How Do You Find Good Ideas?

I had the pleasure last week of meeting Niel Robertson, CTO of Newmerix, contributor to Enterprise Irregulars, and overall an expansive and deep thinker. About a year ago he penned an immortal article dissecting Oracle’s "Fusion" announcement (Fusion is the solution to integrating all of its acquisitions).

Somewhere in our conversation Niel said, "The question I get from people more than any other is, ‘How do you find good ideas?‘ My answer? I let people tell me what the good ideas are."

I love it. Instead of banging your head against the wall trying to come up with new ideas, focus instead on listening and synthesis. I don’t think this is easy.

Outstanding listeners ask open not closed questions, probe on adjectives ("what do you mean when you say ‘hurt’?"), and are not afraid of silence.

Synthesis requires, to use Niel’s words, thinking about markets or the world like a pointillist painting: you will accumulate little dots in the form of scattered opinions and anecdotes and you have to see the larger picture and trend over time.

How do you let people tell you what the good ideas are?

2 comments on “How Do You Find Good Ideas?
  • One thing I look for in a founding team is that at least one of the founders is an outstanding listener who is naturally empathetic. It boggles the mind how many people want to build something because they think other people want it, when in fact they don’t. I love to ask people like this the names of 10 people who want it. If they have no answer, it tells me quite a bit.

  • I think a good idea should attempt to solve a real problem. On this very premise, an evolutionary model could be built.

    The very fact that we have to `find’ good ideas would imply –

    a) they are currently out of stock.
    b) they do exist in some other form. ( work-in-progress stage )

    Since (a) is a given, it’s only (b) that the seeker could do something about. The seeker may begin by asking the ideator –

    What had led him to that.
    Will his idea fill an existing market need ?
    Who would buy it ? Why?
    How hard will it be to create it ?
    What will prevent competitors from doing exactly what you plan on doing?

    The seeker should ask as many questions as he thinks are relevant and verify each answer to understand the level of probity that had gone in. A 7 /10 score I think, is quite some signal for both of them to jointly collaborate, explore and refine it further.

    Sometimes such elementary interrogation might lead to redefining the problem itself. Just as the simple worry of how to preserve grapes from decay during the pre-historic times led to wine making.

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