The Path To A Big Idea
In his book, 21 Days to a Big Idea, Bryan described the ideation process step-by-step. The book tells you how to approach each of those 21 days and ensures that you have many big ideas by the end of it.
During our discussion, I asked Bryan to replicate this process for my viewers, many of whom are entrepreneurs looking for the next big idea.
But this is not a forced process, it’s not a way for Bryan to condense his own strategies into a simple and sellable format.
The idea of 21 Days to a Big Idea came about as a necessity, more than anything else. His friend, an expert in innovation and a university lecturer, was struggling to get any good ideas out of his students.
They were bright, creative—the entrepreneurs of the future. But their ideas were little more than regurgitated concepts. They were repetitive and uninspired, and so he asked Bryan to come up with a process that would help them create something unique and something extraordinary.
21 Days to a Big Idea… was that concept.
Bryan gave multiple talks on this strategy before he even considered writing a book, and it’s a process that has already helped countless entrepreneurs and businesses to brainstorm game-changing ideas.
One of the best things about this book is that Bryan puts his money where his mouth is by actually proving his strategy. He creates a number of big ideas of his own and describes these in the book.
If you’re interested in exploring your creative side and seeing what you can come up with, here are some of the finer points from Bryan’s book, all of which were addressed during our discussion.
Create Many Ideas
One of the fundamental principles of 21 Days…is not to have just 1 idea after that 3-week period, but to have an idea every single day.
That way, you have at least 21 ideas at the end of the process and can commit to one big one.
Sometimes, great ideas come out of the blue. You might see a product on TV and find yourself thinking about how much better it would be if it had another feature or provided another purpose.
Maybe you’re watching a science fiction film and start wondering about the real-life implementation of some of the gadgets and concepts.
But even the most creative entrepreneurs can struggle from time to time. They need a push in the right direction, and Bryan helps with that, as well.
He provides several starting points that you can use when creating your big ideas, including:
1. Find A Problem And Solve It
Most new products and services are designed to solve a problem. It’s how many inventors and entrepreneurs begin their process and you can see it in action with many new products and existing products.
Think about the products in your home. Your cleaning supplies, tools, kitchen gadgets—all of these are designed to solve a problem.
It seems like there are products for every problem. If you’ve ever been caught in a web of late-night infomercials, you’ll see this for yourself.
Those channels are awash with seemingly unique ideas designed to address issues you didn’t even know existed.
At the same time, however, there are still many more niggling issues that exist in our day-to-day lives, solutions that have not yet been solved.
What frustrates you, what angers you? What product would you love to exist?
Think like a consumer to find the product and think like an inventor to create it.
2. Adapt A Technology
Sometimes, the best products are created as adaptations of existing technologies and products.
Every new computer, smartphone, and tablet launched in today’s market is an adaptation of existing technology. Virtual reality headsets, phone attachments, software—all of these things seek to adapt and improve.
And this rule doesn’t just apply to high-tech hardware. The zipper on your jacket is an adaptation of existing technology, as well.
Bryan also talks about an entrepreneur who invented a $12 bike using treated cardboard that someone else had created.
Your goal is to take something that exists and improve it or find other uses for it.
The Counter-Strike video game is a great example. It is currently one of the biggest competitive video games in the world, with millions of players and countless tournaments across the globe.
However, it began as a mod (an adaptation) of an exciting game.
This is an extreme example, but it’s proof that a few tweaks and a little out-of-the-box thinking can make an adaptation more successful than the product on which it is based.
You may need to consider copyrights, patents, and trademarks, but that only applies if you’re using the product directly, which is rarely the case.
3. Helping People Self-Actualize
Self-actualization has been described as the process of “becoming”. It’s the journey to who you want to be and who you can become.
Helping people with this journey essentially means assisting them with becoming the best versions of themselves.
Let’s look at a few new products as examples.
At the time of writing, the new Apple Watch is being plastered across TV and Instagram feeds. It’s an adaptation, an improvement of something that already exists, but it also helps with self-actualization.
It has features for monitoring fitness levels and health, which means it can be used to make you fitter, stronger, and healthier.
Productivity apps are also a great example, as they promote creativity and productivity and allow you to move closer to your goal.
These products practically market themselves, as everyone is trying to be someone and if you can help them with their goal, they’ll be more than happy to buy what you’re selling.
