should be doing this all the time 😉

Getting started: get inspired

Getting inspired might be the hardest part to getting started with a project. There are a million and one tasks that get in your way and it’s hard to focus on the task at hand and give it the mental space it deserves.

How do you gain a sense of wonder? Start with the things that matter to you. It could be as simple as recognizing themes in what you do every day. It could be a place you love to go or an activity you engage in. Or it could be a nagging sense that you keep running into the same problem over and over.

Then draw your solutions on a clean sheet of paper. If you prefer to use a whiteboard, that’s cool too – just take a picture of each when you’re done. Just do this in a non-electronic format: doodling or drawing opens up important creative areas of your brain.

Generate Solutions

Great! Now that you’ve thought of an area where you’d like to generate ideas, make a huge list. The longer, the better. If it helps pick a ridiculous number of ideas, like 100. Creating the ideas is more important than filtering them or thinking about why they will or won’t work.

If you think of the ideal person who would benefit from this idea and why they would use it, that’s great! And if that person doesn’t come to mind, write the idea down anyway.

Capture The Ideas

Now, arrange these ideas into a format that makes sense for another person. A good format might be a spreadsheet where you list:

  • A short summary of the idea
  • A type of benefit (e.g. save time, organize information, gain fitness)
  • A tangible goal – this should be an expression of the benefit, e.g. “Never forget to pick the kids up from an activity again”
  • A substitute – if the person didn’t use this idea, what would they use to get this done now? (The answer might be “nothing” or “duh. This is obvious”)
  • How frequently does the person do this activity?
  • Do they spend any money on this task now?
  • A ranking of 1 (Love It!), 2 (ok), or 3 (this idea is on the list but I don’t like it right now)

Note: use a list to organize your thinking 

Capturing the ideas is mostly an exercise to help you make a first cut and see if the ideas you generated previously resonate with you. Keeping them on the list even if they are sort of lame is important to remind you of your prior thinking.

Now, Sift the Ideas and Rank

There is a sad truth: you cannot complete all of your ideas in the time you have available. What you should do at this point is pick the best ones and start the process of really working on them to see whether they are good enough in the real world to pursue.

First, check the ideas that you said were really awesome and pick the top 5 or 10. If you only have a few top ideas or if you have a lot, find the one you like least in this group and move it to a “2 – ok”. Now take one of the ideas in the OK group and figure out a way to love that idea and move it up to “1- love it!”

Get Stuff Done

Now, go act on one of the best ideas. Get something done, go and do work for a limited amount of time, and then come back to your idea list. Knowing how long you’ll need to try to get results really depends upon the tangible goal.

Your interim goal might be conversation-based and should be quantified, like talk to 20 customers and get feedback using a 6 question survey that I need to design. And to get to that goal you might have to identify a larger input goal, like contact enough customers to generate 20 conversations in 7 days.

When you generate results from testing your initial ideas, you’ll have better feedback to evaluate whether they are immediate successes or need additional feedback. And that process of iterating through your ideas will also inform your opinion on whether this is a “good idea” or whether it should be stacked lower on your idea list.

Generating, refining, and testing your ideas is a practice and a skill. Improving your idea process is critical to being a better decision-maker – and fun too!

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