Finding good ideas is a simple task if you keep your eyes open for certain cues around you. Most innovative companies and products started with curious minds. They were facing problems of their own, or noticed how people were using different services and products in ways they weren’t designed for.
Rarely will you hear of an entrepreneur that credits an ideation technique for the inspiration that led to his product. That’s not to say that ideation techniques are unnecessary, but that you will find better ideas when training yourself to observe an environment with the intent of looking for something.
When observing an environment, you’re going to want to look out for workarounds, hacks and DIYs. Here’s how that plays out in two different contexts,
I, like you, have used my email to send myself an email. Why? Because that’s the quickest way to transport a document from one device to another. If I’ve just taken an amazing screenshot on my phone, and wanted to save it on my laptop, the quickest way to do that is to email it to myself.
But wait a minute. Isn’t email a tool to send documents to others? Email is designed for quicker communication – communication where the sender isn’t the receiver. We’re essentially using email for purposes other than what it was intended for.
Hypothetically speaking, this could’ve been the cue for an entrepreneur to design what is now ubiquitous: cloud-based storage solutions like Dropbox and iCloud.
In the “I want to have access to my files everywhere I go” world, we evolved from using USBs (slowly becoming obsolete as of this writing), to emailing ourselves, to now using cloud-based storage. You can even take this a step further and allow Dropbox or iCloud to backup your files automatically.
One day while having a meal and watching Netflix in my living room, I realized that I was putting together a solution with items I had around. I was using a C-table from IKEA so that I can sit on my couch cross-legged, and bring the food close to me. What I was also using was a tray on top of that C-table. The reason I was doing that was so I can “clear” my food in an instant by taking the tray back to the kitchen, and continue watching Netflix with barely an interruption. Because the space on that table was limited, I was also using my couch to balance my drink. In other words, my couch became an extension of the C-table I was using.
Couches are obviously not made for resting your drink on (a recipe for disaster, trust me). This whole arrangement of me working around a limited C-table that didn’t have a dedicated tray, and me utilizing the couch as a table, prompted me to act on the idea that eventually became Tre; a living room with removable trays that adapts to the way you chill.
Noticing how people misuse, hack, or workaround the intended use of a product will give you insight into potential needs, desires and pain-points that can turn into product ideas. Stay aware of ongoing problems, and, every now and then, ask yourself “What if…?” That’s how remarkable products are born.