3 Ways to Come Up with a Good Idea

“you cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them” — Albert Einstein

Recently I was asked the question, “How do you come up with a good idea?” from a high school student at a speaking event.

It immediately dawned to me that I also had this question during my years as a high schooler. Often times, I see good products and services that already exist, but I am always intrigued as to how the person who created them came about the idea.

Tony Stark Version 9000.0

Coming from Dorchester of Boston (an underserved community), the mindset of my peers and myself was that

“only geniuses can come up with a good & revolutionary idea” — A liar!

I was fortunate to figure out 8 years later that this belief was completely false.

Innovation comes from multiple angles and in fact anyone can come up with a good idea. I bet you someone thought of Uber, Airbnb, or even the concept of a smartphone before the founders even invented them.

As of my current knowledge, here are 3 ways that can enable you to come up with a good idea.

“Pay Attention” To A Pain Point

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” — Helen Keller.
When someone booked me for a trip to Worcester from Boston…..

Much of the innovative ideas came to life because they actually solve real problems.

Case and point, Uber solves 2 problems. One problem is from the passenger side who needs to affordably get from point A to point B and the other problem is from the driver’s side who has a car, needs a job, and wants flexible hours. (Psst, I was an Uber driver for 6 months.)

Let’s take a walk through my high school years.

I wake up at the sound of my alarm clock. It is 6AM. I feel so groggy (pain). Then I walk towards my bathroom to brush my teeth. Brushing teeth takes so much time and too much work (pain). Now onto taking a shower. This is something that I enjoy doing but if I turn off the faucet I would immediately feel the cold air and that would suck (pain). Oh no, it’s getting late. I need to get to school on time, but I could spend the time to figure out what I want to wear or eat something quick before heading to school (DOUBLE PAIN).

Okay, I’m getting annoyed with the pain too. But the point here was to illustrate how if you just pay attention to the day to day activities that you or someone else are going through, you can figure out where the need to innovate is.

He’s pretty awesome.

AirBnB started because of a pain point that conference goers have in finding a place to stay when hotels are overbooked. (Source) It’s a huge pain point that created a $30 Billion company. Oh and then other pain point was for people who need money and have space to rent out.

But you wouldn’t be thinking about offering up your space to strangers out of thin air. Sometimes, the best ideas are the ones that pain can actually be felt by the person who came up with it.

“Feel” The Problem

“Turn your wounds into wisdom.” — Oprah Winfrey

A Nobel Peace Prize winner, Doctor Barry Marshall figured out the treatment to stomach ulcers. This condition is simplified to intense stomach pain. Now I wouldn’t recommend you to ever drink a mixture from the stomach of sick people but Dr. Marshall did just that. After this, he figured out the cause of stomach ulcers. It was bacteria infection.

Everyone at the time thought that the cause of stomach ulcers were from stress and different type of foods, but nope! He went ahead and experienced the problem himself and figured out a solution for it.

This is my source.

So that was an extreme example, but it goes to show what it takes for a good idea to come about. You have to actually know the problem and experience it yourself. If not, then you’re playing a guessing game just like everyone else.

I experienced the painful process of writing over 120 essays to apply for scholarships. This was a huge pain that I am grateful for, because it taught me that there could be a better way. But the idea for ScholarJet didn’t come immediately. It came years later. I had to walk away for a while to acquire more knowledge on the matter.

Expand Your Knowledge…Or Simply “Learn More”

“We are all intelligent. It is what separate us from the animals. What’s missing is knowledge. “ — Me

I’m going to use Anselm’s Ontological Argument to explain “knowledge”. Here we go.

This philosopher states that if you know what an apple is, then it exists.

If you don’t know that X, Y or Z objects exist, they don’t exist.

To simplify this, if you have never heard of “Painite” exist then you would never know that it does. Some of you might have already went, what the heck is Painite? It’s one of the rarest minerals on Earth. (Source) Before writing this article I didn’t even know that this thing existed. Now I do and now you do therefore now you “know” this thing exists.


Imagine putting a jigsaw puzzle together that you thought only had 200 pieces while it actually had 250 pieces. By putting these 200 pieces together, you created 75% of a picture, but you thought it was 100% complete because the picture looked perfectly placed. You now missed out on the fact that the picture would have actually been complete if you knew the other 50 pieces existed. So now, simply put, you don’t have all the pieces to the puzzle. (Pun intended.)

ooohhhh symbolic

This is why education is so important. But the problem is that the thing we often lack is the ability to teach ourselves because the topic often looks so intimidating. Example of some topics include: learning to speak Vietnamese, jiu-jitsu, rock climbing, dancing, etc.

Some knowledge from one field may translate into the missing piece to the puzzle that you are trying to solve.

Did you know that the female human ears are susceptible to high pitch noises because of babies?(Source) Now instead of creating a loud alarm that often doesn’t work on heavy sleeper, maybe now that you “know” this fact, you can create an alarm that emits high pitch sounds instead.

All in all, my last piece of advice to you is, whenever you need to come up with a good idea or think creatively, you just need to…

Walk away….then come back. (works every time)

Hope this was a good read and that you’ll find many more great ideas coming your way.

But remember, it’s not about the idea, it’s whether or not you can bring it to life.
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