What it takes to turn an idea into a successful business

What it takes to come up with a good idea vs. what it takes to execute it well

To turn an idea into a successful business:

1. Solve a problem that your future customers find so important/annoying they will gladly pay for your solution. If you’re improving upon an existing solution, it has to be significantly better than what people are used to.

2. Understand who your customers are and figure out if they will actually pay for your solution. Try selling it to them before you spend a part of your life developing it.

3. Unless you can dedicate the next few years of your life to the idea, don’t do it. Just because it’s a good idea, and you came up with it, doesn’t mean you have to be the one that brings it to life.

4. Unless you have a burning passion for working on your solution, you will need superhuman perseverance. Ideally, have both.

5. If you aren’t good at selling, you better have people who are. If your spending exceeds your income, you are going downhill, no matter which way you look at it.

6. Don’t go against human nature. Build the idea so that human nature plays into it. A customer should experience no discomfort/annoyance using your solution (other than paying for it). Your work is not done until this is true.

What is creativity?

Creativity: using your imagination to envision something.

Problem-solving: using your imagination to envision solutions to problems.

Inventing: using your imagination to envision solutions that are new and non-obvious.

Innovating: using your imagination to make existing solutions useful in new ways.

Science: using your imagination to envision ways of answering open questions.

Serendipitous discovery: using your imagination to make sense of something that happened by chance.

Art: using your imagination to envision something that would evoke emotions.

What problems does art solve?

From the creator’s perspective art can solve any of the following problems:

From the audience’s perspective, art is used to evoke emotions. Feeling something is less boring than feeling nothing:)

What is an idea?

The purpose of any idea is to solve a problem.

The idea can be anywhere on the problem-solving spectrum. Even just identifying the problem is an early-stage idea. One of the first steps on the spectrum.

A challenge is an aspirational pursuit of an unknown solution. An idea is the exact same thing, but with a solution in sight.

A worthy problem is felt like a personal challenge when it encounters the right person. People will even devote their lives to solving it when fueled by enough passion.

All ideas come from creativity – our ultimate problem-solving tool. All human knowledge is created as a result of problem-solving.

Ideas are built upon other ideas. Existing knowledge is the fuel and building material for new ideas.

As we interact with the world around us, something eventually bothers us to the extent that we want to take action. When we face difficult problems, we turn to creativity.

A bad idea and a good idea are both works in progress. One needs a shift in direction, the other more iterations.

Why some people go out of their way to do good in the world

There is a stage in life that some people manage to reach. Maslow describes it as “self-transcendence”.[1] It comes after all our deficiencies and growth needs have been met. Having built a strong safety net protects us from falling back into survival mode. In turn, this frees up our brainpower and allows us to focus on bigger goals.

Our next challenge then becomes how to extend this safety over our families, communities, species, all of biological life, our planet, and whatever else we identify with.

How a few known individuals went about this, each in their own way:

  • Mother Teresa dedicated her life to caring for the dying in Kolkata. 
  • Bill Gates focuses on eradicating infectious diseases. 
  • Aubrey de Grey dedicates his time to cure aging. 
  • Elon Musk is all in on making life multiplanetary.

What would you work on if all your needs were taken care of? What is a worthy goal that we rarely hear about?

I’d also like to know what having all their needs met does for sociopaths. My hypothesis is that it reduces the level of sociopathic behavior.

The purpose of religion

I was told that my grandma was never a believer during her youth but I remember in her old age she was as religious as most older people in the area. In the younger generations, there was hardly a believer to be found. I remember wondering how the church would survive when our generations become adults.

As a child, I had a feeling that religion brings comfort to people who fear death. Over the years I refined this into the following hypothesis:

As children, our parents/caregivers are the alpha and omega for us. They know everything, are almighty, can solve all our problems – all we need to do is ask/cry. As we grow older and our horizons expand, we realize that our parents are just slightly more advanced humans. Eventually, we reach their level and even surpass them. In our minds though, we still keep this innately built-in position for an “almighty” caregiver. When our parents lose this position in our eyes, we find ourselves “all alone” in this scary world. There are really two ways of dealing with it. Either you become self-relying or you fill the void by finding a replacement caregiver – an almighty someone/something to continue watching over you. Whether you create one yourself or go along with any of the well-established gods depends on your environment and experience.

In old age, we become frail and reliant on others. It feels familiar, almost like we’ve been through this before… It sure would be nice to have almighty parents again. Some people find religion to keep them strong during the long good-bye from this world.

Where else do we often find religion? In prison, in war, during disease – generally in situations when we desperately need someone to come and save us – as our parents used to when they were almighty.

How to keep an ideator happy

This was originally written as my contribution to the “system for happiness” brainstorming session.

Constant pursuit of goals and desires (dopamine)

Always, always (always!) without exceptions have well-defined desires and goals that fit into 3 categories:

  • Short term – things to look forward to today, tomorrow, this week
  • Mid-term – things to look forward to within the next 3 weeks
  • Long-term – things that are not within reach yet, possibly due to timing or work/effort that needs to be put in before the goal becomes attainable

Every category should have several goals defined at any given time. The short-term category is for goals that you come up with on the spot and go execute on a whim or schedule for later that day (go see a friend, research a new idea, watch a movie, stuff that makes you happy, and is easily within the reach. The more the goal is in the future, the bigger it is. Long-term goals are more likely your desires. They might be stuff like building a home, starting a family, creating a billion-dollar company.

