It is incredibly daunting to me to think I might have to come up with the Next Big Thing, the thing that will save journalism or chart a new path to media consumption. It’s so daunting that I can’t even begin to imagine how I’ll do it.
Instead, I think of “new” ideas — which are just ways I already consume my media. I think about how I need news delivered directly to me, but I’ve basically just reinvented home delivery and email newsletters. So, I sat on that idea for 45 minutes but I’m still at square one.
Paul Graham’s “How to Get Startup Ideas” suggests that the best ideas don’t come from some sort of “A-HA!” moment. They don’t come out perfect and immediately take the world by storm. Rather, Graham suggests the best startups address a problem. Successful entrepreneurs find a particular issue, one that is perhaps too niche for the general public, then test it on others in this small market before they start to expand the product and services to people who can see it useful in their own lives.
Despite making the problem of starting a new thing more bite-sized, I’m still daunted by the idea of inventing something new. I complain a lot. I should be able to find something that I complain about enough that I would like to fix and stop complaining about. But when I sit down to think about what kind of project I could work on, I’m still stumped.
There are a lot of problems in journalism. We can’t get audiences to search out news for themselves anymore. We have this ever-growing need to beat the competition, which can lead to shoddy reporting and poor fact-checking. We are, of course, fighting to stay relevant with smaller paychecks and even smaller staffs.
How can one idea ever address any of those issues — let alone one startup?
The best way, to me, to find a problem is through the eyes of a consumer. Clayton Christensen’s article “Mastering the art of disruptive innovation in journalism” suggests the same thing. It says considering the audience is key to finding a place that your idea, product or company can disrupt the status quo. Instead of making a product for your key demographic, think of how you and other consumers might feel something is missing. That’s what people will pay for.
Christensen suggests this is how digital native publications that are thriving now, like Vox and BuzzFeed, because they provided a service early on that other legacy papers weren’t before. They were online in a new and different way, and consumers were drawn to that.
The point is that big ideas don’t happen instantly, like Graham and Christensen said. They take cultivation, tinkering and understanding what consumers actually want — not what innovators think they want. More often startups are part of a revolution. They add to a culture based on what the market is suggesting people will spend money on. They don’t necessarily create an entirely new culture.
Perhaps my idea won’t be the new TheSkimm. Maybe it’ll just be a Skimm for people with a different sense of humor. Or for people who prefer pictures and videos to emails.
I need to learn to treat my Next Big Thing idea as just an idea. I have to take the pressure off myself to think of an idea that’s going to change journalism as I know it, and instead consider it as one moment in a revolution.