How to Take Ideas from Concept to Creation

Have you ever come across a product or service that you had the idea for months or years ago?  Perhaps that frustrated you since you had the idea first and yet someone else is earning profits on your idea!

This happens often and makes one thing very clear – ideas are cheap.  Anyone can have an idea; what separates us from the person who is now profiting off the idea is execution.  That is, they took that idea from concept to creation.  I have spent the better part of the last 4 years, facilitating and teaching audiences all around the world how to take ideas from concept to creation.  I break the mission down into four steps, which I will describe below.

C2C Process

Identify the Problem – For any idea to become a viable and sustainable solution, it must address a real problem faced by a specific group of people.  The problem is also known as the market.  Without a market, a solution will not succeed, as it will not actually solve anything worthwhile.  In order to prepare your idea for the next step, it is critical that you: determine the problem you are intending to solve, the audience you intend to solve it for, and how/when the problem is currently measured/noticed.  The following are 5 questions to help guide you through your research.  For additional and deeper questions, read my article, 30 Questions to Help You Identify the Problem.

  • What is the problem as you currently know it? Describe a specific situation (include the people and stakeholders involved and their role/experience)
  • What job or task was the person suffering the problem attempting to accomplish, when the problem happened?  Learn more about Jobs to be Done Theory.
  • How did the person know the problem was happening or happened? Or did the person not even know?  (this opens an interesting possibility)
  • How is the success of the attempted job or task measured?
  • What does the problem cost to any or all of the stakeholders involved in the problem?

Validate Your Findings – All of the work you did in the first step helped you establish a collection of hypotheses related to the problem, however, this must be verified through first hand investigation and data collection.  While you may be absolutely certain that your problem statement is correct, it is almost a certainty that you are not 100% accurate.  Validation of your problem, through surveys, observations, experiments, and interviews, will help you refine the problem ahead of beginning the design of a solution.  Your problem may be made up of 10, 15, or 20 hypotheses; set up surveys, observations, experiments, or interviews, accordingly to confirm each one.  Once you have all of the results, update and finalize your problem statement.  Consider the following questions in your effort to validate the problem.

  • Are the problem stakeholders you identified actually connected to the problem? If not, did you have too many or not enough?
  • Would the person suffering from the problem consider the problem “painful” enough to warrant a solution? Is the job or task they are attempting important enough?
  • What evidence do you have to support the estimates for the problem or opportunity cost?
  • If the problem is one that no one is aware of, how can you verify it is worth solving?

Solution (re)Design – Let’s be honest, you already had the solution in your mind before you began investigating the problem thoroughly.  Thus, with a validated problem in hand, you will need to design or re-design the solution to address the specific elements of problem.  For this step, design a solution that does no more and no less than what the problem calls for.  Product-Market fit is critical to resonating with potential customers/users.  Build too much solution and your customer sees it as too complicated.  Build too little solution and your customer is left having to find the remainder of the solution elsewhere.  Consider the following questions in your solution (re)design.

  • How does your solution allow the user to complete the intended job or task?
  • Which features of your solution address which features of the problem? Are there extra features?  Or not enough?
  • How much does the solution cost in relation to the cost of the problem?
  • In what measurable ways does the solution improve/solve the problem? (refer to problem metrics)
  • In what measurable ways does the solution complicate the job or task of the user?
  • Conduct a cost/benefit analysis of the complications versus improvements.

Design a Sustainability Model – Solutions that are meant to solve problems for people other than yourself must have a way of surviving on their own.  That is, they must have a model for sustaining themselves in the market.  This is absolutely critical if you plan to scale your solution to reach ever increasing users.  Consider the following elements when designing your own sustainability model.

  • Target customer segments (distinguish between user and customer, if applicable)
  • Value proposition for each customer/user segment, what are they?
  • Pricing strategies and models, what are they?
  • Fixed and variable cost elements, what are they? (focus on the big ones first)
  • Distribution channels and methods, how will you get this into the hands of the customer?
  • Competition, who are they, how do they compete with your solution?
  • Customer acquisition, how will you find and secure customers?

