I was reading a forum the other day and I stumbled unto a question from one of it's members. "How do I get ideas for Apps?" I thought that would make a great blog posts so I decided to share what I have learned about generating ideas. I If I was to sum my process into one word I would say LISTEN.
One of the biggest sources for ideas is myself. I find that if I pay attention to things that irritate me, I always find inefficiencies in systems around me. One of the things I find most irritating is the flush systems in public toilets... hell any toilet. I hate touching the flush handles or buttons or whatever the new toilet designers have come up with. Why do we not have toilet flush levers or buttons on the ground you can trigger by stepping on? Why is this not a standard in LIFE? Searching the Internet there are contraptions here and there, but no serious toilet manufacturer has solved this problem on a large scale. I think humans are wired to complain about something all the time, no matter how good your life is and so I have made a game of recording my complaints as ideas for apps or businesses. Remembering that almost all systems that govern your life today was created by another human, financial systems, educational systems, manufacturing systems etc. Intenalizing this allows you to understand you have the ability fix things you don't like. You are only a victim to these systems if you allow yourself to be. So next time something annoys you and there isn't an app for that... that's an idea right there.
Listen to non-technical people
My family is made up of non-techies and most of my friends are too. Sometimes I wonder what they imagine when I say I am busy working... probably they imagine me in scenes of the movie Social Network, oooh how I wish my life was that glamorous or exciting. I have found they suffer a lot, I have seen that as a tech person most of the irritating inefficiencies in my field there is an app that tries to solve it or someone is working on it. Most industries do not work like this, in fact they do not know that what they are dealing with a computer could do it for them, better and faster. So When I talk to friends and family and they complain about things stressing them, I always pay attention and ask more questions to see if it can be solved using a computer. This is a little life hack too, it allows you to look like the most caring person they know and at the same time you are investigating business opportunities. Very soon you start finding patterns, one very common one is every time someone tells you they do something using a spreadsheet, that is code for: There is a more efficient, focused app that can be built to do that.
I have a friend that said when he builds his house he would like to have a room filled from the ground to the roof with books, like Natlie Portman's room in V for Vandetta. I find when I flip through books, watch random videos I would not naturally be interested in I allow for serendipity. Sometimes I misread the title of a book and then what I thought I saw is actually a great Idea or I am exposed to an industry or culture that I can help with my unique set of skills and interests. You can never know too much even though we all like to think we do.
I use evernote for this now. Whatever Idea I get, I record in a notebook in evernote, sometimes I come up with ideas that are too hard or beyond my ability to execute, sometimes I come up with stupid ideas that are not worth my time, but I record them all the same and what I find is that sometimes ideas start to converge and breed new ideas. That rating system you concieved for rating cat videos might actually be useful in executing an app used to rate coders on a job platform. You never know where ideas will take you.
At the end of the day ideas can come from anywhere, the one overarching thing is that to create relevant apps that people will find useful, you have to listen and pay attention to your environment. Never overestimate or underestimate sources. Every idea has to prove themselves to you and not the other way around so patience is an ingredient in finding how to spend your time. Also share your ideas, execution is everything and sharing your ideas will only refine them and make them better not worse. Do not fear the thefts of your idea, it is like someone stealing the blueprints of a house. There is a long way to go between the blueprint and having a successfully built house and if they do not understand the motivation, the goal and the context of the birth of this idea, they will fail because they will always look to you for inspiration. Start this and before you know it you have a notebook full of ideas.