How To: Cultivate That Killer Idea
Coming up with a killer idea is no easy feat. I'm talking about that perfect idea that makes you consider dropping out of school or quitting your job to pursue it; something that could have a huge impact on a group of people, if not the world. In this article, I will attempt to present a method that might help you come up with and cultivate a powerful idea.
There's no question about this, most of your time will be spent brainstorming for ideas. Brainstorming for random ideas is rather ineffective, so you will at least want to come up with the type of idea you want to create. Will it be a product, service or methodology for doing something better than it is currently done? Will it have a website and be 100% Internet based? What kind of resources are you willing to expend to see that this idea is fully realized? Once you have a basic foundation, you can start brainstorming productively, rather than spewing out unprocessed ideas.
Let's say you want to create a useful web application providing a unique service for users. Looking around the web and tech blogosphere, you can analyze trends, see what is overdone, what hasn't been done and if there is a gaping void that needs to be filled. Typically, a successful idea revolves around something people actually have a need for, can save them time, help them communicate with others, organize their life, educates them, etcetera. Not all successful ideas have to be original though. Can you do something better than company XYZ does? Go right ahead.
So you've looked around and found out that social media is hot right now, albeit teetering towards being trite. Now you can narrow down your brainstorming process with that in mind. Regardless of what idea framework you have, maturing it will help you with the brainstorming process. Enough of the speculation for now, there are a few steps I like to take when brainstorming:
- Repetition: Make your own brainstorming routine - set aside an hour or two every week, every day or whatever fits into your schedule.
- Find a Buddy: Brainstorming on your own is only so effective. Without someone to add another perspective to every idea, you might not know when you've struck gold. Bouncing and exchanging ideas with a trustworthy friend can rapidly progress your brainstorming process.
During the week, my roommate and I devote about an hour each night to coming up with ideas. We try to make this brainstorming session our break from battling homework and other tasks that deprive of us our full creative potential. Add some ice cream into the mix, a few jokes about how there are 4 huge truck tires in our dining room and you've got a potent think tank.
- Catalog Everything: Before you come up with a "workable" idea, you will find yourself with many ideas you have passed up on the way. Regardless of what you think of these ideas, jot them down. Anything from a yellow legal pad to a Moleskine will do - just have your ideas archived. They might come in handy later.
Weeks of brainstorming have left you with a worthy idea. Now what? Build it out and mature this idea as much as possible. Write down an outline for this idea. How it will work, what the features are, how it can expand if it gets popular and the like.
What is the target audience? How often will people use the service/product? Assuming it's a web service of sorts, will people create an account, do some stuff and only visit once a week or will they login daily? Is the service/product easy to explain to a random person? How about a tech-savvy person, will they immediately understand it? What's your business model? Will total revenue exceed total cost and expenditures? What about implicit costs; will you be better off building this idea rather than continuing your previous line of work? Do you plan to seek venture capital?
There are many questions to answer once you have established your idea, but before you begin to tackle them spend a few hours with your favorite search engine to see if it has already been done. If it already exists and there are no patents and other legalities preventing you from creating your idea, how will yours be better?
Find a Name
The next step is to pair your great idea with a great name. You might as well throw your idea away if you can't produce a good name. Just as important is finding a worthy domain name. You might even go so far as naming your idea based on available domain names. I won't delve on this too much as it is highly subjective but everyone loves a short and easy to remember domain/company name. You get bonus points if your domain/company name is not merely a jumble of letters as the current trend of Web 2.0 companies seem to be.
I'm probably leaving out many things you should consider before manufacturing your idea - things like protecting the idea, forming a company, finding people capable of turning your idea into reality, scaling for your first thousand users all the way to your first million, and branding. In my opinion, the most important thing to take away from this article is that brainstorming for killer ideas is a long and tedious process. Don't expect to have a "holy shit!" moment the first day. Stick with it and get an opinion from as many people as you can.