We live in times when almost anyone can start and do great things just by himself. There is so little stopping us, and I want people to understand that we can do anything we set our mind to. Not only we can, but need to. You have to have courage and willingness to do it. Yet there is a huge amount of professionals sitting still, not knowing what to create. So much potential wasted.
The approach that most people take to create a product that would be useful is wrong from the ground up. You need to find and understand what human needs are before you can serve these needs. You need to know for whom you are creating and why someone will care for it.
What makes humans tick
Human beings operate by responding to incentives and motivations. Two main motivations that make us take action are the need to gain pleasure and the need to avoid the pain that we are experiencing.
Let’s take a look at our ancestors who lived in a cave. They responded to exactly the same motivations as we do today. When they experienced cold, it was literary a pain, which motivated them to seek a solution. At first they just tried to avoid it, by moving to warm climate. But things changed after they discovered that covering their skin with animal skin will help them survive in the cold. It opened new possibilities and lands to explore.
Nowadays, even if we are changed and we live a totally different lifestyle, these motivations have stayed the same. When we are hungry, we seek for food. When we are experiencing pain, we go to see a doctor. When we want to have fun, we go to movies, hang out with friends etc. When we are in need of something, it motivates us to act on it.
If you want to create a useful product or service you should take advantage of those motivations. Specially painful ones, because they are your golden ticket to the land of opportunities.
The wrong way of doing things
What people often do wrong is that they start with an idea for a product, and then they try to find what problems that product could solve. When, in reality, the problem is what you should start with. That is why you should be able to describe your solution in one or two sentences. So you can confirm to yourself, that you know what problem you are solving. It also helps you in the future when you are improving your product so you don’t get lost along they way. And if you fail to attract customers at first, it just means the solution isn’t good enough. But at least you know that problem exists. If you start with the product first you can’t be so sure about the problem.
Some people are using a technique where you ship all the ideas that come to mind hoping that one will take off. There is a chance that some of them will succeed, but I compare this technique to gambling. You keep putting in resources and can only hope that next one will be the one that wins the jackpot. And let’s say you win the jackpot. If you don’t have a meaning for what you are doing, you will waste the opportunity that you get and be right back where you started.
Learn to love problems
Problems are around you every day. Almost on every step. For example, most of us start our day with our morning coffee or tea. You get out of bed, with one eye closed. You pour water into the kettle, boil it. The you find your favorite coffee, grind it, if you prefer fresh beans and put a couple of spoons of it into your mug. You wait for the water to boil and then pour it over you coffee in the mug. You let it filter for couple more minutes before your coffee is ready for drinking.
For someone, this looked too difficult and he saw an opportunity here. That’s why coffee machine got invented. Although it was made for coffee shops, but still for the same purpose, to get rid of most of those steps. This invention allows you to enjoy your morning coffee only with a push of a button.
Every problem can be an opportunity, the bigger the problem, the bigger the opportunity. The main reason, why we ignore these opportunities is because problems are ugly. We want to avoid them. We don’t want to think about them let alone to think of them as possibilities.
The majority of people are like you and me. They do not like problems just as much. Because of that you should be the one who act on them. You have a chance to make life much better for many people and earn a buck or two for yourself while doing so.
Notice problems around you
To make something meaningful, you need to stop searching for a million dollar idea. Do not think you need to invent something out of the blue. All innovations are an upgrade of something that existed before. We do not want to do new things, we just want to do the things we do, but better.
If you look at all the billion dollar companies we have right now, they all are improvements of products that existed before. Google is the best example of this. They weren’t first search engine around, but their algorithm was way better than competitor ones. It allowed for people to find the stuff they needed faster and easier which is what matters in the end.
Start noticing problems around you. Buy a notebook and write every single one in it, as little as the problem may be. Do not trust yourself to remember it, even if you think to yourself: “This idea is too good, there is no way I will forget it”. There’s a good chance that you will.
If you prefer you can use a phone too. I would suggest app named Keep. It has cool ways of highlighting and tagging ideas and yet it remains simple and easy to use. I use both because I need that touch of reality that notebook brings. Just keep a problem log. Not idea log. Problem log.
Don’t take any problem for granted, log every one of them. If you think logging all the ideas is pointless, it’s not. First of all, writing down every problem helps you with noticing them in the first place. You will form a habit and you will start to see what others miss. Second of all, if you do not log every problem, even the bad ones, there is a chance that you will forget to log the good ones.
At first it will be hard to find problems worth solving. Give it a time. Start with something small. Every single activity you do can and will be done better in the future. Start questioning why things are the way they are. What job does this tool do?
It is better if you try to look for problems in single area of life. It might be the first step you need to take. Pick a field that seems interesting to you. Don’t worry if you don’t know anything about that field, it might be your advantage. You will have less assumptions and biases. You will build up knowledge over time. Sooner or later you will find something that you know should be done better.
But before you can think of a better way, you need to figure out what goal you want to achieve. What is the job to be done. Tool is only something that helps you achieve it.
“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”
For every goal people want to achieve there are something standing in a way. Figure out what the goal is, only then think about what is the best way to achieve it. Just like in the example of making coffee, think about what steps could you take out or change and still achieve the same result.
The next step
Finding a problem is the first step, finding a solution is next one. While thinking about ideas for solution it’s important to completely forget about current solution. You need to look at the problem with a fresh eyes. To find a better way, do not focus on ways of how things are done now.
Start asking questions like “What if … ?” even if response seems absurd and impossible. Do not worry about how you will do it, at the moment just think about best solution this problem could have. Only after you’ve found couple of solutions, you can start to think about how exactly would you make them happen.
There are couple of rules you should follow while thinking about solution. If you create a solution that is too different from what people have right now, make sure it is a major improvement. It must be easy to learn and easy to use. It needs to be 10 times better not 2 times better. If you create a solution that is different, but improves little, user will not bother switching to your solution. They wont spend time to adjust to your solution with almost no gain.
It should mean something to you
Never do something just for the money. Money is just a number. If you base your happiness on how much money you have, you will never be happy. Numbers are infinite and you will never have enough.
Before anything else you need to find why you are doing something. Find a problem you care about, don’t jump on to first one you see a potential of earning money. Look for problems that no one is solving. Look for problems that are ugly, and solving could really make difference in the world. Even if you don’t have the problem yourself, but you feel the need to solve it for others. Having a reason for your actions will give your life a purpose. It will be your your northern star by which to guide yourself in all the hard moments you will face.