Being I think a lot about entrepreneurship, I’ve spent a lot of time researching, brainstorming and learning better how to generate ideas. But looking over long lists, I still didn’t know which ideas were viable from the perspective of whether I could create value within that topic. This isn’t a validation perspective, there are techniques to test whether you have a good (ie. marketable) Idea.
I will give some concepts to keep in mind first, then get into the process of refinement.
“If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself.” – Rollo May
In order to provide value to others, you need to be focused on a very defined message. I struggled with this for a long time and only stumbled on this technique late in the process, after many hours and many months of fumbling when trying to pin down what my Idea was and its unique value proposition.
My technique is to think about launching a website. You know by now that nearly every website has an ‘about’ tab or link. This link will introduce people to what that website is about, introduce the topic, perhaps highlight some of the features etc.
I start with the About page. I just begin writing, describing what I’m doing. Through the process of free-form writing, not worrying about what I’m writing but just documenting everything that comes to mind about my idea, I begin to refine it. Often I have found that my original idea morphs and narrows as I write. I may think one perspective about this idea is great, but find that most of what I’m writing/brainstorming is about a slightly different perspective.
After spending even a half an hour or less, my idea has become clearer in my own mind. Why do I think this works? Some people think very linearly, but my thoughts seem to just float around in my mind. Through the act of writing, I find that those thoughts come out of my head, onto the page. As this happens, the thought seems to crystallize or come into focus. I may go through several drafts of an About before I have a fairly clear perspective. This process might not work for everyone, but for me the process was fairly profound.
For more information about how writing can clarify your purpose,
If you think about it, just thinking about an idea will generate a whole lot of ideas around your Idea. But those thoughts just keep floating around, they aren’t actually manifested in any form. By writing them down, they both take on a physical presence and also this frees the mind to not keep considering that idea as fully, allowing other thoughts to be considered. By writing all these thoughts down, you will start having an increasingly difficult time brainstorming thoughts. This is good and where we want to get to. I want to get everything out of my head onto the page.
Once I have done this, my mind shifts to analyzing these though ideas in more depth. Patterns and categories start to emerge, further clarifying and refining that main Idea.
This is an iterative process, meaning that I may start to focus on a few thoughts that most resonate with the main Idea to narrow down the scope into perhaps a more specific niche.
Being this is iterative, you may find that when you write your About, the first draft is vague and even nowhere near where you end up. Don’t worry about going through various drafts. Also, I don’t approach this by trying to edit or revise any version of the About page. I generally start over, especially since they can be relatively brief if you are specific.
This process has been so powerful for me, that my original Idea may morph dramatically. I almost vet an idea by myself. Keep in mind, this doesn’t replace testing the marketplace to validate an idea, only get your idea refined to a very specific, identifiable, non-wishy-washy form. The goal for me is to be able to state what my idea is in one or two succinct statements. This will identify the core Idea, imply an audience as well as a perspective. At this point, I can brainstorm blog post topics and even envision specific products that I can offer easily.
On one of my ideas, I went through this process and thought I was done, having narrowed my Idea sufficiently. I brainstormed blog topics and came up with over 125 in one 1-hour brainstorming session. I probably could have gotten to 1,000 over a couple of days. Was this evidence of a good idea, at least at this stage of development? Did I find a goldmine of content? Actually, no! What this ultimately told me was that my idea was still too broad. It was too easy to come up with topics related to that Idea because I still could have gone a number of different ways. I went back through the iterative process of writing about my Idea and ultimately found it was way, way different than originally conceived.
By doing this, you also unlock the subconscious mind. By focusing on a “problem”, meaning narrowing an Idea, your mind works behind the scenes to solve that problem. The more specific you get (input), the more specific the aha moment when you get to the final result (output). Your mind is built to solve problems. If it wasn’t humanity would have gone extinct out on the Savanna. You can lead your mind to an answer you don’t (yet) conceive of.
