I’ve always been fascinated finding out where ideas come from. Ideas come in all sizes and in varying degrees of success, but ideas seem to be like the used bookstore. If you’re looking for something they never have it. When you’re just browsing you soon have more in the basket than you can afford or read. Ideas seem to be the same way. Ideas usually are born of some kind of ambition. We want to start a business, write a book, take pictures, make a painting, save a failing business or relationship – anything that might change the world.
As the years have gone by, I’ve found that ideas that work much like the used bookstore, but this doesn’t work when you really need them. Its important to get in the habit of writing things down when they come to you – no matter how random. But in states of complete practicality when you’re not being hit with creative inspiration, its important to think through the situation at hand to see if there can be other clues that might tip off your next big thing.
I’ve had several employers over the years that I really look up to say that the ideas are the easy part – its the work that’s hard. I believe this whole-heartedly based on my own experience. However this doesn’t solve the issue of idea generation other than to say that its easier than the work. But I did mention this for a reason because its going to have an important impact on the idea generation itself.
Good ideas come from problem solving. Ideas generate in order to make something more efficient, more fun, easier, smarter, cheaper, etc etc etc. The value is in what you are doing that save people something whether that’s time, money, pain – something that’s not working as smooth as it should be – you deliver a way of making that “better”. The “better” you can make that the more value there is in the idea. So the best ideas are really answers to determined “problems”.
Apple didn’t invent the mobile phone. They didn’t invent the MP3 player. But Steve Jobs had a vision of making them easy and fun to use. So fun you want to own one every time a new model comes out. Oddly enough – Apple aren’t the cheapest or even the most feature laden. They have a small and simple product line. But they understand that customers want simple, easy to use but powerful computers. They are solving problems the tech industry has in the consumer market. And they’re doing it very successfully.
Now most of us won’t create the next Apple. The magnitude of what it costs to take an idea like this to a world wide corporation is more than challenging to say the least. This is where an idea of this size will fail. In fact, Apple worked through a number of smaller successes that Steve Jobs made work – as well as the talents of many others. Like I said – these ideas are the easy part compared to the work and money it takes to execute them.
But the takeaway from looking at Apple is that Steve Jobs had a clear understanding of milestones, work ethic, drive and motivation. We can look up to that in our own careers if we can grasp the concept of smaller goals.
Another problem people have is “swinging for the fence” and trying to hit a home run every time. You’re going to have home run ideas sometime down the road, but you’re going to have to learn how to hit the ball first. Strikeouts and base hits will be most of what you experience. Even in real baseball – sluggers are considered amazing if they can hit 25-30% of the time.
The best thing to do is look at the work you’re currently doing and ask what could make it better for the client, customer, boss – whoever you’re currently or potentially working for.
So lets look at some examples. Most people have an idea for a website. Lets be brutally honest here – most of these types of ideas solve a personal need of the one with the idea. This is fine if that’s understood, but I have lots of people send me links to their work and this is quite obvious. I see really really good photographers all the time that have websites where driving traffic and potential customers is really difficult. That’s because their business idea or website is only valuable to themselves.
If we take this and turn it around things start to work differently. So Mark wants to shoot weddings. Great. He’s got outstanding work, he’s responsible and he’s a good businessman. What if instead of just making a simple portfolio that (lets be honest) is a dime a dozen on the internet, what if he started writing some great articles on the best way to select a wedding photographer might work. What if he wrote articles about wedding ideas. What if he made some really nice behind the scenes photography the quality of a Martha Stewart magazine.
What Mark is doing now is making a site that might actually communicate to a future bride – you know, the person who will actually hire him. He’s writing copy that Google will index. This is how brides might search. Then he’s designing the site to appeal to his target audience and boost his own image. Maybe he comes up with a great social media plan using Facebook, Twitter, Google Places and a few other things. Former customers can “like” his work and help recommend him to friends.
This is the type of idea that, while not that innovative, works because it was thought through. It works because Mark went 5 extra miles with the time he puts into his business. And what’s going to happen to Mark is that ideas are going to continue to generate and he might come up with something to offer that really changes the game of wedding photography if he can find ways to make everything easier for a bride. He might come up with something that sets the bar higher for everyone in his field and he’ll be in the lead because he’s the one doing it.