Your Idea is Not the Product

How do you call it when you were looking for something and then you find it? An Eureka-moment?

I was looking for this :

A Working Process that enables to get great ideas and turn them into great products that are must-haves.

Having a Great Idea is hard enough, but an idea alone leads to nothing without having a way to turn it into a Great Product.

I started to realize some time ago that the Quality of your Working Process is correlated with the Quality of your Outcome. Clayton Christensen, the legendary business theorist convinced me of this: great companies have great processes. Or:

Great products are the result of Great Processes.


Now, a Working Process that produces Great Ideas and then turns them into Great Products is like the golden ticket. It’s impossible. It must be.

And it is, it is hard.

But it is possible.

Dahaner, for example, is one of the best performing companies you can find. They grew revenue by more then 15% CAGR, succeeding in having Free Cash Flow outperform Net Earnings and growing it by 20% CAGR.

If you ask them how they do it? They tell you : “The Dahaner Business System” aka their working process.

Through the combined work of Kahneman, Tversky and Clayton Christensen, you can have a pretty good idea what your Working Process should NOT be.

When it’s intuitive, you’re screwed. When it’s random, you’re a dead cat. When it is hierarchical, you miss out on opportunities. In short: when it doesn’t filter out all the ways we make wrong decisions and have a distorted image of reality, you will never have great ideas. When you only think about the product and it’s features, you will not go very far. You might even get really far off course.

Unless you are lucky.

Also through a combination of the work of Kahneman, Tversky and Christensen, you can have a theoretical idea about what your Working Process should entail.

A great Working Process shall be Systematic, Deliberate, Methodical. It shall start with the End-User in mind and it shall end in a Hypothesis.

I can understand it should be this way and why, but that’s the theory.

How do you put that theory in a day-to-day working process?

You have to find a way to gain deep knowledge about the End User of your product. Great innovation, never starts with the product itself. It’s about what it does for the user – at the crossroad of a particular time, place and the emotional/economic/social identity of that user.

From that you need to have a great Idea Generation Process, that filters out all your biases and wrong assumptions.

And then you need to put that Idea to work in the real world. Make a Must-Have Product out of it.

All the while without loosing Conviction that you are on the right path.

Impossible, it seems.

Until I watched a presentation by JON KOLKO. He helps building apps. And he talks about :

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Here is one of his talks:

And this is his book, about “how to use Empathy as the corner stone of your Design Process”

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“Empathetic Design” has great references. Legendary design bureau IDEO works this way. And it goes straight into the realm of Clayton Christensen. Yes !!!

Although Kolko talks about creating apps, he describes a working process that can be used across all industries.

It would not be useful for me to copy him. But I deducted my own Working Process, inspired by his talks:

There are 3 major steps.

FIRST, you need to be able to spot the BIG OPPORTUNITY.

You have to discover the vision, meaning: seeing where there are opportunities or unmet needs that are waiting to be filled.

Vision is seeing through what is already and seeing what can be. What should be.

SECOND, you need to be able to generate great SOLUTIONS.

THIRD step is to EXECUTE.

Really well. Great ideas and great solutions are not enough. Great Execution is what drives sales. Nothing else.

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The goal here is to find opportunities nobody else sees. And then to create a vision.


You have to go into the field. You have to observe the END USER. Like Kolko says: you have to become an anthropologist. Vintage Christensen.

You need to see and live the context wherein your End User is using your product, or might be using your product.

Interviews are helpful. As long as you ask about behavior, not opinions. Context is everything.

Along with a Time Line of the Actions involved, you need to start to get a knack for the emotions associated. For example, you can use an Empathy Map as a guide line to know what to ask/find out about the lives of your End User:


Now, if you want to construct a story – it would be useful to do the same with the SUBJECT of your story.

So, you go in the field to observe FIREMEN or CALL GIRLS or QUIZ TEAMS or BUS DRIVERS or whatever might be the subject of your tv show/documentary/feature/book/article.

You need both sides of the equation. It’s your job to bring those two worlds together: where the SUBJECT meets the END USER – that’s your product.


Transcribe everything you observed. Every thing they said ; every moment ; every action ; every non-action.

Make little memo’s. Put them on the wall. Organize them.

Something like this:

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This is done with the two sides of the equation. The End User and the Subject.


Now you look for patterns. You bridge the gap.

In this mountain of information and behavior, you find the link. You find where Opportunity lays bare.

How you do this is you MAKE PROVOCATIVE STATEMENTS about the people your observed.

You write down HOW THEIR LIVES TRULY are, instead of how we thought their lives were.

It’s like you are searching for a THEME : a way to see the world through their eyes, based on their behavior.

And you back it up with the data you collected.

Now, this is the INSIGHT is your Opportunity. It might be something nobody has ever seen. So, there you have it: VISION.

Again, beware: this VISION is a Hypothesis. It doesn’t have to be right. It just might be right – and it’s up to you to find out.

Great question to ask here is : “what must be right for this vision to be true?”

In other words: what do you assume, for this to hold ground?

Next phase is:


Goal is to create the right solution for the opportunity you discovered. How?


What is the JOB or NEED that needs to be fulfilled for the END USER? And how can the NEED or INSIGHT in your SUBJECT fill that in?

How can you create VALUE in the live of the End User? What would be really help them? Make their lives better in that moment in time?

The Opportunity is there… Now, how can you lift it?

Great question here to ask is: “what if…” ?

What if we could create a book that can only be read by parents and children together?

What if we could create a movie people can go watch for free in the cinema theatre?

What if we could find a way to tell all the stories we like, but are 2 expensive to make?

What if we could find a way to test which stories will be successful, before we turn them into expensive tv-shows?

(IDW Media Holdings figured this last one out. They are one of my favorite media companies at the moment. You can find them here:


Turn this “what if” question in direct ideas. How would you do that? How would the solution look like?

What would be good idea to answer this “what if”-question?

Think about all the functions your solution needs to perform, all the features your solution  needs to have.

Slice the “what if”-question in tiny problems.

Generate a lot of ideas to solve those problems. Put them in competition with each other.

The more the merrier.






Find a way to pitch your solution, with all it’s features to your END USERS or CLIENTS. Or a TRUST GROUP, that can act as both. Find a way to put it in a Mock-Up Product.


Have people respond to your solution. To your prototype.

Let them express their EMOTIONS about your solution. Ask them what they would DO.

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Now, it is possible you will need to go back to STEP 3 and find a new Opportunity. Or you might go back and Generate a new set of Ideas.

But once you are happy with the feedback, you need to:


Think really hard how you will put this in the market or how you will communicate your solution to your clients. Who will buy this? And how will they be convinced this is a non-brainer?

A trailer? A script? A two pager? A pitch? A poster? You name it.


This is my first attempt at putting down a Working Process. It follows very close the steps of the “Empathetic Design” and the process for designing apps as described by Kolko. 

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It fits the Theory of “Jobs-2-b-Done” by Christensen. You can use the insights of Kahneman and Tversky in the Idea Generation phase.

Basically you need to fit in the Idea Generation phase in a context of knowledge about the End User and Vision about Opportunities.

It’s a lot of hard work. 

Although no great idea has been born without hard work, you can leverage your hard work: once you collected a lot of data, you can build on that for other briefings/other insights/other opportunities.

When done right, it would be a gigantic competitive advantage…

Am I seeing fairies here? Am I totally off base? Or would this actually work? 

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