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Quality Ideas Trump Execution

What creativity faucet can teach us about generating quality ideas

‘’What might seem to be merely the initial step — deciding what to work on — is in a sense the key to the whole game’’ — Paul Graham

A good start when it comes to product building is half the work done.

While running the Build program as a Program Director, a four-week program for folks to go from a fleeting idea to a full-fledged product, we ran it in a building cycle that went from (a) ideation, to (b) validation, and then (c) building the product.

We consciously skipped a lot of processes which involved defining the customer, problem statement, conducting user interviews and all that jazz. Primarily because the aim was to build a side project that could be built within a weekend, which made the cost of building quite less. (We didn’t actually tell them to skip all these steps, only to do that after having built the product they were imagining)

Now with the advent of no-code tools and ChatGPT (of course), it has become easier to build a great software on the internet.

Which makes it even more important to: have a quality idea.

People may have heard me use statements like ‘’the idea is everything’’ and while hyperbolic, there is a huge amount of truth to this. A weak idea on something your audience find un-interesting will perform badly regardless of other ways you bring ‘’quality’’.

So how do we bring extra quality to idea selection?

  • Allocate more ‘’thinking time’’ to ideas
  • Allocate more research time to ideas
  • Truly look for something unique and innovative
  • Brainstorm a greater volume of ideas
  • Have an elimination criteria for your ideas

I use my 100-10-1 framework. I will typically brainstorm 100 ideas, whittle them down to my best 10, and make the one I am most confident in. Julian Shapiro talks about the Creativity Faucet, a process of arriving at good ideas merely by the method of elimination.

Julian Shapiro on the Creativity Faucet:

I call their approach the Creativity Faucet:

Visualize your creativity as a backed-up pipe of water. The first mile is packed with wastewater. This wastewater must be emptied before the clear water arrives.

Because your pipe only has one faucet, there’s no shortcut to achieving clarity other than first emptying the wastewater.

Let’s apply this to creativity: At the beginning of a creative session, see through every bad idea that comes to mind. Instead of being self-critical and resisting bad ideas, recognize that you must see them to completion.

Bad ideas, by the way, are often the clichés your brain has been overexposed to.

Once bad ideas are emptied, a surprising thing happens: better ideas begin to arrive. Here’s my guess as to why: Once you’ve generated enough bad output, your mind reflexively identifies which elements caused the badness. Then it becomes better at avoiding them. You start pattern-matching interesting ideas with greater intuition.

This works because it is easier to look at something bad and intuit how to make it better than to make something good from scratch. The human brain isn’t wired for spontaneous ingenuity, but it is wired to detect what’s wrong with the world. Is the song too high-pitched? Lower the pitch. Does the story have too many lead characters? Remove a few.

Spending more time thinking of ideas. Even talking about these ideas with your pals. As you have more and more good quality of insights, you start thinking from a position of abundance instead of being in a position of scarcity.