There's a big difference between a good idea and a great idea. And as entrepreneurs, many of us have more ideas than we know what to do with*, so it's important to get super clear about which ideas are worth our time. But it's not always easy to spot — particularly for the person who thought of them.
I did some digging on IH, Google, and into my own experiences. Here's what I've found about the difference between good and great ideas, and how to see an idea for what it is.
*If that's not you, check out this article
What's the difference between a good idea and a great idea?
I've found that there are a number of factors that distinguish the great from the good. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it should get the gears turning toward greatness.
- Timing. This is a big one. A good idea can become a great one when the timing is right. Just look at the tablet, which was a good idea that had been around for decades before it became a great idea in the iPad. Timing takes a keen eye and a lot of luck. It requires keeping your ear to the ground in your industry, and analyzing political, economical, social, technological, environmental, and legal factors — which, by the way, is called a PESTEL Analysis.
- Ability. It's important that you currently have the resources (time, money, knowledge, experience, etc.) to bring the idea to fruition. Good ideas are just ideas. Great ideas are actionable.
- Founder-market fit. Beyond ability, it's important to have experience in your market. Great ideas are grounded in personal experience. And for best results, you should be an active member of the relevant communities in the niche.
- Scratches your own itch. This is related to founder-market fit, but great ideas fix problems that the founder is personally experiencing. This gives the founder the chance to "eat their own dog food." And, platitudes aside, it provides a familiarity with the issue that can't be overlooked.
- Novelty. A great idea does not necessarily need to be new or unique. But it does have to be new or unique enough to actually stand out.
- Easy to communicate. Even though great ideas are novel, they also have to be easy to convey to others. I've had plenty of ideas that just did not make sense to anyone but me. Sure, that could be an issue with my communication. But it could also be that it's just too complicated (or weird) for the market to understand right now.
- Simple. Generally speaking, great ideas are simple. Overly complicated ideas get in their own way. They're hard to market and they're hard to build to boot. So along with being easy to communicate, they just have to be plain simple too.
- Quick. The faster an MVP can be built, the sooner it'll go to market. This means you can validate it sooner to find out just how great it is (or isn't). You can start earning money sooner. And you can get that elusive first-mover advantage.
- Niche. The best ideas serve a very specific niche. The niche should be small, but big enough to support the idea. And in some cases, the idea should provide an opportunity to "land and expand" into other spaces.
- Grows itself. Great ideas have virality and growth baked in.
- Plays well with others. Having complementary relationships with other products (both your own and those of others) is a huge help. Great ideas are never dependent on other products, but they do work with and benefit from other products. Integrations are a great example.
- Repeat business. If your idea lends itself to repeat orders or subscriptions, it'll make reaching sustainability that much easier.
- Scalable. Good ideas often plateau early. Great ideas scale.
- Pre-selling. Many great ideas can be pre-sold. It's not just a great way to validate your idea, it's a great way to make money in the very beginning, when you need it most.
- Urgent. The more urgent the need is for your solution, the faster it'll be adopted and the more people will be willing to pay for it.
- Good for the world. In my opinion, an idea isn't great if the world is worse-off for having it. But beyond that, if your idea can be associated with a cause, it gives people something to get behind. It's a recipe for super-fans.
- Passion. Even great ideas have their ups and downs. Passion can keep you going.
- A strong "why". The "why" behind a great idea is firm and grounded. It provides direction and motivation. And, like passion, it can get you through the hard times.
- That inexplicable quality. The last factor I'll mention may not be overly helpful since it's tough to put a finger on, but it's an integral part of all truly great ideas. It's inspiration. It's heart. It's that spark that gives your idea a life of its own. My two cents? This comes from following your passion and your intuition. It also often involves digging deep and doing vulnerable things. You know it when it happens because the idea will have a momentum all its own.
How to know great ideas from good ideas
The more you can check off from the list above, the better the idea is. But there are other ways to spot the best ideas.
Sleep on it
Studies show that the notion of "sleeping on" a problem creates higher-quality solutions because it gives the unconscious time to provide insight. Interestingly, another study showed no difference in quality, but participants who delayed their decisions were better at determining which ideas were most promising. In fact, they identified their best ideas about 55% of the time compared to 20%. I can personally say that sleeping on ideas has been very helpful for me.
Get in the right mood
Mood plays a big role in ideas, as well as knowing whether something might be a waste of time. One study showed that happy participants were more capable of discerning which puzzles could be solved and which were a waste of time (some of the word puzzles didn't actually have answers). I can attest to moods playing a role. I've had lots of ideas that seemed like game-changers until I got into a bad mood. Suddenly, they seemed like garbage. Clearly, highs and lows can skew vision, so I think there's something to be said about holding our judgements about ideas until we're grounded and centered.
Like I said, you can look at the factors mentioned above and evaluate the idea against them. Or you can take Jared Friedman of Y Combinator's sage advice and rate the following from 1-10:
- Could the idea be big?
- Is there founder-market fit?
- Do you have personal experience with the problem?
- Are you bringing something novel to the conversation?
Ultimately, you won't really know whether it's a truly great idea until it's been validated. Validation is all about finding out if there's a need for your idea and whether people are willing to pay for it. There are tons of ways to validate an idea or product, but here are a few: market research, getting feedback from people and communities, conducting surveys and polls, waitlists, pre-sales, and so on. For more details on validation tactics, check out my post on validation.
If you're having trouble coming up with something in the first place, check out my post on brainstorming business ideas.