On rare occasions, I get asked: What’s an interesting problem to work on? Or like: I want to start up but I don’t know how to go about applying myself. When I quit FactorDaily, the media company we started, I asked myself this question. What’s a good problem to pick?
Finding your calling, or THE problem you want to spend 12-hour workdays on, in many cases, is serendipity. A happy fudge of luck, right place, right time and your expertise coming together.
But perhaps there’s a more deliberate approach to it. Can some of it be practice? I spend a lot of time on hypothetical ideas knowing fully well that ideas are cheap and it’s execution that matters. Also, it’s a long journey from idea to product. Still, can you devise a system?
I like to indulge myself every now and then. Sort of how speculative fiction works but not as detailed. Ask, yourself what if?
It goes something like this:
👉Think of an idea, chase it down to the last thread. See if it works on a spreadsheet or in your head.
👉Think of an idea, talk about it to a cynic. Walk them through the steps. Get it shot down step by step.
👉Think about an idea, pitch it to someone with complementary skills. Get them to go on a mental jog with you. See where you get stuck.
But where do ideas come from? Mostly from exposure which in turn comes from slow reading books, meeting new people with considerable expertise in their field, following trends, attending events and sometimes watching serials. You just need to be open to them.
Over a period of time, you’ll get better at pitching, and also coming up with ideas that seem to be more viable. (See our podcast on pitching to VCs.)
So in the last 6 months or so, I came up with a few. To explain the system better, I’m putting down some ideas that came to me and how. Consider this as the enthusiastic 9th grader in me showing you doodles seeking validation of some sort.
⚡️Climate change as a UI/UX problem
Around the time I’d started running (read my practical guide to getting fit), I was grappling with another dilemma: Should I buy a Triumph Street Twin? Or should I use my bicycle to work more often? I felt like I needed to answer the question deeply at that point. The Triumph would set me on a money-chasing, fuel-guzzling, materialistic path. The bicycle would set me on a frugal, fitter path. To my mind, both had pros and cons. Read my piece on career and money for more.
I’ve been raised to be conscious of the environment to a certain degree (no pun intended). So I decided against the Triumph. This set off a train of thoughts around climate change. How can I reduce my carbon footprint? My mind was melding thoughts on climate change and my running experience.
I’d been trying out various fitness apps. They’d start with a question: What’s your weight? I knew exactly how much.
But did I know what my carbon footprint is? I had no idea. No freaking clue.
What if there was an easy way to find out my carbon footprint? Even if it wasn’t accurate to the T, what if I had a number to myself based on some underlying assumptions and measurements. The number could move up or down based on some of my activities (like how activity trackers work). So for instance, if I was taking an Uber to work every day, and one day I decided to pool it, the number should adjust itself. If I took the bicycle to work on a given day instead of a cab, the number could adjust itself.
Integrations with other apps (like how Google Fit does), utilities and so on could make it better over time. If you go on the Google Play store now, none of the carbon footprint apps are serious efforts. None of them have more than 5000 downloads. We have more than 3 billion phones on this planet. Even if 5% of users are able to make a difference, wouldn’t it be substantial? Can we buy carbon credits with the savings and monetize it for the users?
What I’m getting at is, can one of the solutions to climate change be seen as better individual tracking?
So the idea to get an idea is to expose yourself, listen keenly and to mentally spar with someone every now and then.