How To Get A Million Dollar Idea
September 14, 2014 Leave a comment
“My preferred terms for the process of ideation are synthesis and reduction. In synthesis, a large number of ideas are created based on the problem at hand – without consideration for practicality, costs, risks, timeline, and other factors. In reduction, some ideas are slowly and progressively eliminated. Ideas which are impossible, impractical, or undesirable are discarded first. The ideas worth pursuing are prioritized and pursued. Next, those which aren’t working are also discarded. Through this process of reduction, the ideas that are truly valuable eventually float to the top. Google Labs is a good example of this process of synthesis and reduction. Of thousands of ideas which are discussed, only a few hundred are pursued. Of those, maybe a few dozen are marketable. Only 3 or 4 find a profitable business model. However, if you had not discussed thousands of ideas in the first place, you could not have found the 3 or 4 that are truly valuable.
Go meta. Whenever you are working on a new idea, task, or product, always be ready to generalize and look at the bigger picture. For example, if you are tweaking your shopping cart, briefly consider if customers would be better served by a total redesign of the shopping cart – or if you even need a shopping cart, eg. Amazon One-Click.
Combine two concepts. Most of the innovative projects I’ve worked on have involved simply combining two existing concepts in a new way. For example, eBay’s SEO project was started, because as a 20+ year web developer, I (and Sriram Samu the other key person on the project) knew the value of SEO and knew eBay, despite being a multibillion dollar company, was terrible at it. By introducing some simple (non-blackhat) SEO fixes, eBay shot up in the ranking. The Business Unit’s projected that project was worth tens of millions of dollars per month in new revenue, until the Google dance reduced eBay’s rank significantly.
Be hyper-sensitive to pain. Another technique for innovation is simply being hyper-sensitive to what’s wrong around you. For example, one of the most valuable patents of all time is the paper milk container. Milk used to be carried in round glass jars, which were fragile, heavy, and bulky. An inventor realized he could hold milk in a container made of heavy-duty, coated paper, which were not fragile, light, and could be tightly packed, resulting in one of the most valuable patents of all time.
Bring new tools to an existing problem. Much of the innovation in the Internet industry today is NOT coming from first movers with completely new ideas. It’s coming from 2nd or 3rd movers bring new tools, such as machine learning/BigData/data sciences, to existing problems. For example, Palantir is trying to improve the ancient practice of law enforcement with data sciences.
Adapt to changing conditions. For example, when I launched the original ChromeOS project in 2006, it was to address the speed and performance issues in Ubuntu and Windows by creating a faster OS. It was only a few weeks into the project when it also became clear that ChromeOS could be built on top of webapps, resulting in a very lightweight web-based operating system, now called a webtop.”
-Jeff Nelson, inventor of Chromebook