Generating Product Ideas

27.09.2017 |

Episode #4 of the course Product development 101 by Jeff Brunski


Today’s lesson is about concept generation, which is the exciting phase where creativity reigns and new product ideas are born.

As of yesterday’s topic—identifying opportunities—you’ve been thinking about the problem space and customer needs. You’ve learned how to use observation, market research, and empathy to focus on the consumer and identify an opportunity.

So…now what?

Now you have to figure out what product to build to address that opportunity.

If you recall, the solution space describes all the ideas you have for solving the consumer need described in the problem space. But what is the major challenge of the solution space? Filling it with ideas. “Concept generation” is the term many product developers use, but that’s just a fancy way of saying, “coming up with product ideas.”


Step 1: Really Understand the Problem

The place to start the process of concept generation is to truly clarify and distill the core need you’re trying to solve.

I know what you’re thinking: “Didn’t we just do that in the last step, identifying opportunities?” Well, sort of. I’ll explain this way: There is a difference between identifying an opportunity for a product and truly knowing and understanding the need that you’re addressing.

Great product developers synthesize all relevant information from their research in the problem space in order to reach insights about underlying root causes to problems. They weave a narrative about the bigger picture, the larger problem, and the core human need that can be addressed with a solution.

Truly understanding the need makes it much easier to find the solution.


Step 2: Think Divergently

If you have three ideas and then think of a fourth, you just demonstrated divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is about creating options. It’s about going wide and broad with your thinking to generate ideas.

Divergent thinking is the key method developers employ to find their product concept. I’ll touch on four specific methods of divergent thinking.

Brainstorming. The term brainstorming is often used synonymously with, “come up with a solution,” but it’s not the same thing. Brainstorming is about idea generation—quantity over quality. Most good product development processes include some brainstorming for concept generation.

Ideation. Ideation is another method that facilitates divergent thinking. Ideation is similar to brainstorming but typically involves using specific prompts to generate ideas. It needs a stimulus. Here are a few example prompts: “Come up with a way to solve this need for less than $2,” or, “Describe the perfect hotel experience for a family with a new baby.” These are pointed prompts, meant to generate specific ideas.

Inspiration. Concept generation is not a “closed book” test. Use inspiration to come up with product ideas. Research products that have solved similar problems. Explore Google patents. Talk to experts in a related field. There’s no rule against gathering and using inspiration! (okay, there are a few rules about not stealing, but you know what I mean.)

Compounding Ideas. A brainstorm might be good for coming up with a lot of ideas but rarely effective for finding well-vetted, truly insightful ideas. To get those “higher order” ideas, you really need to spend time grappling with your idea or product concept. Consider how it might evolve in the next generation. Consider how you might add features. Consider how you would build it with various cost or distribution constraints. By using these analysis tools to think really critically about your idea, you’ll inevitably compound it from a simple idea to a sophisticated one.

Many product developers get excited about the first idea they have for a product, but as we all know, there’s tons of fish in the sea. The best product developers know that the first idea isn’t always the best idea, so a thorough exploration of the solution space is key to good product design. Use all the tools at your disposal to fill the solution space.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about selecting your product idea!


Recommended books

Change by Design by Tim Brown

Innovation: The Five Disciplines by Curtis Carlson and William Wilmot


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