Sunday, July 7, 2019

How to come up with creative ideas: Think about your own pain-points first (2)

[Note: I recently started sharing my scribbles on How to come up with creative ideas. To reiterate, my idea in sharing these is to look back at this list for my own inspiration and for those who are interested.]

One of the stories that fascinated me early in my career was that of acquisition of one of the first web email service- Hotmail. Sabeer Bhatia, who was one of the co-founders of Hotmail, became a sort of Tech celebrity after the acquisition announcement by Microsoft. If my memory serves me right, it was a deal worth $400 million, which was quite a figure in early part of this century.

I got to relive this story again while reading the book-
Before You Start Up: How to Prepare to
Make Your Startup Dream a Reality

Here's an excerpt of the story reproduced from the book (full credit to author Pankaj Goyal)

The first product of Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, cofounders of Hotmail, was not a web-based email system. It was a web-based personal directory, called JavaSoft. JavaSoft was a weekend and evening project. They had not quit their jobs yet. However, they now faced a problem. Their employer had installed a firewall and they could no longer exchange personalemail! They could still access the web through the firewall. So, it meant that if there was web access to personal emails, it could solve the problem! And that's how they arrived at their killer idea: web-based email (Livingston, 2007).
In addition to rekindling old memories, this story was of interest to me in my endeavor to find out and share about the secret sauce that leads one to come up with the creative ideas.

A few days back, I had written about how thinking about own pain-points can lead one to find out gaps that could be leveraged to build solutions. This example of Sabeer Bhatia coming up with an idea of a web-based email client also proves that being aware of pain-points that one experiences when using products can be a credible way to come-up with an idea.

I would like to specifically point out that I have not even called out individual brilliance as a key differentiation factor. Of course, individual brilliance matters when the reference point of discussion is how well the ideas do in it's entire life cycle. But if we change the reference point to just coming up with good ideas, what is more needed is the awareness and ability to stay in present and experience the moment (including good and bad experiences in that moment) while being completely immersed. Sabeer Bhatia could have well decided to live with the fact that the traditional way of accessing the email is blocked and hence he will just live with it (like many of us would have done). But the fact that he chose to acknowledge this as a problem that's worth solving really put the seeds in the soil that eventually led to Hotmail.

Just be aware of your surroundings and what you are experiencing, the next big idea might be just there.

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