Do you ever wonder how they do it, those that seem to have never-ending, sustainable creativity?
The Tolkiens, Edisons, and Spielbergs of the world?
Sure, sometimes a big idea just hits you.
They say Paul McCartney woke up one morning with the melody for “Yesterday” stuck in his head…
But what allows some high achievers to be so creative for so long and sustainably produce such incredible ideas?
Simple. They take shortcuts.
And in this post, I want to teach you three ways to do the same, so you can consistently generate ideas worth testing… and by the way, be kind to yourself in this process.
Strategy #1: Take a successful story and change one key detail.
The entire superhero genre is based on a common premise.
There’s a hero with special powers and at least one weakness. There’s a villain who wants to defeat the hero. The hero does good things. The villain does bad things. These rivals fight over and over.
Daredevil simply asks…
“What if the hero is blind?”
“What if the hero doesn’t actually have any special powers?”
Suicide Squad and Megamind ask…
“Can a villain become a hero?”
Spiderman and Smallville ask…
“What if the hero is still in highschool?”
All of these stories stem from one basic concept, yet they all feel fresh, new, and yes…creative.
Storytellers have produced dozens of hits in the superhero genre, simply by overcoming the limiting belief that you have to start from scratch and by adding a fresh twist to the already proven premise.
Strategy 2: Take a successful product and fix one key defect.
Find and read through some critical customer reviews.
What do people dislike about the product?
Can you fix it?
Sara Sutton wanted to work from home so she could spend more time with her kids, but she hated digging through job sites looking for flexible positions. So she launched a new site, called FlexJobs, that’s dedicated to helping people find telecommuting positions.
After 10 years, they’ve helped over 300,000 people search for flexible work with cool companies like Dell, American Express, Wells Fargo, and even Apple.
Sutton didn’t invent job sites. She just created one that was better for a specific group of people — and had the patience to grow her idea.
Or consider another example…
In 2012, a team of entrepreneurs wanted to enter the food delivery space, in a world that already had Seamless, GrubHub, and Eat24.
So, rather than becoming yet another delivery option for the same restaurants, Caviar partnered with eateries that usually didn’t deliver (and had at least 4 stars on Yelp).
If you read a Caviar review and compare it to a GrubHub review, you’ll notice how remarkably similar these services are. Caviar didn’t invent or even overhaul the food delivery model. They just made it better, by giving people access to a tasty new menu of options.
As Chick-Fil-a says in their Twitter bio, “We Didn’t Invent The Chicken, Just The Chicken Sandwich.”
Sometimes a new great idea is just an old great idea stuffed between two slices of bread.
Strategy 3: Take a successful business model and change the location.
You know how your parents are always saying, “I remember when that neighborhood was just an empty field”?
While these tour guide updates can get a little repetitive, they are true.
And as the population grows and fields become housing developments, an opportunity is created.
What will these new residents need? A daycare? A dentist? A Mexican restaurant?
Sometimes a new location is all it takes to make an old business model profitable again.
The entire franchise model is based on this premise. Rather than reinventing the hamburger restaurant, McDonald’s allows you to simply open a new store in a location that lacks one.
And it works. According to the Washington Post, “McDonald’s has made more millionaires […] than any other economic entity ever, anywhere.”
For these successful businesses, the creativity isn’t in the how, but rather in the where. That’s the fresh angle — the twist.
“Everything is a remix.”
The point of this post is NOT that you should steal other people’s intellectual property. Do your homework and don’t cross that line.
And you should know that not every idea you have will work. As Thomas Edison is believed to have said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”
What I want you to understand is your brain can’t create something out of nothing. There’s always input. So instead of banging your head against the wall, trying to divine the next great idea, embrace the shortcut of building on an idea that already works.
As my friend Kevin Kaiser likes to say, “Everything is a remix.”
And as I hope this post has proven, remixing is often a shortcut to making money, solving problems, and helping other people.
So get out your turntables and create!