Lately I’ve been thinking about startup ideas.  That is, I haven’t been thinking about any particular idea, but rather I’ve been contemplating how to generate good startup ideas. I’ve been noodling questions like…”where do ideas come from?” And, “how do you make an existing idea better?”

In his article, “What are the best ways to think of ideas for a startup?”, author Dan Lewis asserts that there are three types of startup ideas:

  1. The spontaneous idea – the idea that hits you while you are doing something mundane, like taking a shower.
  2. The insider idea – the idea that comes from your own expertise
  3. The deliberate idea – the idea that you hunt down through research

He goes on to argue that idea type #1, the “spontaneous” idea, almost never works out. Startup ideas work best when they address a problem you inherently know about, and they work even better when you deliberately seek to know more.

That message is echoed by Steven Johnson in this TED talk on inspiration and good ideas. He says the idea of the “epiphany” or sudden bolt-of-lightning idea is largely a myth. Good ideas emerge over time. For example, when you look at Charles Darwin’s journal entries, you see that he actually described the fundamental basis for evolution long before he fully articulated the theory. That’s because good ideas, like the theory of evolution, require time and research to develop.

This has all led me to wonder: Is there some sort of process you can follow to generate good ideas?

In his article, Where do creative ideas come from?, Drew Boyd introduces the idea of an idea template. In the article, he uses The Beatles and Agatha Christie, some of the most prolific creators of creative ideas, as examples. The Beatles would often start with one verse or one riff as their starting point, and then they would experiment and develop a song from it. Similarly, Agatha Christie would start with a formula, or template, which would help her structure and develop her novel.

Process for generating good startup ideas

To apply all this to generating good startup ideas, I would say the process must look something like this:

  1. Find the sign-post, template, or seed of an idea.
  2. Talk about it, write about it, and experiment with it.
  3. Gain more experience.
  4. Refine and articulate your idea as you go.

Good startup ideas come from experience, and they can be made better with more and a diversity of experience.



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