Making a Side Project, Part 1: Coming up with Ideas

This post outlines what I learned from MAKE about coming up with ideas. To see what ideas I came up with, check out the following blog post, Making a Side Project, Part 2: Ideas. See Making a Side Project.

Synthesizing and forming ideas is a skill and a muscle. If you take the time to jot down a few ideas every day, your ability to form new ideas rapidly improves.

I love that Pieter Level’s book MAKE assigns homework. For its initial homework, it asks that you write down 3 ideas every day for a week.

At first, this was downright strenuous. I struggled to come up with a single idea that I felt was compelling, but a few takeaways from Pieter’s book helped me.

Don’t shut down ideas

The likelihood that your first idea will be your first idea is incredibly low. Therefore, if you focus on coming up with many ideas, you have a higher likelihood that some of them will be good.

Naturally then, you should refrain from putting pressure on the process. Focus on outputting a lot of ideas, and some of them are bound to be solid.

Your best ideas will come from your own problems

Because of your familiarity with the problem, you’re more likely to have a deeper insight into the correct solution. Think about your own life and the unique problems that you run into every day.

Focus on the problem, not a solution

In the startup/hacker community, we often use the term “solution in search of a problem”. This means that there isn’t a clear problem that your solution solves, which risks wasting time by building a product that no one cares about.

To avoid this, focus on the problem, not the solution.

For example:

IDEA: A fashion app that gives you ideas for affordable outfits.

Instead, try this:

PROBLEM: It’s often expensive and time-consuming to be fashionable.

The power of the latter approach is you’re no longer locked into thinking of only one solution.

I had a list of ideas before I started this challenge, but I realized many of them were solutions without a real problem. I went back and rewrote many ideas to reframe them as problems. As a result, I began to see other solutions that I hadn’t originally thought of.

Track your problems

How you track your ideas isn’t important, but I’ve found that a Trello board is a wonderful method. If you want to see how I do it, you can check out this blog post.

Coincidentally after reading MAKE, I realized I picked up this methodology from Pieter from his Indie Hackers interview. He now uses Workflowy to track his ideas.

Post-week Debrief

Forming ideas has become much easier. I’ve begun to frame ideas as problems, for which I can think of many solutions for.

As a side benefit, I think my mind has become a little more flexible too. I feel a little looser when approaching problem-solving and I’m thinking in more original, more creative ways.

I’m excited to come away with +21 ideas. Not all of them are great, but I’m excited about more than a few. In the next blog post, I’ll share my favorites.

Author: nicknish

Hey, I'm Nick! Product Developer freelancing. Ultimate rabble-rouser with heart. Exploring all things product, dev, and life.

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