4. Discover Ways To Save Money
There is no shortage of money-saving products out there, and new products are hitting the shelves all of the time, but not all are effective.
If you can find something that actually saves money and doesn’t have a massive initial outlay, you’ll get the attention of every relevant consumer in the marketplace.
The paradox of capitalism is that we all love spending money and saving money, and there’s nothing we like more than combining the two.
On the one hand, it appeals to our consumeristic nature, but at the same time, we can purchase with the belief that we’re helping (and not hindering) our finances.
A dollar saved is a dollar earned, and oftentimes, the high you get from saving is greater than the one you get from earning.
As an entrepreneur or business owner, your goal is to tap into these feelings and give consumers what they want.
5. Discover Ways To Save Time
Consumers are happy to exchange money for time, swapping dollars for minutes. We all value our time, even if we’re not really doing anything productive with it.
Everything from hair straighteners to cooking gadgets falls into this category, but it’s also where you will find a host of wearable gadgets and mobile apps.
Think about the products that you use every day. Many of them are designed to make your life easier and save you time, whether they’re shaving minutes off your commute or allowing you to check your messages on your watch instead of your phone.
It’s almost absurd when you consider the money that consumers are willing to spend just to save a few seconds, but that’s the way the modern world works and it’s something you can use to your advantage.
Test Your Ideas
As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to dismiss the reactions of others.
If you have an idea that you’re excited about, but your friends merely laugh at you and call it preposterous, how do you react?
Many entrepreneurs react with defiance. They’re convinced the idea is a good one and don’t care what anyone else thinks. If that idea is treated with similar disdain by other friends and family members, that just spurs them on.
After all, many great ideas were initially rejected and thought to be stupid.
But unless you’re an inventor creating something truly revolutionary, you can’t afford to dismiss feedback so readily. It’s true that many great inventions were initially met with derision, but very rarely is that true for e-commerce.
After all, the friends who don’t like your product and the family members who hate your idea are potential customers. They’re the ones you’re trying to sell to, and if they don’t like what you’re doing, there’s a good chance your idea will fail.
It’s important, therefore, to put your ideas out there, encourage feedback, and actually listen to people.
In this case, your inner circle becomes your target audience, your test group, and you’re throwing ideas at them to see what sticks.
When you have your 21+ ideas, the next step is to narrow them down and find the best one. Don’t be scared to dismiss ideas that you initially thought were unique.
You’re looking for one big idea, one game-changing, fortune-making concept—not half a dozen half-assed “maybe” ones.
Virtual Ideation Meetings
I talked about Zoom meetings and Webex meetings during my discussion with Bryan, noting how these services have flourished during the pandemic and have overcome the adversity of 2020.
This raised a point that was also highlighted by Matt Higgins during a previous This Week with Sabir episode.
Bryan regularly attends ideation meetings and whiteboard sessions, and all of that came to a grinding halt during lockdown.
At this point, everything moved online and those in-person ideation meetings become virtual ideation meetings.
Not only does this allow Bryan to continue doing what he’s doing, but it opens the door for countless more opportunities.
When you host face-to-face meetings, you need to schedule a place and time that suits everyone, and in the world of business, that’s easier said than done.
The more people you incorporate into the meeting, the more complications you face.
With Zoom meetings, it’s much easier for people to find the time. It also means you can invite more people into the meeting, allowing them to take a backseat and participate even if they have nothing to add.
Zoom meetings can be recorded, and you have access to features such as file sharing and screen sharing. It’s much easier than setting up projectors.
You can read more about virtual ideation meetings and their benefits in this article, which was written by Bryan and referenced during our conversation.
What About Established Companies?
Bryan’s processes and books are targeted toward businesses, as well as entrepreneurs. In Idea Stormers, he acknowledges that these methods are just as effective for multi-billion companies seeking new products.
The ideation process is a little different and incorporates a few more Zoom meetings/Webex meetings, as well as whiteboard sessions and group brainstorming, but all new services and products still follow the basic principles outlined above.
They are solving problems, saving money/time, and adapting technology. The process might be more driven by trends and involve more people and more complicated product launches, but the basics don’t change.
The Intricacies Of Product Development
A successful product launch is not something that happens overnight.
Products often fail because they haven’t been properly researched and developed.
We can use the launch of a health food supplement as an example, as it’s an industry I have discussed at length following my interview with Nick Aldis.
