Where Do Ideas Come From?

by Diana Drake

Pei Y. loves sports. When she’s not working on her demanding class schedule at The Benjamin School in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., the rising high school junior is usually dribbling down the basketball court, serving on the tennis court, or running competitive cross-country. Pei’s father, who lives in her hometown of Changchun City, Jilin Province in the northeast part of China, operates a soccer school to train players for the national soccer team.

A few years back when Pei was 13 and a student at the Middle School Attached to Northeast Normal University in China, she began thinking of ways to combine her love of science and technology with her athletic pursuits. “I saw that technology was involved in every aspect of our life, but there was little technology involvement in sports training or exercising,” says Pei, who is 16. “I decided to try to insert technology into sports training to make it more efficient.”

With the help of her middle school science teacher Li Bing and useful feedback from coaches, Pei began the process of product development. She created a vibration sensor for the starting and finish lines of the running track to take the place of a stopwatch, a light that runners and speed skaters could chase around the track and rink to improve their performance, and a basketball net sensor to count successful shots as a way to create a more competitive environment while players log long hours of shooting and free-throw practice.

While her innovations are still in various stages of development, Pei has a valuable takeaway from her time as a sports-technology entrepreneur. “Some of my peers say they want to build up a company and become entrepreneurs, but they don’t have a good idea. I’ve learned that ideas come from life,” says Pei. “When you see things, you need to think more about how to make them better. It’s a temperament to be an entrepreneur. If high school students can be observant and think more about how to improve and how to make the world better, they’re going to come up with ideas.”

Many ideas do come from personally felt needs, confirms Tyler Wry, an assistant professor of management at Wharton who specializing in entrepreneurship and innovation. There’s even a name for this: feel-my-pain opportunities. “At base, an entrepreneurial opportunity combines a resonant need with a compelling solution,” notes Wry. “So, if there is a pain point that you experience in your daily life, this might be a good place to start thinking about an entrepreneurial idea.”

Wry suggests three key steps to generating entrepreneurial ideas. They are:

  1. Research. As you begin to identify pain points in your life, it’s worth doing some basic analysis to get a sense of the size of the potential opportunity. You want to ask questions like: Who has this need? How many people fit this profile? How big of a need is this (is it a big pain point, or a small inconvenience)? How are people addressing this need now? What do they like about current solutions? What do they not like? Would they pay for a better solution? How much?
  1. Need and knowledge. If the answers to these questions point to a big, compelling need that people will pay to have addressed, then it’s time to start thinking about potential solutions. The advantage to looking for personal pain points is that people usually have a good understanding of that issue space. This is helpful for generating good and insightful ideas. The concept of putting in 10,000 hours to be an expert on something applies to entrepreneurship as well. Unless you know the space intimately well, you’re probably not going to come up with much more than a surface-level solution that others could also come up with pretty easily. Good ideas are born from need and knowledge.
  1. Brainstorming. Once you have a deep understanding of the issue space, it’s time to start applying idea-generation techniques. Brainstorming allows individuals and teams to challenge their creative minds and to actively come up with innovative and groundbreaking ideas. Specific approaches work well for entrepreneurial ideas. For example, analogical reasoning is where you take an idea or business model that has been used in one context and think about how it would apply in others. Think: “the Uber of babysitting,” or “the Airbnb of tools.” Venture capitalists are getting a bit burned out on these types of ideas, but the technique is still useful. Similar to analogical reasoning is geographic arbitrage, which looks at ideas from different geographies. Ask these questions: How are people in other countries solving this problem? Would their solution work here? What would have to change to make it fit here? The key is to be sensitive to cultural differences, and to make sure you tailor the idea for your local context. Read more of Wry’s brainstorming techniques for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially his all-important problem-solving tool: What would Croesus do?
Pei Yuechen and her coach hit the tennis court (and a whole lot of balls) for some technological inspiration.
Pei Y. and her coach hit the tennis court (and a whole lot of balls) for some technological inspiration.

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Conversation Starters

What is a pain point? Why is it important to understand this term if you aspire to be an entrepreneur?

What does Tyler Wry mean when he says that “good ideas are born from need and knowledge?”

Do you have an entrepreneurship story to tell? How did you address a pain point in your life? Was it successful or did it fail? Contact the KWHS team at https://globalyouth.wharton.upenn.edu/feedback/ to tell us about it and to possibly share your story worldwide in our online business journal.

8 comments on “Where Do Ideas Come From?

  1. This article inspires me to start doing research to not only try to find and solve a problem to advance our society for the future, and to also find out what I would like to pursue in the future.

