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039 Ideas that Change Things

Episode Introduction

How do you come up with an idea?

From the poets, science-fiction writers, anthropologist, scientists, explorers of space and time, to the futurists, and the real experiences of those on the fringe, ideas come from a variety of sources.

We explore how to calibrate your ideas following the 5 guides below:

Show Highlights

  • Mission
  • Skills
  • Jobs to be Done.
  • Market Research
  • Idea selection

Speaker Introduction

Katherine Ann Byam is a consultant and strategic partner to leaders on sustainability, resilience and digital transformation.

Sponsored by – The Eco Business Growth Club and Women in Sustainable Business

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Katherine Ann Byam  0:00  

How do you come up with an idea?

Creativity is one of the greatest human gifts from the poets, the authors of science fiction, to the anthropologists, scientists, explorers of space and time, to the futurist, quantitative and qualitative, to the real experiences of those on the fringes. Ideas can come from anywhere.

The way the brain connects events, words, sound, smell, patterns, and senses, we don’t even understand yet to spark something new is an incredible marvel that we can learn to better exploit. It starts with interest, call it a healthy level of curiosity, and it goes further, when you add to it the following key elements to grow your possibilities.

These key elements that I will talk about in the rest of this episode are the mission, skills, jobs to be done, market research, and idea selection at the end. The mission directs your actions. What is your purpose and driving goal around starting your sustainable green business?

Entrepreneurs in this space are often guided by two elements – wanting to solve a problem of social importance while bringing in some income to sustain their efforts or wanting to solve a problem of environmental significance. This purpose can be articulated into a clear mission statement or an open question.

Sparking Ideas and Missions – The Role of Questions in shaping the future.

Questions tend to spark great missions, especially questions that are difficult to solve but an important objective on this scene. When we get into sustainable business we often prioritize passion and purpose over profit. And this is great, however, you will not be able to sustain this business without some commercial element.

So you need to make your mindset work across all three things, which is purpose, profits, and the planet. Turn your questions into a tangible purpose for your business. Start broad, thinking big about what you want to accomplish, and then add constraints such as the environmental context, the skills that you have perhaps, depending on how you want to start this business and how you want to grow it, and your freedom, or ease of conducting that business within the environment that you currently work in.

You need to have a clear intention toward the profit motive as  even for purpose-led businesses, this is going to be valuable. Some examples of companies with inspiring mission statements that I’ve pulled together for you. Patagonia – “We are in business to save our whole planet.” I thought this really powerful, and they’ve been leaders in this sort of big business to sustainable business space for quite some time. Microsoft – “To empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.” I know that Microsoft could be in that debatable space with tech companies. However, I do like the mission statement and I think it’s quite powerful.

Tesla – ” Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy with electric cars, solar, and integrated renewable energy solutions for homes and businesses.” That’s great. It’s not as easy to target a company like Tesla for being a greenwasher because they’re really in this space. They’re really changing the game on how we use renewable energy today. So that’s a powerful company who we might want to argue also spends a lot of resources on space travels.

I think we need to nuance a lot of the stuff that’s happening in the world around us because I don’t think anything is black and white anymore. There’s a lot more complexity to our decision-making, and you will meet more complexity in your decision-making as well as you build your business. Some other mission statements that I’d like to play out here for you to think about how you interpret them. Amazon – “We strive to offer our customers the lowest possible prices, the best available selection, and the utmost convenience.” Now that’s an interesting mission statement given where we are in the world. You can think about how that statement resonates with you or not.

Coca-Cola – “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit, to inspire moments of optimism and happiness to our brands and actions, and to create value and make a difference.” That’s another, let’s say mission statement that I’m not sure who it’s speaking to. I’m not sure it is speaking to me.  Marriott. “To enhance the lives of our customers by creating an enabling of unsurpassed vacation and leisure experiences.”

Now my inspiration- I take inspiration from the UN 17 Sustainable Development Goals – number eight, Decent work and economic growth is my sweet spot. My question is the question that keeps me awake at night, is how do I go about creating this decent work and economic growth principle for business owners, new business owners as well as people who are struggling to get work and jobs in developing countries?

How do I contextualize this idea of decent work and economic growth to earn a decent living from my efforts without breaching irrevocably any of the other goals? And the part of that goal of SDG 8 that gives the problem is economic growth of itself because we need to reimagine what growth means and I think that that’s the crux of the thing. How can I reimagine what growth really means because you can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet.

Part of this question or part of the answer to this question that plays around in my mind is how I embrace technology as a tool and not as a weapon of social disruption and these are two complicated things that I know will take me many years to solve. Each business stream I operate today considers my overarching mission. And your mission can be derived from any source. So think about what your question or problem is.

Think about your purpose, and then narrow your focus, as far as possible, and find the right skill to market fit. So let’s move on to skills. You do not need to start the business based solely on your skills. But to survive and thrive in your business, it’s valuable to have skills that can be leveraged by the business you form. So for example, you can start the data insights company if you’re not a data scientist but your strongest skill is communication, because that skill will help you with the toughest part of any business which is sales.

The Skills that make you successful as an entrepreneur – hint: Lean on Your Strengths.

This brings me to the topic of universal skills. So there are some types of skills that are transferable to any type of business you want to start. And three of these I want to mention right off the bat – finance, research, and social writing or business writing. These skills can serve you in any type of challenge and are particularly useful for green businesses as the mode of outreach to clients often lacks a big budget, and far more targeted in niche and influence irrelevant for example. So take an inventory of all the skills that you have alongside the mission and problems that you want to solve.

