Friday, April 10, 2009

Generating New Product Ideas by Observation and Inspection

Having a tough time coming up with good ideas to grow your business? Here's an exercise you can try. First, do one of the following: read a blog post/article/biography, learn about another team or startup's success, or hear a great story. Second, ask yourself, "Is there some interesting nugget here I can apply to my business or product?" I tend to do this a lot, I can't help it. It's the lens through which I see the world.

Try to find something. Stretch yourself a bit, and try to find a thread and keep pulling on it. It's easiest when hearing success stories from other teams in your company who have similar goals and tools at their disposal, and who can share more detailed information about their success.

Probably the next easiest way to generate ideas is to take a close look at startups. Poke around a startup site, try to figure out their business model, see if you can guess the size of their selection or user base from hints on their site, see how they've addressed the hard UI problems in their vertical, take a close look at places where they've clearly defied typical design patterns on purpose. After taking a detailed look, take note of what is really novel about the business they're trying to build. Where do you think they're likely to crater? Have they done anything interesting that might solve the most glaring challenge facing them?

Once you've really inspected any of the above, then go back and look at your own product roadmap. Is there anything really great you just learned about you can apply to your product? Did you just spot a trap that some startup will fall into, that maybe one of your products might fall into also?

There is a difference between reading and learning, actually gaining knowledge. The technique above helps me fix what I've read or observe in my brain, and those nuggets often surface later in new contexts.

Give it a try.


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