Where do ideas come from?

If you are an entrepreneur (or have an intrapreneurship mindset) you have a constantly running thread looking for new ideas, different angles to solve a problem and envisioning the future looking for opportunities.

From time to time we all ask ourselves: where do ideas come from? Although the shower might bring you some inspiration, there are other ways. Here are 3*5 questions, techniques and some of the approaches used by experts to find new ideas and projects.

Questions

  1. What are you passionate about? — weather this is an easy answer or not, start by thinking about what you would like to solve. If you are an expert within a domain or have deep knowledge about a problem you have experienced before, that experience is priceless when working on a solution to solve it.
  2. What would you like someone else to solve for you? — most of the times the previous answer is not obvious, this one is another way to ask that and can lead to interesting insights.
  3. What do I wanna make absurd in the next 10 years? What would I dedicate my life to in that timeframe?
  4. What would you pay servants to do? — if there is something you would pay people to do that most likely is a problem worth solving. If you are cheap think about what others pay for.
  5. What are the industries that have not changed in the past 30 years? Which company can replace them?

Techniques

  1. Individual brainstorming — think individually in a restricted time frame and then share with the group and build on it. Even with a group of people, individual brainstorming is the most powerful way of taking the most out of group creativity.
  2. Pick two — make a list of the areas of expertise or topics you like. Then make a list of technologies you are excited about. Pick one from each list or even 2 from the same list and think: how can you combine them?
  3. Backcasting — A good way of predicting the future is understanding the past. Pick a field of interest and study how things have been evolving. You can also find patterns and trends in other industries and try to apply them to your world or areas of interest. A good example here is the Sharing Economy honeycomb. If you compare the current version with the ones from 2 and 4 years ago you will be surprised with how it has evolved. Now ask yourself — how will this evolve in the near future?
  4. “Visit dreamland” — remember Star Trek? This exercise is basically traveling to the future (or to another planet) and imagining how the world will be like. Then, all you need to do is build a bridge to get to that future place.
  5. Pick a field that is just starting but moving really fast and sign up to be at the leading edge of it.

The Experts Approach

  1. Bad ideas brainstorming — I got this one from Google X and it is a very good way to offload crazy ideas with no filter. Pick a problem and try to solve it with the worst or the craziest solutions you can find (sending people to Mars is a common one here).
  2. Tom Chi approach — the creator of Google Glass is a big fan of prototyping so his favorite brainstorming method is to have a group draw 2–4 ideas independently, share the best and the worst idea with the group and then select an idea / scenario for rapid prototyping. Build something quickly (less than 30 min) and have someone play with it so you can learn as much as possible.
  3. Do a test SPRINT — this is an approach Google Ventures uses with their portfolio companies and has been described in a book with the same name. Its basically a 5 day process to define a problem, sketch solutions, build a prototype and test it with customers. Although this is a team exercise, the process is structured to make sure people “work alone together” and individual input is considered equally and is independent of everyone’s working style.
  4. Ask an expert — if you are passionate about an area and you are still learning more about the opportunities go and ask experts. This will help you get deep into a problem, combine other people’s views and expand your network on the topic. But be careful, the only ones that can tell you if something is going to work or not are your potential customers and the expert is the one that can tell you what’s not possible.
  5. Patent / technology licensing — universities and research institutes invest lots of time and effort in new discoveries. Pick the latest research and apply it to the real world, transforming it into a business.

Practice Ideation

If you wanna be an ideas champion, you need to practice right? Try to come up with at least 5 ideas a day and share them with a close group. In some days it is going to be difficult, in some others it will be easy. Start by reviewing your day, identify major problems and try to come up with solutions for those.

What’s your favorite method to come up with and evaluate ideas?

Special thanks to Sri Sharma, Jose Luis Martin, Fabio Teixeira, Brian Lim, 
Andrew Skotzko for the endless discussions and brainstorming sessions.