Take this process and run your idea through it.  Spent most of your time on the problem.  Solutions are easier to design when the problem is understood clearly, comprehensively, and deeply.

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The Problem with the Silver Bullet in Education

What is a silver bullet? According to Google, it is “a simple and seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem.”

The problem is that when the problem you are trying to solve is complicated, such as education, there is no such thing as a silver bullet. Complicated problems often have multiple variables that behave in many different ways and at times, unpredictably. When we look for a silver bullet, we run the risk of investing significant sums of money in an unrealistic solution that will never deliver the expected returns.

Solving complex problems requires having an underlying purpose, strategy, and plan before enlisting the use of expensive and comprehensive tools

In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) committed over $1 billion for a silver bullet – to put aniPads in EDU iPad in the hands of each and every student in the district. Long story short, the initial roll-out proved to be a major failure and not because the devices lacked in performance. One of the key problems was that teachers only received a few days of training on the devices. Perhaps even more critical is the fact that, according to a published report by the OECD, “there is little solid evidence that greater computer use among students leads to better scores in mathematics and reading.”

This is, unfortunately, an incredibly expensive case for the importance of having underlying purpose, strategy, and plan before enlisting the use of pricey and comprehensive tools. According to Michael Horn, executive director of the education program at the Clayton Christensen Institute, “Districts are starting with the technology [tool] and not asking themselves: ‘What problem are we trying to solve, and what’s the instructional model we need to solve it?’ and then finding the technology [tool] in service of that.”

Until education identifies a problem and/or opportunity that requires technology as a means [tool] to address it, any implementation or mandated use of these tools and/or apps will be underutilized and run the serious risk of creating more problems than it even stood the chance to solve. In the case of the LAUSD, teachers reported significant levels of frustration, the iPads required more bandwidth than was readily available, and last by not least, it cost the district a significant amount of money (total proposed expenditure was estimated to be $1.3 billion when the entire project was complete).

Problems and opportunities must drive our need for tools. Tools are developed in response to and in order to solve problems. Purchasing a tool without a problem to solve or an opportunity to pursue is like buying a hammer and not having a nail to hit.

Consider these steps next time you are faced with this dilemma.

  • Identify the problems and opportunities in your school that you need to address – pick 1!
  • If you do not already have a model for addressing your problem/opportunity, design one that you and your team have the capacity and ability to execute
  • If you are struggling to identify or design a strategy, then learn more about your problem or opportunity and understand it in depth – talk to people impacted by problem/opportunity, talk to potential users of solution, look for existing research
  • With a strategy/approach set, Identify and evaluate the tools available to help you execute – what are others doing in your field and consider what are others outside of your field are doing with similar problems
  • Finally, select and employ the tools that best fit/align with your particular plan and people; be open to switching tools when necessary – problems and opportunities evolve and so will your needs

Lastly, do keep in mind that most tech tools today come and go rather quickly, so while you are learning about your problem or opportunity and designing a plan, new and better tools may emerge that you will be better positioned to enjoy.

Building Your Math Toolbox

If you have ever put together a piece of furniture or completed a do-it-yourself project at home you have probably pulled out a toolbox and used your tools on an as needed basis.  Perhaps you had to hammer a nail into a wall and located your hammer to do so.  Every now and then though, you cannot find that hammer and are faced with the challenge of hammering in that nail another way.  You look around and find something that might work even if not originally intended to do so.

This is what we do, we solve problems with whatever means available to us.  We all do it in some way, shape, or form.  Doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, an accountant, a student, a drug dealer, or a mobster.  You do what you have to with the resources available to you.  The same goes for math students.  I introduce every student I work with to the concept of the mathematician’s toolbox.  As we move from one topic to the next I make sure they understand that this is another opportunity to build their toolbox and make it more complete.  As we approach new topics I always ask them what tools can we use to solve some of these problems before even exploring the new tools.  Continue reading