I have always dreamed of inventing, whether it’s creating a new and improved product or coming up with the next big social media platform. In this digital age, though, things are continually getting more technical. Someone like me – a right-brained, creative thinker – has the ability to imagine new ideas. What I lack is the left-brained, analytical side to these ideas. I can picture the finished product in my head, but I can’t come up with the necessary steps to put that idea into motion. But that’s just one place I need help.
Perhaps an even more common setback to creating start-up ideas is the mentality that innovators must have in order to create something that responds to a need. I learned about the “theory of disruptive innovation” from a NeimanReports article by Clayton M. Christensen. He views start-up ideas as “jobs-to-be-done.” Christensen’s example of creating something that does a job for an individual in their daily life is providing them materials to read on their subway ride home from work. It’s that simple – being in the right place, at the right time. But how do you think in these terms when you’re at the beginning point of a start-up?
First, you must look at problems you come across yourself. When you’re checking your email or driving home or buying a cup of coffee, do you ever think to yourself, “Gee, I wish this existed,” or “This would be a lot easier if…” and so on. Chances are, you aren’t the only person who’s thought that way. Coming up with a good start-up product or service isn’t always a grand idea. Often it’s just establishing a need and then creating a response method.
Christensen’s view is similar to that of Paul Graham, who writes about start-up ideas as being problems to solve. He gives the example that when Google was started, the idea was simply to create a search engine that “didn’t suck.” Graham believes that “coming up with startup ideas is a question of seeing the obvious. That suggests how weird this process is: You’re trying to see things that are obvious, and yet that you hadn’t seen.” You must recognize a need. You must find a job-to-be-done.
This coincides with Joe Gebbia’s start-up: Airbnb. In a NPR podcast, Gebbia says that great ideas are often polarizing. Some individuals fear the idea, while others gravitate strongly toward it. This was the case with the idea of Airbnb. This relates to the idea of “jobs-to-be-done” and “problems to be solved” which simply solved the problem of helping people pay their rent. Gebbia was living in San Francisco and housed 3 individuals for $80/night, giving them a chance to see and enjoy the city and help Gebbia with his rent. While polarizing, it started small with individuals who thought it was an incredible idea and grew into a phenomenon. All Gebbia did was recognize a need and expand this idea. He faced tons of discrimination, and many people even thought it was completely bizarre and nonsensical. He was just an average person who saw a need and stuck with it.
Not everyone can be the next Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, but great ideas are often not put into motion because we fail to recognize how much change something simple and small could actually bring to the world if we gave the idea some power. Think Shark Tank: How many times have you watched the show and seen a lightbulb go off in the heads of the Sharks when a simple solution is pitched to an everyday issue.
You don’t have to have all the answers or all the analytics in mind when you begin. You can establish a team to help you through. But it all starts with an idea. And I think it’s time I gave my ideas some credit – who knows, it could be the next big thing.