What skills and strengths will motivate you to keep going when things get tough, and this is an important question to answer yourself. The journey of an entrepreneur can be harsh for sure and challenging at points during your journey. And at your lowest moments you will be asking yourself these questions about why, why am I doing this. So answer them in advance. The inventory of your skills can come from multiple sources. It can come from your education. It can come from passion that you have, topics that you read regularly about. It can come from jobs that you’ve done in the past.

It can come from any sorts of nature, natural abilities that you have, rare problem solving skills that you have, challenges that you’ve overcome in the past that you can help others to overcome, hobbies that you have, old traditions that perhaps have been passed down in your family that you haven’t called upon in a long time. Your mission is so important, but also needs to be constrained by your skill if it is that you are a solopreneur. If you can gain access to the skills you need to achieve your mission, then you have the power to go further into building your dreams even if you’re not particularly skilled in the area you want to develop as a business. Beyond the mission and skill, we get into the jobs to be done by the customer.

The role of Understanding the customer Journey in designing a powerful business Idea.

So let’s think about the customer journey. This is really essential to this idea of the jobs to be done. If you are designing something to be more sustainable, chances are that the idea you have already has a market and a customer most likely, except that existing solutions may be damaging some or all the sustainable goals. Your product or service still has to do what the customer wants done so you have to be clear in your understanding of that before you make design changes. So let me give you an example. And this one, it depends on the type of service you want to provide or a product you want to provide.

As an example, a customer is researching holidays, and you are a holiday planner for eco business or eco travel. What is the customer looking for, is it rest and relaxation? Is it a chance to escape with the kids? Is it an adventure? Is it an experience? Is it luxury? Is it hot or cold? How is it sustainable? So, you can choose to address any one of these jobs or multiple ones but you need to have a clear understanding of the problem that you want to have solved.

So the average customer and the sustainable customer can potentially have a lot in common. To design the optimal product or service you need to ask these questions. How does the customer use this product or service today? How are they interacting with it? How did their families interact with it? How many times are they going to use it? What happens in the afterlife? Where are they typically purchasing this.?What are the people commenting on the reviews and what are the business models that currently work for the sale of that product today, as some examples.

How to solve your customers Problems

All of these questions will feed the design of the product or service. Another interesting approach is to ask yourself what level of quality matters to the customer. Using the jobs-to-be-done approach you potentially expand your market by addressing the needs of the consumers, while still achieving your sustainable goals. Let us take the customer who is holidaying with kids – they have a specific window to execute the holiday and things are likely to be booked up quickly, so they have an interest in planning their holiday early. Your window for wooing that customer will perhaps be months before the next vacation.

And because they’re traveling with kids, they may have safety concerns, cost and budget concerns, the level of additional effort they will have in luggage, etc. so proposing a cycle holiday may not be the right solution. By contrast, someone into adventure tourism and perhaps travel during peak seasons, may make more spur-of-the-moment decisions, but will be more open to roughing it so can be more easily captivated by eco tourist spots. Understanding the customer journey to a decision or choice is key in being successful at converting that customer.

So, the jobs to be done –  think about what’s happening before they use your item or service, while they use your item or service, and after they use your item or service. Next, explore the problems they face in that journey map.

Why Every Business Needs Detailed Market Research.

Now we move to the penultimate section which is market research. Each of these steps build on the others so market research is really about how you get to know exactly what jobs that customer needs to get done. You do this through research.

And you can do research in multiple different ways, so you can understand if there’s a demand for what you are aiming to create. You can understand the audience and try to define and shape that audience, collect data to identify a niche, know the competition, understand the business models that are operating, understand the price and service range, understand the white space, the gaps in the service or product experiences that you may be able to turn into an opportunity.

There are many different approaches to doing research. Some free ones to use is Google Keyword search so you can sign up for the account and you can start doing some keyword search before you have to pay for the service in terms of the advertising spend at least. You can use Amazon product reviews. You can use Facebook groups. You can use hashtag searches, digital magazines, the free versions of Answer The Public, Quora, focus groups, or any other ways of asking existing customers  (if you have them) or asking people in your communities. You can run surveys and quizzes. You can look at some paid options which is looking at Listen Notes which is one of the podcasts usage platforms. There’s Buzzsumo. There’s Appsumo that you can use as well. What you really wanna do is capture as much useful information as you can about the customer that you’re looking at.

There are many other sources – you can use your local chamber of commerce, you can use some statistics consolidation sites, etc. There are many ways to leverage research. The point of doing all of these things, and understanding your mission, understanding your skills in detail, getting sorted on the jobs to be done, and getting your market research right is that you could make a selection of what ideas you want to take forward. And it’s possible that you want to take forward multiple ideas but I would recommend not to do too many at the same time.

Finding your business Ikigai – or identifying great ideas for testing.

Yes, you need to have some variety in your business goals but when you’re first getting started, you want to go through that process of developing one idea into reality before you move into others. So with your idea selection process, you really have to go with that sweet spot, as they call it the icky guy, so look at the intersection of those things where it meets with your strengths, where it meets with a really strong need in the market, where it addresses a social good, and where it’s able to pay you as well. So, look at all those things as much as you can to come up with that short list of great ideas that you want to take forward. Be generous at the beginning of this process to make sure that you capture as much as possible, but then be ruthless and brutal with yourself at the end of the process so that you focus on only a maximum of two or three ideas that you may eventually take forward. Thanks for listening.