How to Find Your Next Big Idea

When you need to come up with an idea for a new product or service/revenue stream, how do you go about doing it?

If you’re like most of the business owners and entrepreneurs I know your answer is probably something along the lines of, “I don’t know.” Or, “I don’t have a clue.” Or, “Beats me.”

In other words, if you’re not sure how to generate an idea for a new revenue stream (product or service), you’ve got a lot of company.

However, you also know that NOT having a process for consistently discovering the next new big thing for your business is a major problem. Whenever you or I ride any product or service for too long, danger is always lurking around the corner. Someone else is always innovating and eventually they will take your market share.

So, how can you create a process for continually innovating new product and/or services? Well here are a couple of ideas to help get you started.

I. Consistently Talk With Customers and Prospects

At the end of the day, business is basically about solving problems. If someone doesn’t have a need or a want (i.e. a problem), no value exchange will take place. Every day you and I are alive there are millions of companies that would like to take our money. However, we don’t buy from millions, we only buy from a few. And when we buy, we never buy because they’re marketing something or for their reasons, we always buy for our own reasons.

The same thing is true for every one of your customers and prospects. They only buy when they have a problem to solve. So, the obvious solution is to consistently engage them in conversations about what problems they have that they can’t find a good solution for. This seems so obvious it should go without saying, but it’s not.

The normal way most business owners and entrepreneurs come up with their next new idea is by removing themselves from customers, searching their own mental banks, devising a new idea that they believe their customers and prospects will like, developing that idea and marketing that idea believing that they know what their market wants. Then what happens? They spend a boatload of money in development, put together a big marketing campaign and then release their new big thing to what …  the sounds of crickets.

This is the problem that underlies the work of Steve Blank et. al. on customer development (and the whole Lean Startup movement). The good news is that there is a much better way. And that better way begins when you stop thinking that you can come up with the next new idea for a product or service that your market wants on your own and instead start talking with your customers and prospects until you uncover an URGENT need or want that they have that no one else is sufficiently meeting.

So, make it a point over the next few months to talk with at least 10-20 customers and prospects and ask them a series of questions to uncover what urgent problems they have that they haven’t found a good solution for. Trust me, you just might be surprised at what you’ll learn.

II. Create a Pitch Deck and Start Pitching

Once you have an initial idea of what the people in your target market might urgently want, create a pitch deck (not one for investors but one for customers and prospects—i.e. a sales-oriented pitch deck). Using Keynote (for Mac) or PowerPoint (for PCs) create a series of slides discussing the problem, the solution, the benefits, the features and the pricing—and then pitch that idea to some people in your target market.

Let them know you’re working on a new product/service offering and want to get some feedback. Ask them for their thoughts on what they liked, what they didn’t like, how they’d change it or what would they’d prefer. Ask them “If this were available today, would you want it or not?” Then, if yes, “Would you be willing to pay for it?” Both questions are important. Also, ask them if there’s another problem they’d prefer to find a solution for than the problem you’re solving, etc.

The goal of these conversations is to not just validate or invalidate your idea, but to get information that might lead to a pivot or iteration. Don’t assume version 1.0 is what people want. You’re just using this as a tool to get feedback. Features you might think are essential, they might not. Things that you think aren’t important, they might.

But the cool part of doing this pitch process is that you’re getting customer feedback before you’ve invested a ton of money, for a very small investment of time (just a few slides). Even better, you might just discover a more important problem to solve–which might ultimately lead to your next big idea!

III. Become More Aware

Quick question: How many items are there on your to do list right now? My guess is “A lot” So, what happens to your brain when you’re overwhelmed with too much to do and not a lot of time to do them? Exactly. You stop observing the world. You stop taking in more information because you’re already overloaded.

I don’t know if you’ve ever taken an art class or drawn something but if you have, you know what I’m talking about—and if you haven’t, here’s a simple exercise. Turn your left hand up so your palm is up. Now, take a moment to look at and observe all of the little lines in your skin. Imagine you were trying to draw all of those little lines. Look for patterns and shapes. Look for color changes. Where do things wrinkle. etc. Just take a moment to observe. My guess is that you just saw several things on your hand that you’ve never seen before—even though this was your hand and you’ve “looked” at it every day of your life.

So, guess how much of the world you’re unaware of every day? Exactly! Most of it. Every day there are issues and problems all around you that other people need solutions for. And you’re missing them (just like I am) every day.

Think of it this way. If you could simply be more present and aware of what’s happening all around you (vs. letting the overwhelm of leading a business get in the way), you just might be surprised at how many new ideas you might come up with. Unfortunately, exhaustion and stress kill creativity because they reorient our focus towards ourselves. But when we stop being inward focused and instead become aware of what’s going on around us, as well as those we’re interacting with, it’s amazing how many new ideas percolate to the top.

IV. Harness Lots of Brains

As the saying goes, “He who harnesses the most brains, wins!”

One of the main reasons why so many business owners and entrepreneurs struggle with coming up with the next new thing is that they tend to think it’s their responsibility as the person at the top to come up with the next new thing. But why? Why do so many business owners believe that?

The reality is that leaders don’t have to come up with all the great ideas. They simply need to realize which ideas are winners and then, once identified, get behind them and become a champion of them.

So, instead of thinking that the next new thing is a solo act from you, why don’t you engage more of your team members in the process. In fact, you might want to read the post I wrote recently about The Secret To Solving Any Problem You Face to help you harness more brains in your workplace.

But, whatever you do, make sure you don’t revert back to the myth of the solo genius. Edison wasn’t a solo genius. “Edison” was a TEAM of men who created a slew of great ideas. He just took credit for their work. Learn from that and harness as many brains as you possibly can (both inside and outside of your company).

V. Study Trends Voraciously

Steve Jobs did a lot of things well—and a lot of things poorly. However, one of the things he did well was to study trends. Even though Apple is known as one of the most innovative companies on the planet, they’re not originators. They didn’t create computers or mp3 players or music or cell phones, etc. However, what they did do well is spot the right trends early on and then jump on them at just the right moment before they were about to become big trends

The myth that creative and innovative ideas are created from ether is just wrong. They don’t just appear. They occur to those who are paying attention, who are studying voraciously, who are asking questions, who are engaged with the topic/subject and then, from that deep well new connections appear. Moreover, the best connections rarely come from within your own industry, they usually come from outside your industry–which is why you should want to read and study trends widely.

In other words, regardless of what kind of company you’re leading, you ought to be studying trends in AI (artificial intelligence), big data, robotics, finance, accounting, supply chain management, marketing, social media, strategy, leadership, product development, lean startups, scrum, customer development, etc. because they’ll not only make you a more well-informed human being, they just might lead to your next big breakthrough.

Remember, the bigger your well, the better your chance for making new connections and discovering your next new big thing.

So, if you want to find your next new big idea, make sure you integrate these five ideas into your ideation process

  1. Consistently talk with customers and prospects
  2. Create a pitch deck and start pitching
  3. Become more aware
  4. Harness lots of brains
  5. Study trends voraciously

If you’ll do these five things consistently, you’ll be surprised at how many more new big ideas start appearing.

To your accelerated success!

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