Let’s imagine that you have a lot of experience in this industry and have always wanted to launch your own product. You have seen a potential gap in the market for a substance that no one else is using, and you’re eager to start a business based on that product.
One day, your great aunt passes away, leaves you a small fortune, and you decide to use that money to launch your product.
After speaking with a few freelancers to manage your writing, design, and marketing, you buy some bulk supplies, pack the product yourself, and launch a couple of weeks later.
There’s a chance you have just created the next big thing, at which point your meager investment turns into a substantial one and you have a successful business on your hands.
But there’s an even greater chance you’ll encounter some serious issues on the way.
You may discover, for instance, that the reason no company used that particular substance is that it’s not regulated and/or dangerous to human health. It could be that it’s safe for general consumption but causes severe reactions in certain users.
You haven’t done the necessary testing and research, so you don’t know this, and before long, you have some serious lawsuits on your hands.
It could be that consumers just aren’t as excited about the product as you are. And even if they are, maybe they would prefer to see it in different packaging or as part of a blend containing more familiar substances.
Alternatively, you may find that the supply chain is not as streamlined as you hoped.
Magic Spoon founders Gabi and Greg are a great example of how a problematic supply chain can kill your idea.
They wanted to make protein bars from crickets, a sustainable source of protein that was also low-fat and low-carb. An ingenious idea, I’m sure you’ll agree, but they soon discovered that if you’re the first one to launch a particular product, you also have to create the supply chain, and that can be a costly and time-consuming process.
They made it work, but it wasn’t easy, and this issue has proven to be an unassailable obstacle for countless entrepreneurs.
If you know about these problems beforehand, you will save yourself a lot of time, money, and stress. In the above example, you could have performed the necessary tests, acquired proof of safety, and created a product that customers were actually interested in.
As it stands, you now have thousands of dollars’ worth of product and packaging that no one cares about and have spent a small fortune advertising to people who aren’t interested.
The concept of product testing was discussed at length in my interview with Bryan. These are some of the points that we highlighted:
Why Qualitative Research Is Important For New Products
Bryan has helped many Fortune 500 companies to launch new products and services, so I was keen to understand his process. I asked him to describe one of his successful launches and he described a new product launch for Craftsman tools.
Initially, they took their ideas for a new set of ratchets and sockets to hardcore mechanics. They were the professionals, the upper end of the market, and the ones they needed to impress first and foremost.
But they didn’t stop there. After all, professional mechanics aren’t the only ones who buy these tools. In fact, they account for a very small percentage of the market and have different needs and expectations compared to everyday consumers.
To better understand the needs of the market, they spoke with multiple groups, covering all demographics and getting their opinions on what these new products should provide.
The researchers were given multiple problems and found many solutions, ultimately creating a series of new products that could meet all of these varying needs.
For example, they found that consumers struggled to read the socket size when they were underneath the car. To solve this problem, laser-etched sockets were manufactured, making them easier to read.
Initially, the buyer rejected the new product ideas, believing that the 15% price increase was too much and that consumers wouldn’t be interested. At that point, Bryan’s team hit the streets once more, asked the consumers directly, and learned that they were more than happy to pay 15% more for this product and would even pay up to 30% more!
After presenting the retailer with their findings, they got the answer they were looking for.
This is the power of qualitative research—it’s proof of concept. You’re not just imagining a product and stating, “I think this will sell”. You’re presenting your ideas to consumers, getting their feedback, and gauging their interest.
A retailer might reject you if you present them with an idea and some half-baked assumptions about why it will sell.
But if you can prove that consumers will be interested, they’re more likely to accept.
You don’t need to be a big business to do this and you definitely don’t need an advanced prototype. Oftentimes, a simple representation will suffice.
It reminds me of a story told by Jeff Hawkins, the inventor of the Palm Pilot. He had an idea to create a personal digital assistant (PDA), solving countless problems for professionals all over the world, and helping them to save time and money in the process.
However, there was nothing like that on the market at the time. This was long before the age of the iPhone and the iPad. Even the iPod was over half a decade away, and while examples of PDAs did exist, they were heavy, basic, and not very popular.
To test his idea, Hawkins carried a small block of wood and several pieces of paper around with him. The wood represented the device itself while the pieces of paper served as its overlays, covering information such as appointments, contact details, and more.