When you go to bed at night, let the last 30 minutes of your brainpower be reserved for your goals. Think about strategies to achieve them, think about new goals worthy of your time. How will you start working on them? When you wake up in the morning, stay in bed for a while (if you can) and keep planning out your goals – let goals be the first thing your fresh mind works on.

After a while, your brain gets rewired to focus on progress. With a full schedule of things to look forward to there is literally no time for worries, fear, negative feelings of any kind. Those, when they creep in, are seen as distractions that must be dealt with swiftly so that you can get back to your plans. Whenever you have some brainpower to spare, your mind will default to planning out and setting goals.

Filter rigorously

Don’t confuse your goals with desires. Desires are like GPS coordinates. Goals are the concrete steps that need to be taken on the way to the final destination.

Define your desires, arrange them by importance, and set your goals so that each brings you closer to the most desired final outcomes.

You don’t have to execute on every idea that you get. You don’t have time to work on everything that your imagination can come up with. Donate your ideas to people who would appreciate them and keep working on those that are most important to you.

Dopamine detox

Chasing dopamine is addictive. A cool new idea is always more exciting/rewarding than working on something that was cool when you started but has since turned into serious work. A constant pursuit of dopamine through ideas can result in a ton of half-finished projects which never get completed. The faster you can come up with cool new ideas and jump between them, the more your brain adapts (gets desensitized) to the constant supply of the resulting dopamine, and the more you will need to keep the supply up.

Any serious project turns into hard work as soon as the novelty wears off. By focusing only on projects that bring pleasure at the present moment you sabotage your upside potential and feed into the dopamine addiction.

In contrast, doing things you don’t enjoy sensitizes your brain to any small quantities of dopamine it can get, to help you cope with the hardship. Thereafter you find more pleasure in little things.

So set your priorities, and plow through hard work on the way to reaching your goals. Structure your path so that the goals are realistic and attainable. That way you will get bursts of dopamine each step of the way.

Be stubborn about your goals but flexible about your methods. Now go get them.

Running an online community

Everyone has a problem they are struggling with. Most (if not all) problems can be solved with specific knowledge. You have some knowledge. Whom can you help with it?

If you were to take this up a notch, you could help many people simultaneously by forming a community around your area of expertise and attracting other professionals to help you, help others.

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

  1. You are the facilitator of engagement in your community. To get people talking, you have to seed the place with amazing, engaging content. Soon enough people will start responding and eventually start talking to each other. Then you can support the debates from the sidelines and make sure things are going in the right direction.
  1. Know your audience. Tailor your communication to the people you are addressing.
    • Think hard about who they are and what would get them to respond.
    • Appeal to qualified people that know and care about the topic.
  1. Is your content engagement-worthy? Give people a reason to engage. 
    • Think about the questions and answers you are seeding. How can you formulate the info so as to maximize the likelihood of people responding? They should feel the need to reply.
    • Hard/demanding questions discourage participation. Ideally, the barrier to entry would be set by what others have covered so far. Start with simple answers, then let them grow progressively more complex with each new contribution. 
  1. Make the call to action a part of your contributions. Tell people how you would like them to respond. Should they comment, contribute, give feedback? Ask nicely and directly. Make it simple.
  1. Reply to everyone with the highest possible quality of contribution.
    • When appropriate, aim to keep the conversation going but don’t waste people’s time. Frame your replies so that they invite further engagement from the reader.
    • Don’t be lazy with the reply. If you have to force it then maybe don’t do it at all.
    • You might not be able to respond to everyone, but when you do, help a single person with your full dedication. It will make a difference to them and the information will remain online for others to find and benefit from. Your reply will influence other visitor’s desire to be a part of the community. Make it count.
    • If there is nothing to reply to, acknowledge the comment by liking it (unless it’s really unlikeable).
  1. Find a way to have fun in the conversation. Be contagiously positive.
  1. Show people that you have a genuine interest in their world (point of view, insight, knowledge). Ask open-ended questions. Go deeper into sub-questions.
    • Show people, you remember them. At a future time, reference something from the previous conversation and show them that they didn’t waste their time on you.
  1. Bring something of value for people to engage with.
    • Be mindful of what your audience is interested in.
    • People will appreciate being educated, inspired, and entertained.
    • People generally have a need to feel understood. They like to talk about themselves, their families, their work, hobbies, future plans. Help them open up and feel understood.
  1. Show people that you are safe to engage with. Responding to you feels like reaching out to shake your hand. Don’t leave them hanging.
    • Acknowledge what they are saying.
    • Encourage people and find a way to make them feel good for engaging in the conversation.
  1. Be brief. “A good conversation is like a miniskirt; short enough to retain interest, but long enough to cover the subject.” – Unknown
  1. Show that you’re human.
    • If you don’t know, it’s ok to say so. You are not expected to know everything.
    • Own your flaws, admit to weaknesses (less flattering situations, emotions, etc).
  1. Keep your community clean and on target.
    • Make sure everyone knows the rules right from the start.
    • Detect spam/abuse and deal with it swiftly.
  1. Deliver consistently. Show up every day and dedicate your time to the community. People need to know when they can expect to hear from you.