The first rule of a marketable idea is that it will solve a pervasive customer problem. Although it’s important to pursue a concept that you can dedicate your career to, it’s equally essential that you think about what the market needs. You will not be able to earn a good living if there are just a handful of people who feel as strongly about your product or service as you do. Starting a new business is time-consuming and expensive, so your idea should be one that makes a lot of people care because it cures their pain right now.
Be Clear and Credible
To learn more about the science of developing good ideas, I turned to Chip Heath, the co-author of Make to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Heath, who is also a business professor at Stanford University and has done a lot of research on this subject, says that sustainable ideas are credible and easy to understand. For example, if you were an engineer pitching a foreign concept like a new energy grid, you could make it more relatable by saying that it’s “like an interstate highway system for energy particles.”
Beware the Curse of Knowledge
Heath also advises us to be careful of falling into the curse of knowledge trap. “Experts can’t imagine what it’s like not to have their level of knowledge, so their messages go over people’s heads,” he says. Instead, develop two concrete examples of what you’re talking about, and then “test them out on a friend or family member who’s not in your field.”
Think Inside the Box
What if you have trouble coming up with the big ideas? Heath has an interesting suggestion. You can make it easier by narrowing your focus, or thinking inside the box – it’s much more manageable to brainstorm a list of white things in your fridge than it is to brainstorm in general. Another idea is to piggyback your idea on a concept that’s already successful and attracts the demographic you want to target. Let’s say you want to hold a fundraiser for a nonprofit you care about but aren’t sure where to start. Why not look at the organization’s history to determine – and then mimic – the type of event that has attracted the greatest interest in the past?