I am constantly amazed at the number of new products and services that enter the marketplace.
In any given week, I may be presented with up to a dozen new business ideas. To determine the validity of the idea, I will often ask the "inventor" how he or she came up with the idea. Is it based upon market research, a deviation from an existing product, a wild thought or a dream?
In reality, the question is designed to probe into how well-developed the idea is and how many "eyes" have looked at what is being offered.
For the purposes of this article, I will refer to the entrepreneur who creates a new idea as the "inventor." Most successful new ventures are started by entrepreneurs who evolve an existing product or service and bring a better, faster, cheaper or more convenient offering to the marketplace. Revolutionary ideas do not have the same probability of finding success in the mainstream economy.
For example, a group of soccer enthusiasts recently started the company Calle (Spanish for street).
The concept is a full line of sports equipment and apparel addressing the tens of thousands of kids playing soccer in the street after school or during the summers.
The founders recognized several problems (pain points) in the market: the typical soccer ball bounces too much on a hard surface, the size of the ball is a bit large for a normal backpack, there exists no reasonably priced branded apparel for youths interested in the sport, etc. The opportunity led them to develop a new ball smaller, less likely to bounce away from the "field of play" and made of tougher material to withstand pavement.
They also came up with a backpack that would not only hold the ball but also other essentials that could be carried to school and then unloaded for post-school play, as well as branded shirts and shorts that would appeal to youths and were priced to sell into the market.
What are the essential principles that exist either with an individual inventor or within an organization that promotes such innovation? "What Business Should I Start?" by Rhonda Abrams lists six traits of the inventor/creator or builder of businesses: (1) You like to work with your hands, (2) you have skills/talents that will attract customers, (3) you respect details, (4) you are able to subordinate your own creative vision to meet the needs of your client or the marketplace, (5) you are not totally afraid of sales, and (6) you've got an itch to make things.
For businesses, Robert Sutton, author of "Weird Ideas That Work," talks about basic organizing principles. He compares companies that "exploit old ways or organize for routine work" and those that "explore new ways or organize for innovative work."
Companies that want to do things in proven ways tend to drive out variance. They see old things in old ways and replicate the past in order to make money now. These principles are in contrast to other firms that enhance variance, and that see old things in new ways and break from the past with the goal of making money later.
Once you recognize that the correct personal traits or organizational principles are present, the next step is to find the invention. As a guide to finding ideas, Abrahms lists several statements or questions that can be helpful in generating what she calls the "Aha moment."
For example, you might ask if there is a product or service that: needs improving, you or someone else needs or wants now that does not exist, exists elsewhere but is not available in your geographic area, will be needed because of changing population trends, will be needed because of changing technology or is there something that you would be good at or enjoy doing?
Lastly, many of us think that most ideas for new products or services have already been exploited in the market. WRONG! We are just at the beginning of an era of enormous change. Henry David Thoreau said, "The question is not what you look at, but what you see."Good luck to all the inventors who see a better future for all of us.
Gary Williams is affiliated with the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]