Blog Post

My Idea Map

Editor’s note: Matt Rogers thinks big — not every founder would be brave (or rash) enough to claim s/he has a Google-beater. But we like big thinkers at Found|READ. More importantly, whether this particular idea has legs, Matt’s method of thinking about new business concepts, explained below, is worthwhile reading. Not all of us could map out the path we follow — or stumble down — as we generate our ideas. We’re grateful Matt is willing to share his here, which we’ve adapted from “the original post on his blog”:http://www.aroxo.com/blog/mattr/index.php/2007/08/14/idea-genesis/, *”Digging my own ditch.”*

A couple of days ago I struck on an idea for a new search system which would consistently produce results more relevant than “Google”:http://www.google.com/. So in this post I’m going to detail the process I used to get this idea in the first place and others like it.

I don’t believe that ideas “just happen” or “pop into the head”, I’m very much of the view that we develop them with repeatable steps. This is what this article is about – how to generate ideas.

I started thinking about this by noticing that most good business ideas can be traced back to a source (which I call the “idea genesis”) in one of three ways. In this post I examine those three “source-paths.” Then I explain how I use these paths to generate new ideas, including the Google-beater I mention above.

I use three simple strategies for generating ideas:
*The concept transplant*
*Amplify the essence*
*The inhibitor remover*

Each overlaps with the others, all are interrelated, all of them seem to work. I look at each one in more detail below, then I talk about how I use them to generate new ideas.

It is important to note that at their root all of *these strategies rely on an idea which is already working. Why take the risk of trying something which hasn’t already been proved?*

*1. The concept transplant*

The first strategy is exceptionally simple. Take an idea which works well, and apply it somewhere it’s not being applied. Making sure that you are not stepping on any patent toes and adding in your unique twist gives you your new proposition.
Social networking, for example, is nothing remotely new. People have been networking socially since the birth of man, people were even using the Internet to socialise and form networks, long before anything like “Web 2.0” was even considered.

The Facebooks and My Spaces of this world just took something which was already happening and did it online. eBay, took the concept of auctions and put them on the web. Guy Kawasaki’s start-up Truemours, just took the human desire to gossip about rumours and put it on the web. Aroxo – my own start-up – takes its base concept from the “physical” world, and applies it to the web. We are by no means out of ideas.

*2. Amplify the essence*

This is my personal favourite. This strategy helps us isolate surfacing human trends and needs. It requires that we look at something which is working, isolate the human need which is driving it and the amplify it. My Web 2.0 blog post attempts to do this for Web 2.0. Take something which is working well and isolate the core human drivers which sit beneath its success.

Starbucks, for instance, isn’t popular because it sells coffee. It’s still number 1 because no-one has quite captured its essence. Starbucks is a moment of solace, an air of sophistication, it’s a break from the storm in a crazy world. It is also excellent execution.
Apple’s success comes from its positioning of the computer as an expression (even extension) of its owner’s personality and from making computers easy-to-use.

*3. The inhibitor remover*

Here were looking for what is stopping something from working, typically in another medium, then we find a way to remove that inhibitor. Essentially, ideas which should take off, but hasn’t.

Instant messaging on mobiles hasn’t taken off in Europe. Why? Because people think its expensive being online all the time. And yet in most countries, it isn’t. An easy fix.
Video content on your computer (Joost, et al) hasn’t taken off. Why? Not because of a lack of content, but because being at a computer is not relaxation time, it’s active. But people consume television style content (as opposed to short YouTube clips) whilst sitting comfortably on a sofa.

*4. The final step – applying the strategies*

It is easy to trace successful business ideas back to an earlier Idea Genesis using these techniques, but knowing this doesn’t create potential Google beating ideas on a daily basis, that requires an application of the strategies. And this requires a few more steps:

*a) an understanding of where you want to apply the idea* (e.g. online targetting seniors, mobile/cellular targetting youth/how to beat Google, the next eBay)

*b) knowledge of these strategies*

*c) exposure* to plenty of completely unrelated, but successful ideas and business models

In the Google situation, I started from the premise that nothing lasts for ever, just as with Aroxo we’re setting our sights on eBay, for Google there will be a better way performing search. Then I’ll make sure that I’ve got a good understanding of the 3 strategies above by reviewing them in my mind a few times.

Finally, as I spend my time during the day, I’m constantly looking a how something is done and try to apply it using the strategies to my area of interest. Before you know it you’re finding ideas cropping up regularly.

*I do this as a constant day-to-day process and maintain a list of potential ideas which I add to often.* I find it useful as I walk around to evaluating and conceptualise the ideas I see around me, thinking how else and where else they could be applied.

These strategies can yield a lot of ideas, but not all of them are going to be brilliant brainwaves. Which means we need a way of sifting out the false positives which involves turning a rough idea into a worked-through proposition. And that’s the next post.

12 Responses to “My Idea Map”

  1. aroxomatt

    Hi Dave, I totally agree that there some ideas which just fly out of nowhere, I try and build the chaos element in by feeding in random ideas which I see on the street or in totally unrelated corners of the Internet. This way I hope I still get the random connections that drive the chaos.

    Everyone uses different systems though, which helps us end up with different ideas.}

  2. dikshantdave

    Hi Matt, Great thought process and verry insightful.
    I have always believed that Innovation can be nurtured in an organized environment and one can yield great results with organized thought process. However, personally i have found it very difficult to adhere to. Innovation is very tightly coupled with Chaos and putting any process around it may result in compromising the originality or newness.

    would be eager to know your thoughts on this.}

  3. richardgreen

    Nice Thoughts… Looking forward to hearing more about the Google-beater in a later post. With Google’s firepower it will be hard to displace them in the near term unless its truly original and you’re not interested in a buyout… Good luck & watch your back… RG}

  4. adambenayoun

    Interesting article, Matt!

    Taking old ideas and revamping them does not necessarily means they will work, but the probability they will work and succeed are bigger than starting up a fresh new idea.

    I am a fan of original idea, but sometime I do like the fact old idea get some kind of twist and all suddenly you find yourself with a new value proposition that shake your world.

    Anyway, thanks for your input!}

  5. Nice write up and a good process. I’ll add another mental exercise that can be helpful to come up with new ideas that can be 2-20 years out. Simply take two trends and plot out the intersection. What happens when they come together?

    Examples:

    Wii virtual controller and the ubiquitous cell phone. What new services might be enabled if every phone was a virtual controller?

    Social Networking and Business Cards. Why do these worlds not intersect? They will – what will happen?}