Vasiliy Ivanov is the Founder and CEO of KeepSolid. KeepSolid builds modern security and productivity solutions for more than 21M users.
One key challenge that every company faces is coming up with new ideas that can grow into commercially successful products.
The importance of ideation — the art of generating ideas — has been documented in hundreds of articles, TED talks, books, playbooks and scientific papers. They all try to capture how ideas are born and translate that ephemeral process into specific guidelines that can yield quantifiable results.
The essence of this advice is that it’s crucial to train your mind in a certain way of thinking so you can be skilled and disciplined at generating creative ideas on a regular basis, either alone or with a team. But for many companies, this is often easier said than done.
A Different Approach: Triangulating Experiences
When my team and I discovered how challenging spontaneous ideation can be, we tried a different approach to developing new products. As Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things.” New ideas often emerge when we link past experiences and synthesize them. To make this happen, I believe organizations can reach for different sources of inspiration, including:
• Your own life experiences: This is what I consider the first source of ideas. For instance, when I’m traveling or experiencing new things, these experiences often inspire me to think of new product concepts. All of my team members are encouraged to share ideas they think of outside the office. Staff is motivated to do this because they know it might lead to a new product being developed—and an opportunity for them to lead that process.
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• Your customers: To me, this is the second source of ideas. Our customer support team, for example, constantly monitors all feedback from our users. On the surface, they do this so we can enhance our services to better meet customers’ needs. But through this process, they often spot fresh ideas or questions from users that can form the basis of new product features — or a completely new product.
• Your market research: The third source of ideas is conducting ongoing market research and holding brainstorming sessions to come up with new concepts. As one example, studying our competitors has shown that in order to be truly successful, a VPN service needs to be bundled with complementary products, such as DNS protection or IPv6 leak prevention. This prompted us to enhance our core service with additional network defenses.
While you can rely mainly on spontaneity and inspiration to drive your ideation process, it’s ultimately a combination of creative imagination and rational, reflective thinking that paves the way for you to build and launch new products.
If you’re a big company with lots of cash, it’s possible to invest substantial time and money in developing a world-changing product. But if you’re a startup, you don’t have that luxury; you have to figure out what ideas will work through trial and error. Along this journey, your company might pivot repeatedly.
Before my copmany started providing VPN services, for instance, we developed consumer apps. While this didn’t end up being our ultimate focus, it was a great testing ground for our skills as developers and entrepreneurs. Today, we’re able to step back as a company and promote our products as bundles of interrelated services, without an immediate connection to our brand. Diversifying our product line has given us more freedom to experiment, and it offers more flexibility if we want to try something new.
From Idea To Final Product
A winning idea can bring a huge windfall to your company, but success doesn’t come from ideas alone. When you come up with an idea that seems brilliant and timely, you still need to address multiple issues, such as technical design, market research, resource allocation and careful targeting and promotion. Most importantly, you need to find the right balance between pursuing the idea and abandoning it.
For some products, the journey from idea to launch only takes a matter of weeks. For others, the go-to-market path may be more complex, and your team will be hunting down bugs and finding workarounds for months. Or your market research could show that there are very few potential users of your product. In this case, it’s critical to be able to stop, even if you still find the idea promising.
In my company, when I feel that an idea still has undiscovered potential — even after it fails to gain traction for a few months — I put it aside to return to it when the market changes or when it becomes easier to implement.
The Secret To Finding Good Ideas
Twentieth-century psychologists argued that creativity could be developed through extensive training, Steve Jobs relied on self-confidence and spontaneity, and marketing researchers capture ideas through careful analysis. If you combine all of these approaches, you’ll see that creativity is really about cultivating a specific mindset. It’s the ability to listen to yourself and let experiences from different sources be synthesized into new concepts.
In my view, this approach has been the key to developing new ideas across our company: By building an open-minded culture where every member of the team, regardless of their position, can develop an eye for innovation, you build a path from successful ideas to winning products.