Every time he was given a new appointment or set of details, he would retrieve the makeshift prototype and simulate entering details.
He even had a stylus, which he whittled out of a chopstick!
Hawkins learned that he was more than happy to use such a device and to carry it around with him. He also received a lot of data from fellow professionals as they watched him (and no doubt questioned his sanity) while he pretended to input data into a block of wood.
When he had the information he sought, Hawkins moved onto additional rounds of testing. More prototypes were created, more people became involved in the process, and all of this led to the development of a popular and highly influential device.
The Palm Pilot isn’t remembered as fondly as the first iPhone or iPod, but its success was a proof of concept for handheld computer manufacturers and helped to pave the way for Apple and Samsung.
Use Cheap Prototypes
Bryan stresses the importance of using cheap makeshift prototypes as much as possible. Even if you have the budget and time to make a finished prototype, that doesn’t mean you should, as it’s not just a matter of affordability.
If a consumer is presented with a polished new product, they are less likely to offer their criticisms.
All of us have an innate need to please others. We don’t want to disappoint.
If you have ever seen shows like The Apprentice, you may have seen this in action for yourself.
Many times, the show’s contestants are asked to create prototype products and to base these products on consumer research. They stop random people in the street and ask them loaded questions about their product, service, or marketing campaign.
If a consumer sees a young business person clinging tightly to a product of their making, all puppy-eyed and hopeful, they’re not going to tell them that it’s trash. They will soften the blow, and maybe suggest that they would simply prefer it if it was another color.
The same is true for large scale quantitative research.
If you want an honest opinion, barebones is best. Consumers are more likely to tear it to pieces with a brutally honest opinion. They can see it’s in the early stage of development and you have yet to spend a lot of time or money on it.
Start Big And Narrow Down
The idea of Bryan’s 21 Days process is that you’ll turn innovation into habit and will think of a multitude of ideas, before eventually whittling them down to just one.
It’s a numbers game. The odds of your one idea being the one that makes you a fortune are pretty slim. In fact, if you’re going through the research and testing process, and you’re actually listening to consumers, it probably won’t make it to the development stage.
But if you have 21 ideas and they all get to that stage, there’s a good chance that a few will make it through, at which point your odds of success increase significantly.
If you have a team behind you, use them to your advantage.
Schedule Zoom meetings and whiteboard sessions. Encourage brainstorming and let your employees know that no idea is stupid.
You can do the same with your friends and family members—everyone loves to pitch ideas, even if they’re not entrepreneurial.
Bryan uses Chips Ahoy as an example. If his company is tasked with devising a new product for the brand, they might brainstorm 200 different ideas in a day.
These are then whittled down to just 20 or so, of which 18 might make it to testing. Of those 18, maybe just 8 get consumers excited. With a little more testing, they can narrow things down further and see which one makes consumers the most passionate.
This is essentially the process that they undertook during the development of Chips Ahoy Brownie, a product that understandably made consumers very excited.
Of course, it’s not just about getting the consumers excited. They also need to be ready and willing to buy what you’re selling.
Bryan talks about creating a series of uniquely-shaped bagel holes that children absolutely loved. It looked like the product was going to be a resounding success, but they couldn’t nail the price-to-value equation.
If the price is too high and consumers don’t feel like they’re getting enough value, they won’t buy, and your product will fail.
This is something that early computers, laptops, and hand-held devices struggled with. They were revolutionary, but because the technology was limited, they were often seen as little more than a novelty and one that didn’t justify the high price tag.
Align The Testing Products With The Final Product
Along with the donut holes mentioned above, Bryan also discussed the failed launch of a corn English muffin, and this highlighted another potential issue.
The product tested incredibly well with consumers. They ranted, they raved, and all signs pointed to a successful launch.
But the muffins consumed by the testers were made in small batches by skilled cooks and food scientists. The actual commercial muffins were mass-produced in factories and didn’t have the same home-baked flavors and textures.
Eventually, they discovered a way to replicate that home-fresh taste and the product was a success, but it stresses the importance of aligning your tests with the end product.
Make sure that the product you’re pitching to consumer groups is the same one heading to market.
Learn From Your Experiences
Qualitative testing teaches you as much about consumers as it does your products. If you’re paying attention, you can learn some valuable lessons.
