A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote about the opportunities of small ideas. How Internet technology (among other things) had made it easier and easier for entrepreneurially minded people to develop their concepts. We talked about the iPhone Scrabble game Words With Friends (WWF), and Qat, the iPhone App for WWF players. When I posted the article, my thought was that you would be put off by the daunting task of actually creating software or taking your ideas to market. Instead, the comments most people made were more concerned with finding their new ideas in the first place. Unlike many established businesses that struggle with implementation, what I learned is that you’re not concerned about getting the job done, you’re thinking about what job to actually work on in the first place.
What great news. If you don’t mind me mixing my metaphors, you’re a damn the torpedoes crowd; just show you the hill and you’ll storm it! You’re ready, willing, and able to do the work, you just want to know what work to actually do.
Well, here’s the secret – figuring out where the opportunities are is the easy part. The answers are all around you; all you need to do is pay attention. Everywhere you look you’ll see unmet needs, consumers looking for something to buy, moments waiting to be seized. As my friend Owen Frager likes to say, the opportunities are “hidden in plain sight.”
The trick is to get use to looking at the world around you in a new way. Instead of seeing what’s there and nodding complacently, we need to learn to see what’s not there and wonder why the hell not.
For example, how many times in your life do you think you’ve seen a person using a walker? A hundred? A thousand? How many of those walkers had bright yellow tennis balls stabbed onto the bottoms of the back legs? Seems like all of them, doesn’t it?
Do you think older ladies and gentlemen have a particular penchant for tennis balls? Do you think that maybe they like the way the snappy fluorescent yellow hue brightens up their somber gray walkers? Or maybe they were just walking along, minding their own business, when they accidentally stabbed errant tennis balls with their walker’s legs, just as a street sweeper might lance a piece of litter on the end of his pointy stick?
Think about it for a minute. How many of these people just happen to have tennis balls lying around? And how do they puncture the balls so they’ll fit on their walkers anyway? Clearly these folks are making a real effort to install the balls.
So here’s the big question: If most walker users make the effort to put tennis balls on their walkers, why in the world haven’t the walker companies figured this out and installed ball-like devices on the walkers to begin with??!!
Shhhh. Be very, very quiet. Listen carefully or you might miss it. Do you hear it? It’s the sound of opportunity knocking. It’s right there on the bottom of every walker you pass – a patent waiting to be filed, a product waiting to be designed, a fortune waiting to be made. And if we find this one just staring us in the face from something we see every day, imagine how many more opportunities are out there just waiting to be pounced on.
Ideas are swirling all around us. All you have to do is pay attention, separate the need from the noise and start creating the solution.
But once you figure out what that solution is, you gotta strike while the iron’s hot. Because as my dad likes to remind me, “When opportunity knocks, you can’t say ‘come back later.’”