What makes a good idea?

What makes a good idea?


TIM KASTELLE:
There are a lot of myths surrounding entrepreneurship
and innovation. We can see one of them in the worst innovation quote ever
from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He said, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world
will beat a path to your door.” The data on mousetraps actually proves
how wrong this idea is. Since the US Patent Office was opened in
1802, it has received more than 4400 patents for mousetraps. Even today,
it receives over 400 new mousetrap patents every single year.
And it approves more than 40 of those annually. This led one innovation researcher to call
the mousetrap “the most invented device in American history”. And yet, only one mousetrap has ever really
made any money. This one – from 1894. Since then, people have devised many elaborate
ways to catch mice, but none of them have gone anywhere, because the mousetrap problem
has been solved for well over 100 years. This gets at an important issue – to have
an impact with our ideas, we must create value for people. And there are two ways to do that. The first is to solve a real problem. The
mousetrap problem is solved, but there are plenty of other things in the world that need fixing. You
can start by thinking about the problems that you have and try to solve one of those. Or
you can try to understand some of the problems of other people.
This is called solving a pain. The second way to have impact is to help people
do something that they like. Think of all the things that create value for you. For
me, it’s things like books, and art, and punk rock, and birdwatching, and teaching. If you create
a great song, or a great book, you’ve made my life better. That’s creating value by creating
a gain. If you want to build a business, it’s often
smartest to solve a problem – to fix a pain. The saying in the startup world is, “It’s easier to sell aspirin than vitamins.” There’s a great tool that can help you think
about these things – it’s called the Value Proposition Canvas, and it comes from Alex
Osterwalder and his collaborators. You can use this tool to think about the people that you are trying to serve. What problems
can you solve for them? What gains can you create? Are there daily tasks that you can make easier
for them? If you build a better mousetrap, the world
won’t actually beat a path to your door. You’re better off spending time working on building
things that create value for people. Create a gain, or fix a pain.

Dereck Turner

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