At its most fundamental level, business is about serving a need better than anyone else. This pursuit can be straightforward enough when an entrepreneur’s goal is to create an improved version of an existing product or service, but what about when they want to innovate something entirely new? That kind of pursuit requires a level of imaginative thinking that can be hard to come by. Since this type of thinking has played a significant role in the success we’ve enjoyed at LifeWave, I wanted to take some time to discuss the importance of “big ideas” and how they can be key to success in business.
Be a step ahead
Here’s the somewhat obvious, but also critical thing, about truly revolutionary ideas — no one’s thought of them before. Here’s a relevant famous quote that’s, perhaps erroneously, attributed to Henry Ford — “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” I come back to this quote often as I think it provides some serious food for thought.
Now, I don’t mean to say that customers don’t have valuable insight into their needs; clearly they do, but it is an interesting exercise to think of how we can serve those needs in ways they might not even be aware of. That’s why I think it pays to get into a habit of thinking a step ahead of not only one’s competitors but even one’s customers and the market at large.
If customers are frustrated by the limitations of a specific widget, the answer may not be to build a better widget. The answer may be to innovate a way to make the widget obsolete, or at least to better serve the needs addressed by the widget. It’s easier said than done, but it’s this type of thinking that can help an entrepreneur distinguish themselves from others in their field.
The power of building on expertise
Is it possible to innovate an idea outside of one’s area of expertise? Sure. Is it likely? Arguably, not so much. In my opinion, big ideas often come from knowing a field well enough to be able to see where it falls short of its lofty ambitions and where there’s room for improvement. After spending years with a product class, you might be so well-versed in its limitations that you may be better situated to figure out a way to overcome them through innovation.
I will say, however, that there are some downsides to being an expert in one’s field if that expertise starts to impose a rigidity of thought. Experts in a field may be prone to seeing the field’s problems through the same lens as their predecessors. This can effectively stifle innovation and cause the so-called expert to simply regurgitate the existing wisdom in the space.
I believe there’s a sweet spot to be found here that can be conducive to creating big ideas. An entrepreneur can benefit from knowing the ins and outs of a field, even if just in broad strokes, but it may also be helpful to resist diving so deep into conventional thought as to become discouraged from creativity. Remember, it’s often “outsiders” who are the ones to turn an industry on its head.
Finding your big idea
When it comes to actually finding your big idea, I don’t believe there’s an exact formula one can follow. When I first began working on our wearable technology in the form of a patch that has helped propel LifeWave forward, I didn’t really know where I would end up. I did, however, understand that there was plenty of potential to be found in phototherapy technology. I also knew that people were fed up with the harmful side effects that can come from prescription medication.
I used this information, and more, as guideposts along my journey. I investigated ideas, came to dead ends, turned around, and kept going. I learned from fellow scientists and fine-tuned my thinking as much as possible. I believed in the process and kept going even when success seemed distant.
That was more than 15 years ago and I’m still building on those initial steps to this day. I can now see, in hindsight, how my first big idea didn’t come all at once, but rather as a slow burn towards innovation and serving the health and wellness needs of my customers.
Ultimately, that’s probably the biggest piece of advice I can give on this subject. Finding your big idea is sometimes as much about staying the course as it is about innovation. Methodically testing your preconceptions and building on your failures is key here. If you learn to prioritize this progress over some kind of get rich fantasy, you’ll be much better equipped for success. When your big idea finally does come, make sure you recognize it and act. Such moments of inspiration can be rare, but if you strike while they’re hot, they can open up a world of possibilities for you and your business.