7 Simple Ways to Come Up with a Product Idea

A cheerful young man and woman using memo cards during a brainstorming session
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Ever since the Mesopotamians and the Ancient Greeks discovered the world-changing possibilities of the wheel, humankind has been bound by a constant desire to innovate. From the industrialist inventions of Ford, Edison and Tesla to the modern-day tech geniuses of Silicon Valley, countless ideas – some good, some bad – have been conceptualised, cultivated and constructed.

As a result, masterminding the next big money-maker is a highly popular pastime, even if the reality is slightly more sobering for most of us. But that doesn’t mean that you should abandon your inner entrepreneur the moment you hit a creative wall; after all, there are numerous ways to generate good business ideas.

Whether it’s through changing your basic outlook or being willing enough to adopt new techniques, anybody can have an idea that is potentially life-changing; all you need to do is figure out how to unlock it.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to change the world – or you simply just want to make bags of money – then pay attention. Here’s how to come up with a product idea that could potentially do both.

1. Be a Visionary

The good news is that anybody can be a visionary; the bad news is that very few become successful ones. This is because plucking a concept or an idea out of thin air – and actually transforming it into something practical and viable – is an extremely sensitive process.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, though. While some people are naturally more creative than others, there are plenty of things you can do to stimulate the right side of your brain; music, for instance, is commonly cited as a means of unlocking inspiration, while other forms of visual art and literature can also stoke the innovative fire.

Your surroundings can play a big part, too. Some of the world’s most fascinating minds require their own unique creative space in which to flourish, and yours is likely no different. Whether it’s a minimal office, a secluded cabin or somewhere near the sea, place yourself in a location where you can relax and channel your thoughts productively.

Remember: it’s near impossible to sit down and order yourself to invent something. Creativity is a natural phenomenon that needs to be allowed space and time to grow, so put yourself in the best possible frame of mind to achieve it.

2. Identify a Problem in Your Life

For those who prefer a more practical, hands-on approach to idea generation, you can always revert to the basic cornerstone of product invention: look for a problem or an aspect of your life that could be easier, and then figure out a way of making it so.

This may sound like an obvious suggestion, but nearly every great business product of the last 20 years has been a result of this method. Some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs have got to where they are by applying a seemingly obvious fix to a personal issue. For example, Pierre Omidyar originally created eBay so he could sell his own unwanted possessions, while Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp – the cofounders of Uber – allegedly conceived the ride-sharing app in Paris after being unable to hail a taxi.

Ultimately, though, if it’s a problem for you, then chances are others are experiencing the same issues as well. By devising a solution, you won’t just be making your own life that little bit easier, but a lot of other people’s, too, solidifying the moneymaking potential that your product could bring.

3. Identify a Problem in Someone Else’s Life

If you’re lucky enough to live a problem-free life, then an alternative option is to widen your scope; recognising a potential solution to a contemporary global issue is a guaranteed way to garner large-scale interest in your product.

Whether it’s social, environmental or cultural, there’s no shortage of problems to address, either. For example, renewable energy is a lively area for innovation among engineers, while numerous patents have been filed for devices that produce clean drinking water in developing countries.

You don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, either; Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie implemented a buy-one-give-one business model for his shoe company in a bid to provide footwear to underprivileged children in South America.

Coming up with an idea that genuinely changes people’s lives for the better is hugely rewarding – and not just in a financial sense – so if you have the technical or engineering skills to match your creative mind, then think about how you could make a positive difference.

4. Build Upon Something That Already Exists

Nearly all inventions have a shelf-life until they are superseded by something better or they evolve into something more effective. This is where you could come in, taking a product or a technology that is reaching its best-before date, and reinventing it as something new.

Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean taking an iPod and repackaging it with a different design; you need to actually enhance the capabilities of the product. This could mean developing a new technology that ultimately serves the same purpose but with a lot more ease for the user. After all, as Henry Ford famously once said, if he’d queried what people wanted when he was developing the automobile, they would have asked for a faster horse.

It is often said that there’s no such thing as true originality and that all ideas are based – however loosely – on ones that already exist, so don’t hesitate to adopt this approach. If it makes people’s lives easier, then it will sell, so always keep an eye out for products that could be improved.

5. Exploit Trends and Technologies

Naturally, if something is popular, then there will always be people ready to make a quick buck off it; from the statue sellers permanently camped outside the Eiffel Tower to the countless knock-off merchants of popular film franchises (honestly, how many unlicensed Harry Potter mugs does the world really need?), there’s always a sharp business mind looking to swoop.

While in principle there’s nothing wrong with piggybacking on trends, try instead to focus on creating something that is sustainable, substantial and, well, legal. After all, the problem with fads is that, eventually, they die out, so if you want to earn money long-term, you’ll need to be slightly more nuanced. Take WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum, for example, who noticed the lucrative potential of Apple’s fledgeling app store to launch a service that has a life beyond its origins.

Always keep abreast of technology developments as well as maintain a finger on the pulse of what is about to become popular, as there will undoubtedly be money to be made on the right kind of product.

6. Focus on Your Strengths

When thinking of a product, it’s important to dream big but also be realistic; it’s going to be extremely difficult to solve the melting polar ice cap problem if you have no knowledge of environmental science, for instance.

This is why you should try to focus your energies on what you’re good at. What is your area of expertise? Are you a good programmer? Or are you better with your hands? Take the time to understand what your strengths and passions are, and then flip the creative process in on itself: instead of matching your skills to a problem, match the problem to your skills.

You will find it far easier to create and develop products if you have a good understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, so look at where you are best placed to spot an opportunity.

7. Learn from Others

As more and more regular Joes and Janes take the plunge into entrepreneurship, people are becoming increasingly inspired to chance their own arm in the business world; a by-product of this is that there’s a wealth of information available in books and podcasts, as well as online, about how these enterprising individuals were originally inspired in the first place.

Learn as much as you can from these people. What are their backstories? What sparked their ‘eureka’ moment? What was their thought process in creating their product? While this information won’t directly illuminate a lightbulb above your own head, it might alter your own thought process and attitude towards generating ideas, which could, in turn, lead to the seeds of something special.

Remember: one simple tip or piece of advice could be all it takes to change your own mindset and set you on your way, so immerse yourself in the entrepreneurial world and remain open to the suggestions of others who have been successful.

Unfortunately, there’s no simple key to unlocking a genius idea; if there was, we’d all be millionaires. But as demonstrated in this article, there are things you can do that can stimulate creativity and ensure that your attention and energies are being directed in the best possible way. Follow these strategies and don’t be afraid to try new things; after all, new products are changing the world every single day, and there’s no reason why yours can’t either.

Do you have any other tips for developing product ideas? Let us know in the comments section below!