No one “took” your good idea

I predict that within the next 3 years, Nike is going to start embedding pressure sensors into their shoes. It’ll bluetooth to your phone once a day. In addition to things like measuring steps, most importantly it’ll gauge your gate and walking. If you have something wrong, they can upsell you. They can also take a “preventive care” angle and involve insurance payments if they wants.

I pitched this to another entrepreneurial friend of mind. It didn’t take him long to start adding features. Smart material that can change density? Check. Targeting it to athletes? Check. Pretty rapidly the idea was evolving from a shoe to an insole – something that wouldn’t be locked to a shoe provider. After seeing successes like 3D printed custom insoles startup Sols – the idea was pretty attractive.

So there you go. Need a good idea for a startup? It’s yours. I’m posting this without any reservation.

Why? Because this is the third “good business idea” I’ve had this week. I’m flooded with them. Please, take them. Talk to any entrepreneur and they’ll say the same thing. I’m reminded of an interview with a successful entrepreneur I read some years ago ( not able to find the source, I’m afraid.) He was asked something along the lines of “how do you deal with other new market opportunities you see while working on your startup?” His answer was awesome – he has those ideas everyday. And anytime he has one, he writes it down in a notebook he keeps on him. He’s not distracted by them, he’s not submitting to feelings of opportunity cost. He’s joyed by them, it shows his skills are sharp.

I’ve adopted a similar approach and I’ve found it not only to help channel my ideas, but show how far I’ve come. While I have found some joy in a new Lemome notebook, I instead keep my new business ideas in a Google Drive folder that I’ve organized. I write it down, I explore it, then I leave it alone. Maybe I’ll pick it up someday later – and it’ll be there waiting. I have the ideas that I’m focusing on now instead, and I won’t be distracted. If I had to juggle all those ideas around in my head, I’d quickly run out of working memory. If I tried to execute or validate every good idea I had, I’d be manic.

I’ll tell you a story. The year is 2013. I’m in my senior year of college, enjoying a greasy McDonalds burger with some friends. (Yo, 22 year old Alex – stop eating at McDonalds). It’s late at night, we’re all engineers, and we start musing about the coming future. That’s when it dawns on me that this entire restaurant could be automated. We start talking on the subject and I start to see the mechanisms and workflow lay out in front of me.

Maybe you’ve had this idea too. This exact one. If not this one, I bet you’ve come up with one that you later see executed by another party some months or years later. Makes you go something like, “”Hey! They took my idea!” Trust me, I’ve been there. But there is a better way.

In 2017, 5 years later, I ordered my first McDonalds meal from a touchscreen instead of a human. (Don’t worry, I rarely if ever go to McDonalds anymore and I’m 25 pounds lighter for it). Did I think McDonalds took my idea? Hell no. I reacted a different way, a way I would encourage you to as well.

I was happy to see it. I gave myself a mental pat on the back. I noticed the situation those years ago and came to a solution – the same solution that a giant corporation problem poured millions into. That’s because I see all of this as creative problem solving. It’s a habit, a muscle you have to exercise to keep strong. It’s a perspective that instead of submitting to the troubles of the problem in front of you, you think of ways around it. This expands with empathy to notice the problems that other are facing. Then you start to think about how they can scale. Then you start to think about how current or developing technology can enable it. Then… well, you’re starting to come up with some pretty cool things.

Who would you want on your team? Someone who got lucky and came up with a “Eureka!” one-off idea? Or someone who understands the mechanisms of these ideas and comes up with a wealth of them?

Strive to come up with more product or business ideas than you could ever implement – because here’s the secret: just like an athlete training, they get better. The ideas come faster, become more creative, and more robust.

So next time you feel the urge to say “they took my idea!”, instead say “I’m on the right track, that’s a good sign of my problem solving.”

Besides, an idea has an approximate market value of $0. But that’s a story for another time.

*Image, https://www.active.com/Assets/Triathlon/Bad-Running-Form.jpg

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