In fact, after having gone through this process, I was listening to a podcast one day. I do that often, even 3-5 in a day on my combined morning and afternoon commute. One theme came to me that a very high percentage of entrepreneurs stated that fear is what was initially holding them back. These are successful people, or they are now that they got passed their initial fears, but still these are high achievers! How many more had fears they had to address that didn’t list that as their number one, or weren’t conscious of it? How many more people even than that who do want to be an entrepreneur that haven’t overcome those fears yet? If you take this another step, there are a whole lot more people that may not want to start a business that are still held back by fear that impacts their daily life? Fear is a real issue for many people, however you define it. I knew that fear was what I needed to address for people wanting to start a business, but even more so for me.
[Pro-Tip: Speed up the podcast to 1.5x or 2.0x to cram in the most content into your brain as possible. I am at 1.5x, which means I can consume 50% more content in the same amount of time. Believe me, it may be strange at first, but your brain is more than capable of processing the info. You will find you adjust very quickly to this.]
You may not know going into this process how your idea will be refined, but it can be a powerful tool, and it doesn’t take long, and anyone can do it. I’ll guess that even an hour over 1, 2 or 3 sessions, you will have a much better Idea, more refined, more specific and probably more profitable. Now you can move forward with researching that refined idea and do some analysis on whether there is need in the community in which you want to serve.
1. Starting with your idea, simply start writing an About page. If you need some perspective, look at a few About pages for websites you often visit that are closest to what you want to develop. Describe your idea by keeping in mind:
- What is your idea?
- Who are you targeting with this idea?
- Why it’s important?
- What do you want your audience to get out of it? (this may incorporate both the benefit and value to them, but it may also generate further ideas on how to provide a product or service to them)?
2. Look at the About page. Is it too long, too short? It may be you need to refine it a bit. This is subjective, but may give you an insight on whether you are too narrow focused or too broad.
3. Start all over re-writing your About, not editing the original. The reason to do this is that repetitive information may indicate that concept is particularly important in your mind. If you don’t include some information, that means it may be less important or relevant. You want this to happen, unless you already have a very succinct Idea.
4. You are probably already thinking at this point how to provide value based on your Idea. To get that information out of your head so it doesn’t compete with this process as well as do a cross-check on whether there is value you can provide. If you have 1,000 blog topics, re-consider whether you have refined it enough. If you can come up with one main product that you can create content around, perhaps you have refined it enough. Only you can be the judge, being you will be the person that will move forward with your Idea. There is no right or wrong, just be aware of this.
5. Go back with a clear mind and even at another session and write your About again. By this time, you should be able to succinctly state what your idea is about and know who you are going to target.
6. If you find that your original Idea has shifted dramatically, that’s just fine. You may have eliminated an Idea that wasn’t viable for your at this point in time. Take any new, revised idea and run through this process again. Keep iterating until you can very succinctly state what your idea is, who your audience is, what the pain point is, and what value you are going to provide. If someone asked you what your idea is, you would be able to explain it in 30 seconds, or less! Too many words probably means you aren’t clear yourself.
Keep in mind:
- This is the process I have discovered for myself to work well for me. Your mileage may vary!
- If you think in a more systematic or linear fashion, other techniques may work better.
- You may want to consider also using other processes to brainstorm your idea. For example, I may initially do a mind-map exercise to flush out an idea in its very first conception.
- Don’t worry if you feel you need to abandon your initial Idea or revise. You will have intuition on whether you are succinct enough or not. The market will weigh in on this later, especially after you vet it, but its a huge time saver for those whom their ideas are too broad or unspecific.
Hopefully you will find this process helpful. I have begun using it because it works for me. I can brainstorm an idea, mind-map it, and write an About very quickly. This gets me to a point of a general intuition if I like my idea, I want to pursue it, and whether I think I can take this and make something out of it. Then I can take it to the next step of vetting the idea.
I have lots of thoughts going though my head at any one time. Sometime they are ideas, but mostly just random junk floating around. This helps me process the haze and clarify and not spend time dwelling on something that won’t go anywhere. It also allows my mind to work on generating correlated ideas to the refined one that helps me move forward and provide value.