How To Develop Your Ability To Innovate

Photo Credit: Josh LeBrun

I hear a lot of early stage business ideas.

We all know about the odds — most ideas won’t succeed. So what? Most shots on net don’t result in a goal. Most swings at bat don’t result in a home run. This is the nature of any worthwhile pursuit. You keep trying. You get better. You will eventually score a goal.

Is there a way to practice at innovation?

Batting Practice For Innovators

This is a simple exercise that you can use to step into the batting cage and start working on your innovation swing. If you try this, you will be surprised how effective it can be in activating your brain to be innovating all the time. To start, you need a target.

Target Problems First, Ideas Second

In my experience, ideas that emerge from well understood problems are more likely to succeed than those invented out of thin air. However, too may entrepreneurs start with their idea and then they try to find a problem to solve with it, instead of the other way around. Start with problems. The bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity.

Start by writing down all your problems; this can be the key to spawning innovation.
Step 1: create a note on your mobile phone and write 10 problems per day.

As you go about your day, turn on your “problem radar” and make mental notes of every problem you see: inefficiencies, barriers, pains and problems. Then, take 10 minutes each day and write 10 problems you observed: home problems, life problems, work problems, school problems, any problems. After 5 days, you will have 50 problems recorded on your list. Try to rank them by complexity, importance, or pain.

For example, a few weeks ago I had to get new tires installed on my car. It reminded me how painful and time consuming the whole process is. You have to make an appointment, drive your car to a garage, either arrange for a drive and come back later or wait around. It is a low value, expensive, and time consuming task. It also affects a lot of people. There must be a better way. That was one problem added to my list for that day.

The More Shots or Swings The Better

Step 2: Pick one top problem per day from your list of 50, and write down 10 ideas for possible solutions to that problem.

This is the time to get creative and go for volume. Don’t get too attached to any one idea. It is about getting a flow going. If you have a good day and the ideas are flowing, don’t stop at 10. Do this for 30 days. You will have a list of 50+ problems and 250+ ideas.

Evaluate: Be Ruthless

Step 3: Pick the top 1%.

It is time to evaluate the 250 ideas. Don’t treat these ideas like your babies — be ruthless and throw 99% of them out. Develop tough criteria for making the cut. Is the market opportunity large enough? Is the problem significant enough? Does the world really need this? Can you execute on it? Is it truly differentiated? Is it sustainable?

Now you should have 1 or 2 solid ideas to socialize and validate. More importantly, you have taken at least 250 practice shots at innovation and you will be surprised how you now find yourself innovating all the time.

Step 4: Socialize the idea and take your time with it

Before you are ready to embark on a formal validation exercise, start by casually socializing the idea as the opportunity arises. Bounce it off people. See how they react to the idea. Let it turn over in your mind. See if your excitement about the idea grows or wanes over time. Many ideas I have sound good to me at first, but over time I lose interest or I start to see the issues with it. That’s ok.

Be fussy. Reject almost all the ideas.

The one that grabs you, the one that refuses to go away, the one that everybody urges you to pursue, the one that makes people want to join you, the one people want to buy now, the one that scares you, the one the world needs, that is your idea.

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