Week 1 Summary: Brainstorming and validating ideas

Finding a problem to solve starts with an idea. Trying to find a good one however isn't easy, which is where brainstorming comes in.
23 February 2022

This week I spent most of the time brainstorming a potential problem that I could solve.

Since I already have a blog, focused around helping people learn more about smart homes (see Smart and Practical), I decided to focus my attention here for my first project.

Brainstorming Ideas

While I don’t think you can have a bad brainstorming session, I want to find new techniques that could make the sessions more productive. I run quite a few brainstorming sessions as part of my job, so I thought it would be a good idea to find more effective methods of brainstorming.

After reading, watching and listening, I found a few interesting ways to tackle brainstorming.

Firstly this article in Harvard Business Review on Better Brainstorming by Hal Gregersen which I recommend you read, goes over why you should be brainstorming for questions not answers at first - which I think is a great idea.

Secondly as you might have guessed on the internet, everyone has their own rules, tips and tricks for others to follow.

After reading several posts outlining “X number of rules for brainstorming”, “ultimate guide to brainstorming” and the “you’re doing brainstorming all wrong” I picked out a few good points made across them all;

  1. Start by picking and focusing the session on a area, theme or idea
  2. Go for quantity over quality at this stage, the more the better
  3. Don't judge an idea harshly (if it may be relevant, it went down
  4. Work with others when brainstorm (I’ll do this next time)

Looking back I should have found a few friends to help me brainstorm, but for my first project I'm interested in solving a problem while also learning new tools and techniques.

How I went about brainstorming

Pretty straight forward session, I put a timer on for 15 minutes (could have been 5 minutes, 10 minutes, even a quick 4 minutes) just try keeping the session to a small amount of time.

For brainstorming I chose to use Miro (free tier) having used several different whiteboard and brainstorming apps. I found Miro to be one of the better digital whiteboards, that I’ll continue to use in the future.

Lastly as I knew I wanted to find an idea in the Smart Home space, I used that as my “seed” for other ideas to come from.

And below is the end results. I made sure I was maintaining the quantity over quality at this stage, as you can probably tell.

Finding real problems people are trying to solve

This part was time consuming. I used several sites on the internet to find potential real life issues, problems and questions people were having around Smart Homes. Here’s the results.

Quite a lot of questions were popping up asking if a certain product will work with X, how X product works and which product to get.

Certain questions were coming up a lot, so rather than duplicate them I recorded a number that increased anytime a similar point was made.

What I’ll do now is filter ideas that can’t be solved with software (e.g. creating physical product), and move on to validating the ideas with the most potential.

Turning questions into potential solutions

Taking my brainstorming session and issues/problems/questions I saw on Reddit, Quora and Facebook groups - I carried out another brainstorming session focusing on solutions.

Below are the main ideas I came up with that had potential solutions.

As you can see my brainstorming results seemed to revolve around a matrix of sorts, helping people find products and technology that works together.

Expanding on this I could see a way we could also advise how well the product or technology works together and which model to purchase. This isn’t necessarily an easy problem to solve and I don’t currently know the best way about solving it.

Ideal Solution

After an initial solution idea of creating a “Smart Home Matrix”, answering questions people were asking - I couldn't come up with another idea that was as feasible or showed as much promise.

Though first, before sticking with this idea I needed validate it.

Validating Ideas

Quickly before I go on,  while I do prefer Excel, I’m going to switch to Google Sheets for my site, for two big reasons

  1. Provides an easy way to share templates you can use and copy
  2. Gives me the ability to update templates and improve each one over time

Validating an idea isn’t an exact science, similar to brainstorming you’ll find everyone has an opinion on different metrics you should look into. Having reviewed several idea validation templates (with quite a few requiring registration to download..), I decided to make my own version for you to use for free, with no sign up required.

Here's the Validating Ideas Google Sheet.

This template will evolve overtime, and while not perfect, it provides a good starting point to get you going. Try filling it in to the best of your ability, it shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes per idea.

I was quite happy with my Smart Home Matrix (name still pending) idea, and so that's exactly what I'll be creating for my first project..

Next Steps

I’m pretty excited to jump right in and start creating, but having run several (successful and unsuccessful) projects in the past, I understand the importance of planning. 

As this is arguably the most crucial part, a majority of my time next week will be spent on planning. So that’ll be my goal for the week ahead, plan, plan and plan.

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