Why and what matter more than how
When brainstorming a business or product idea with people, I find them quickly jumping to execution concerns - “how will we get the money” or “I don’t know how to build that” or “no one else does that” or “that won’t work” and so on. What we don’t realize is that our minds tend to imagine the future with a present-day context. But the present always seems to change faster than it did in the past.
Earlier today, I wrapped a productive but argumentative session with an entrepreneur who is trying to go digital with her offline consulting business. Distilled down, the “consulting” perhaps boils down to 100-150 algorithms that can potentially be programmed into a self-help system. We went through various exponential trends from artificial intelligence to mobile connectivity to crowdsourcing and evaluated how these might be applied to solve the larger need for which people approached them. But we got stuck with crowdsourcing because breaking up a task into micro-tasks, shipping off to hundreds of people and assembling it back with regularity seemed too complicated to imagine. But that’s exactly what entrepreneurs must let go of when envisioning the future - the how. You don’t have to worry about the complications of crowdsourcing, you simply have to imagine what crowdsourcing can do for your problem.
Focus on why you are building something. Are you deeply passionate about solving the problem? Do you love it enough that you would even work for free? Then focus on the what. If every possible technology and skill set were available to you, what would you build? Resist the urge to answer the how question. Ignore the practicalities that your mind will demand answers for. Simply focus on the what. Steal ideas from far beyond your domain and industry. Let your mind float. That’s how you brainstorm and imagine what doesn’t exist today - a future-ready idea without the constraints of the present.
There are reasons why worrying about the how is flawed at the idea-stage. One, you are limiting the idea by the baggage of your own knowledge and experience. In the earlier example, a crowdsourcing expert (whom you can hire by the hour) is better positioned to help you figure out nuances of micro-tasking. Second, technology advances much faster than you can imagine. Look around - the world behaves as though touch screens have always been around even though the iPhone popularized the touch screen only 8 years ago. While visualizing a future solution you may have to imagine a world where 4G connectivity is widely available in areas where it’s not today. You may have to consider a world with 5G services (expected by 2020) and a slew of Internet-enabled things. Third, your present-day situations can rapidly change in a hyper-connected world. You will attract the resources to help you make things happen because there are several others out there who would love to work on the very problems you wish to solve.
If you are looking for a moral of the story, it’s this: if you really want to do something, you’ll figure out ways to do it. All you need is imagination.