Every great product starts with an idea. One of your greatest assets as an entrepreneur is the liquidity of your ideas.

Average entrepreneurs monetise existing ideas. Great entrepreneurs reinvent the future with their ideas.

Those who dare to build the future need to think differently and dare the impossible. They take leaps of faith. They hypothesize around real and imagined pain points. They simulate the future by optimizing the present. They see things in a different way. They act.

In Africa, limited resources and numerous pain points emphasize the need for innovative startup ideas. African entrepreneurs need to create products that address everyday problems in the continent. The most valuable product ideas are not necessarily the most complicated. They just need to solve a problem that either a lot of people are willing to pay for or some other organization are willing to pay a lot of money for.

It doesn’t take a genius to come up with great product ideas, though. You just have to be observant and be human. Here are ways to break your conventional thinking and call up the light bulb moment:

1. Take note of things that annoy you

What annoys you? Is it city traffic or the stress of finding an apartment? When you think about the list of things you wish were different, the chances are those things also annoy other people. Keep a list of those things and find solutions that will make them better.

Keeping a journal is great for recording ideas. It also is a great way to structure and develop ideas.  The only thing worse than not being able to come up with an idea is, not writing down a great idea when you get it.  Because  99% of the time, you’ll forget it and then beat yourself up for it.  There are numerous tools online that can help you with this such as Evernote, Google Keep or One Note. Keeping a few spare sheets of loose paper in your wallet or purse is a good idea, too!

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2. Identify customer needs

The best products are the ones with existing customers. Find out the solutions people are currently looking for, then build a product around that.

The fundamental ethos of lean startup methodology is to find products for your customers and not to find customers for your product. Spend significant time to identify unfulfilled needs of a specific customer group. You can get an idea from their complaint. Build up on these complaints, and there is your business idea.

A good way to identify this is by reading customer reviews of existing products on Amazon, eBays etc. You’ll get a good feel for what people care about, their concerns, wishes, and interests about a product. And you may also hear a great idea or two in the mix. Build on the snippets of conversation you overhear to create a story and let that story lead you to a brilliant idea.

Aha! is an idea management software that enables users to capture customer feedback and link it into product roadmap.

3. Find gaps in an existing product

You can get an idea by looking at what other people are doing. Here you do not copy other people’s product ideas but see what improvements you can make with it.

Find gaps. These could be a product as well as geographic gaps. Identify existing gaps in an established market is a good way to generate business ideas. Buffer’s founders built a very profitable business by identifying an obvious gap in an existing market. By helping a user to manage and schedule posts across various social media accounts, the software solves a problem that none of the existing social media giants is willing or capable of addressing.

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Check what needs to be improved on existing products or services you are currently using. You can make performance, usability, pricing or aesthetic improvement to existing product.

4. Get inspiration from a new environment

Visiting a new place is a great way to identify new opportunities. Traveling gives you the chance to observe the many differences between cultures. Such experiences can open your mind to new ways of providing value.

You might find out a different service or product that would be in great demand back home.

Inspiration can also come without travelling. Drive a new route to the office, try a new restaurant for lunch, take public transport, take up a new hobby, work in a different place, listen to a different kind of music. Not only will it get you to think differently, you’ll meet and connect with new people—which is a great way to find great new ideas. You remember the first point on the list?

5. Read books

Reading is one of the most effective ways to unlock new ideas from other people’s thought. It easier to get access to knowledge through written content than ever before in human history. Take advantage of that. The more you read and learn, the better you will become at putting together seemingly unrelated concepts.

However, this should not be limited to non-ficton business books. Studies that show reading fiction actually increases people’s emotional intelligence, activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness.

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6. Socialize outside of your circles

Hanging around the same friends can get you in a fixed way of thinking, leaving you generally uninspired. Take advantage of myriads of social and professional networks that are available online.

There are times when you are so close to a project that it creates a mental block for new ideas. Bringing in a fresh perspective can make all the difference. The refreshing perspectives new people give you will help you generate new thinking and possibly one new idea or two. Get someone who is not familiar with your project to ask you questions about it.

7. Meditate

It’s hard to come up with great ideas when your mind is crowded. Research shows that business leaders come up with better insights and breakthroughs when they are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind. Meditation encourages divergent thinking which allows people to come up with the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem.

Create a quiet haven for your mind. Commit to two hour-long sessions every week and you may find new ideas coming through.

Don’t be afraid to be outrageous. Sometimes it takes being unreasonable to make anything innovative.

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