Bubble Wrap was initially intended to be wallpaper and Play-Doh was supposed to be wallpaper cleaner. If the inventors had stuck with their original intentions, we could be using Play-Doh to clean our Bubble Wrap wallpapers!
The creators pivoted when their products struggled to gain traction and they found alternative uses.
As you test your product, you will learn things that you didn’t consider before, from alternative uses to potential gaps in the market.
For example, if you’re testing a low-calorie donut, you may discover that consumers aren’t interested but get really excited about a keto donut.
Arrange Productive Brainstorming Meetings
Generally, there are two types of employees when it comes to ideation brainstorming: those who speak openly and command the conversation, and those who keep their ideas to themselves.
They can be just as useful as one another, but if you want the best ideas, you need to give everyone an equal share of the conversation.
Encourage everyone to express their ideas, and if you find that someone is controlling things, ask them to take control of the whiteboard instead. Alternatively, you can go around the room, prompting everyone to give their two cents.
No idea is stupid, everything should be written down, and nothing should be erased until the end, when you’re ready to highlight the best options.
As new ideas are created, encourage others to add to them.
You’re not erasing, you’re developing, and everyone is playing a role.
If your team is stuck for ideas and nothing is flowing, Bryan recommends switching the focus and trying to find the absolute worst ideas you can think of.
Forget about trying to appeal to customers and start looking at ways to disgust them and turn them away. Gather as many ideas as you can and use one of the two following strategies to turn them around:
- Do the Opposite: The opposite of a bad idea isn’t necessarily a good idea and doesn’t always work. Bryan uses the idea of kidnapping someone as an example. It’s a terrible idea, so it works for what you’re trying to do, but “not kidnapping someone” doesn’t work as a good idea for most companies. However, that won’t be true for all ideas and you may discover a gem somewhere.
- Make it a Good Idea: Can you do enough to a bad idea to make it a good idea, and if so, what needs to be done? If we use the above as an example, “kidnapping” could transform into ways to keep people safe. One absurd idea can turn into a product or service that can save someone’s life or prevent a child from being abducted.
More importantly, all of this helps to get the creative juices flowing. It encourages people to think differently, and that out-of-the-box thinking is where unique ideas are born.
It’s like turning on the TV, going for a walk, or chatting with friends when you’re struggling to finish an assignment. Sometimes it helps to take a break and do something different.
One of my personal favorite tricks is to ask the question, “What will put us out of business?”. In the first instance, it shocks people, as they start thinking about the ways they can lose their jobs. But then they begin to think about their competitors.
Why did those competitors fold, why are they struggling? What freak event could destroy our business and what series of events could render our products worthless and our services redundant?
Again, it helps people to think creatively, but it also puts things into perspective.
If XYZ would destroy the company, what can we do to prevent that thing from happening? If it put our competitors out of business, how do we avoid making the same mistakes?
The $100,000 Question
As always, I ended my discussion with Bryan by asking him for his number 1 insight, the single piece of advice he would give to business owners and entrepreneurs looking to make their fortunes.
It’s the $100,000 question, as it delivers at least $100,000 in potential business revenue.
Bryan’s advice was to develop as many ideas as you can.
You only need one big idea to make your fortune, but that’s where you end up and not where you start out.
If you only have one idea, you’re less likely to listen to criticism.
You don’t want to scrap everything and go back to the drawing board, and so you cling to hope and try to make it work.
Persistence is great and has led to success for countless entrepreneurs, but there’s a difference between dogged determinism and mindless arrogance.
You want to be the person who realizes their idea doesn’t work and then immediately commits to finding another or adapting it until it does work.
You don’t want to be the person who just assumes that everyone else is wrong and keeps throwing money at something in the hope it will work.
Negativity and criticism are invaluable tools in any entrepreneur’s arsenal. If someone criticizes you or your product, they’re basically giving you free advice and telling you what needs to change.
It’s something that many entrepreneurs avoid but something that should be embraced.
So, create as many ideas as you can, test them all, and see what you can learn from them.
Bryan Mattimore has written several books on the topic of ideation and business growth and you can find two of these linked in this guide. For more information, just search for his name on Amazon or click this link.
For tips on entrepreneurship, marketing, and e-commerce, take a look at previous episodes of This Week With Sabir, including Growing Pains with James Orsini and Building Your Personal Trainer Business with Joe Yoon.
Stay tuned for more episodes This Week With Sabir in the coming weeks.