Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Last week this question was floated out on a mailing list I subscribe to, and I put in my 2 cents around my ideation process.  A while back I included some thoughts around my process, but here are a few more tactical approaches.

  • Contrary to the ‘random bolt of genius’ story, I find that the best formula for coming up with an idea is to specifically set aside a fixed amount of time to consciously think about startup ideas.  Usually this will be a 30 minute block of time that I carve out of my day, maybe during my morning commute or an after-lunch walk through the woods around campus.  I’ll generally start with a broad constraint (usually either a new platform such as social apps or mobile apps, or a problem space that I’ve identified) and then just think on it until I come up with a few broad options.  Then I’ll pick the one that seems most interesting and drill down into it until I can either pull something together or decide to scrap it and start over.
  • Another approach is to think about a new technology that has very little market share and imagine what would happen if it were to gain share very quickly over the next year.  Then try to imagine the biggest problems that it would cause the average consumer.  For example, imagine that in one year the share of computers that have touch screens will increase dramatically.  How will that impact the millions of web sites that have been designed primarily to be used with a mouse/keyboard?
  • More specifically, the best idea generating raw material I’ve found over the past year has been Paul Graham’s list of 30 startup ideas that Y Combinator is looking to fund.  I spent a full month tackling one of these ideas each day and came up with some of my better ideas as a result: http://ycombinator.com/ideas.html
  • So that’s my process?  What about you?  Where do you find that your best ideas come from?

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    One response to “Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

    1. I often think about some problem or annoyance that I feel needs to be corrected. At other times, I first envision the future and what it will look like (sort of like your touch screen example), then work back to what opportunities that presents in the here and now.

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