Categorized | Idea Generation

Bringing Your Product to Market 4.2. Idea Generation

4.2 Idea Generation

Corporations have formal processes and departments for generating ideas. A huge number of people are often involved: R&D, marketing, and even consumers. Because they have all these resources, corporations develop product ideas at a pretty rapid clip―but most of them never get out of the idea stage! You, on the other hand, are working with limited resources. Chances are, though, that you already have one or more product ideas, which is why you’re considering starting up a venture in the first place.

Idea generation is really about innovation and creativity. If you’re not a creative person to begin with, how do you develop the talent to generate ideas? If you are a creative person, how do you structure your activity so that your ideas actually get worked out as ideas? We all know people―we may be such a person ourselves―who generate ideas like the rest of us generate carbon dioxide, but who never do anything about it. Ideas come fast and furious and then disappear into the wind. So idea generation has two branches: creativity and discipline. You need both to come up with successful products.

4.2.1. MindTools: Essential Skills for an Excellent Career

http://www.mindtools.com

MindTools provides a number of free resources for career professionals and business owners to solve practical problems of running a business or managing a career. Many articles are free, but a few require a membership on the site. The articles are rich and numerous across topics such as:

  • Time management
  • Stress management
  • Information skills
  • Communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Memory improvement
  • Problem solving
  • Decision making
  • Project planning
  • Practical creativity

Generating business and product ideas is manifestly a creative process, and the MindTools site offers a near-book length set of articles for unleashing and managing the creative process (you can download a complete PDF of all these articles for free):

  • SCAMPER—Generating new products and services
  • Attribute Listing, Morphological & Matrix Analysis—Creating new products, services, and strategies
  • Brainstorming—Generating radical ideas
  • Reframing Matrix—Looking at problems from different perspectives
  • Concept Fan—Widening the search for solutions
  • Random Input—Making creative leaps
  • Provocation—Carrying out thought experiments
  • Concept Maps—Charting out your ideas
  • DO IT—A simple process for creativity: Define problem, Open mind to creative solutions, Identify the best solution (this is where you use decision-making tools like Decision Tree Analysis), Transform (i.e., implement)
  • Simplex—Problem solving
  • Reversal—Improving products or services. Ask yourself the opposite question of the one you want answered. For instance, ask yourself what would guarantee that people won’t buy your product or service. Once you have the answers to that question, then you create your product so that it does not have those negative attributes.

These are all formal creativity and decision-making tools. They don’t replace creativity, but they certainly help direct and discipline it. Remember: there are two distinct parts to creativity: the first is generating ideas and the second, for lack of a better word, is disciplining them. It is the second step that actually produces ideas you can use and profit from. Most people can do the first, but few can do the second. I have an alternate version of the saying, “If wishes were horses, we’d all be riding”: “If ideas were money, we’d all be rich.”

Certain tools, such as brainstorming, are designed to help you generate ideas. Others, such as SCAMPER, Reversal, or Matrix Analysis, are designed to discipline and direct the creative process so your ideas actually get worked out. Not only do these “creativity disciplining” processes help you work your ideas out completely, they also help guard against error. For instance, if you apply reversal to your product creation process, you can ensure that negative attributes won’t get built into your product or service.

Let’s look at one such creative process, SCAMPER, a technique for formally disciplining the product creation process. You start with a product that already exists. You think you can improve on the product and make a pile of money. But how do you improve the product? You go through each step of the SCAMPER process:

  • Substitute: can you change materials, people, or components?
  • Combine: can you mix or combine with other assemblies or services?
  • Adapt: can you alter the product, change its function, or use it in another product?
  • Modify: can you increase or decrease in size, change the shape, modify the attributes?
  • Put to another use: can you find another use for the product? For instance, Viagra started out as heart medicine until someone found a more practical use for it!
  • Eliminate: can you take out elements, attributes, or functions? Make it simpler?

Reverse: can you turn it inside out?

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