While some of you already may know the problem you are solving, others may not have identified a problem or opportunity yet. No matter which category you fall into, carefully read through the following strategies for identifying opportunities, as these may come in handy when you least expect it.
There are many different methods for identifying problems, and most require that you get out of your house, get out of your comfort zone, and, most importantly, get yourself thinking outside of the box.
- Start with stuff that bothers you. Begin jotting down everything that bugs you, and include both trivial and life-threatening items. More often than not, other individuals will share these annoyances. Use our Bug List and Day in the Life worksheets to help you through this.
- Dive into a new field. Apply your knowledge and skills to domains outside of your expertise. Exploring foreign territories will allow you to identify blind spots and opportunities for improvement that those entrenched in the industry are unable to see.
- Find a way to do it cheaper. Investigate possibilities for offering products or services to customers at lower prices. Folks love a good deal, so long as quality isn’t sacrificed.
- Seek out the strange. Watch, read, and listen to weird stuff. This might include unusual news stories, documentaries, blogs, movies, podcasts, and more. In addition, challenge yourself go to unique places and speak to unfamiliar people.
- Take time for yourself. Go for a jog, grab a cup of coffee, or simply kick back and relax. Many times, great ideas don’t arise during white boarding sessions, but instead surface when you are engaging in an unrelated activity.
- Think visually. Use pictures, sketches, mind-maps, and diagrams to capture your ideas. Keep post-it notes or a small notebook on hand at all times, and use a Sharpie so you can’t erase your thoughts—no matter how radical or absurd they may seem.
- Pose “what if” questions. Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (2010) recommend posing “what if” questions as starting points, pointing out that a company like IKEA started by asking: “What if consumers bought components of furniture from a large warehouse and assembled items themselves?” (p.140).
- Mouth closed, eyes open. Watch and listen to people. Observe them. Use an Empathy Map, a tool developed by visual thinking company XPLANE, to note customer behavior, motivations, needs, and goals.
- Be in the know. Take time out of your day to peruse publications that highlight new products and services. Check out our list of Cool Stuff to Read below for ideas.