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A framework to build an idea factory
"Everything Starts Out Looking Like a Toy" #59
This week’s toy: a video game that makes waiting for a traffic light to turn a bit more enjoyable. An intersection might be the wrong place for this, but what about while you’re waiting at the DMV?
Edition No. 59 of this newsletter is here - it’s September 12, 2021.
The Big Idea
There are no dumb ideas, just early dismissal and incomplete analysis of those ideas.
That’s the thesis that Wil Schroter advances in his essay “Great Ideas all Start Dumb.” Schroter argues that the way we treat our ideas is the key to understanding whether they will eventually result in something worth pursuing.
Having a framework in place to evaluate something new gives you the ability to evaluate on something like a consistent playing field so that you don’t dismiss ideas out of hand or elevate them too early to “that thing I have to do.”
But wait, you say … isn’t it easy to determine whether an idea is dumb pretty early?
Building a repeatable idea factory
How do you know if an idea is “dumb”?
You’ll need to do at least some investigation to find out:
Does it break any norms and is it (possibly) illegal? This one’s a non-starter and should tell you whether it is a capital d Dumb Idea.
Does your idea unlock capabilities, save money, or make money for the intended user? If yes, then you’ve got something that might be worth pursuing.
Do you understand how your idea will affect or interact with other things in the environment where you want to unleash it? If not, worth at least some thinking about the impact you might make.
Have you asked your intended user whether they care about the problem you are solving? Not your idea per se, but the “why” behind your idea.
Did you sleep on your idea? Literally, did you come back to it tomorrow? Sometimes a great idea today doesn’t seem as good when you approach it from another perspective.
Going through these steps in a process will help you to review ideas as they come up, have a number of ideas in your idea pipeline, and give you a framework to evaluate ideas consistently.
If you’re finding the dumb ideas after thinking about them, that’s far superior to dismissing them immediately.
What’s the takeaway? Building an idea pipeline is a repeatable process, and you need to follow the process to get the benefits of reviewing your ideas so you don’t throw away good ideas or advance bad ones.
A Thread from This Week
Twitter is an amazing source of long-form writing, and it’s easy to miss the threads people are talking about.
This week’s thread: on the strange reason books exist today.
Links for Reading and Sharing
These are links that caught my eye.
1/ Folding phones ahead - Have you been waiting for the ability to fold your tablet and fit it in a pants pocket? Or to have a flip phone with a screen that isn’t tiny? It looks like the material for screens is finally catching up. Bendy phones are just the start. There are a lot of applications for differently shaped screens that could benefit from a more flexible material, except for the folks who replace your screens when they crack.
2/ Product managers are expected to … - this tweet from @johncutlefish highlights one of the contradictions of the labels of the roles we all take when we work. The expectations are high.
“Product Manager” varies from company to company, from person to person, and from role to role. At all of those companies and roles, writing about the challenges illuminates the choices we make to do or drop habits. (Bonus link: John’s series of posts on Product Development)
3/ “Computer, enhance” - Google’s new technology is anticipating how to sharpen and upscale photos. You could argue that this action is changing photography as we know it. You could also argue that the camera has been doing this for 150+ years as new technologies come to the forefront.
Will “enhanced” photographs be labeled as such? Or will we just accept them over time? I’m guessing the latter.
On the Reading/Watching List
Reading: an excellent long read about Pixar. You may not have heard of Alvy Ray Smith (I had not), and he is responsible for many of the graphics techniques that make modern movies and games possible.
Watching: well, not until October 18, when it’s likely to come out on Disney+. But Shang-Chi is a must watch. I haven’t gone back to the movie theater yet (have you?) and I am excited to see what this one has in store for the MCU.
What to do next
Hit reply if you’ve got links to share, data stories, or want to say hello.
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The next big thing always starts out being dismissed as a “toy.” - Chris Dixon