  2. For as long as humans have been around, we have been innovators. From the invention of the wheel to the discovery of fire, these ideas were born from need created by their absence in this world and the knowledge of humans up until that point.

    Tyler mentions that, “good ideas are born from need and knowledge”, and he is completely correct when he says so. From the historical example I have given, I explain how the need for something missing in the world stemmed from our knowledge at that time about the world around us.

  3. This is a wonderful article that gives a valuable insight into the process of coming up with ideas and sustaining them until hard-work allows those ideas to reach fruition. Prior to reading this article, I used to think that ideas were random; and in some cases it is true. However, this article changed my outlook by giving me an explicit outline on the process of coming up with ideas, especially in terms of entrepreneurship.

    A significant point that Yuechen makes is that it is just not enough to have the aspirations to start a company or to dream of becoming an entrepreneur. It is equally, if not more important to have an idea and to build upon that idea to successfully establish a company. Personally, I felt that she was trying to say that instead of just thinking about running a company, it would be more practical to “think more about how to improve and how to make the world better.” This will result in an idea upon which one can start a company.

    Another aspect of this article is that I like is that, instead of simply stressing on ideas, it also provides a guide to formulating an idea. The article’s discussion of pain points are very helpful since it shows that pain point are the basis of forming ideas. Pain points are essentially problems out in the world that cause people distress or more issues. And these points are what entrepreneurs tackle in order to make this world a better place and to run a successful entrepreneurship. These points express what people need. It is important for entrepreneurs for understand this term since successful entrepreneurship revolves around providing a compelling solution to a pain point.

    When Tyler Wry states that “good ideas are born from need and knowledge” he is drawing upon the premises which are were involved with numerous amount of innovations. To specifically explain this, the Wright brothers invented the airplane since there was a need to travel faster and deliver goods faster. However, they could not have done that without their knowledge of physics and engineering. In essence, Tyler is trying to say that coming up with an idea is not enough; it is also imperative to have a solid background on the idea and the skills necessary to develop that idea into a product or innovation. Once again, this article has changed my views on coming up with ideas and I will try to integrate it into my own life.

  4. It was an absolute delight to read this article. This article is instructive and inspiring at the same time. Entrepreneurship is as much a social activity as it is an economic one, this point was emphasized in the article in a pleasant manner. The author talks about various factors coming together to create an entrepreneurial success.

    The author elaborates how proper research regarding the potential opportunities that one’s ideas could produce, how our knowledge about the particular idea that we have developed or thought of, is one of the core factors for creating an entrepreneurial success.

    However, one of the key points which I feel were left incomplete was in reference to ‘ pain points ‘.
    While it’s true, a lack in one’s own life can be a great source of inspiration for business, the author credits it as being the most fundamental building block of ideas. Here, I disagree.
    Throughout history, there have been examples of innovations that fill gaps in lives of customers that customers did not even know to exist with before the invention.
    Such innovations are often born out of an insight into the future, rather than a personal lack in one’s life. The concept of pain points doesn’t come into the equation.

    This is not to discredit the work of Tyler Wry, rather, it is simply meant to add a new dimension to it, wherein innovation occurs without a pain point.

    In my perception, necessity is not necessarily the mother of all invention.

  5. This article really opened my mind a little about how my ideas come to be. Many ideas come from personally feelings which is why everyone has different ideas. Yuechen does a lot of research to figure out her different ideas it has. When I was reading to comments I read one about how someone liked how not only did the article talk about how ideas came to be and one from a very successful girl but they talk about the main points on creating your own ideas and the step by step process that should be taken into concentration. I like how the writer also showed the importance of research in ideas and how to enforce your ideas you need research.

  6. While reading through the article Where Do Ideas Come From?, I realized that generally everyone is an entrepreneur in one way or another. There has been a time in everyone’s life where they have looked at something and thought to themselves that they could make it better, “When you see things, you need to think more about how to make them better.” Research is a major part of constructing an idea, thinking of the what, where, why, who and how’s. Also, brainstorming potential ideas after gathering all the information is not a one and done process. When brainstorming, consulting with other students, friends, family members, coworkers, etc. could better the original resolution because being challenged before finalizing a decision is necessary. Likewise, they could have a better solution or ideas to add to the original in order to make the solution more efficient.

  7. This article is very inspiring and when I was reading through this article I realized we humans are capable of anything. This article also tells us not to stress on only one idea and that we should think of more. When Tyler tells that “good ideas are born from need and knowledge” he is trying to tell us that making an idea is not enough. It is also important to have a good plot on the idea and the requirements to make that idea into a real thing. Now to end it this, This article has given me more confidence and the knowledge to from more ideas.

  8. This article is very inspiring and when I was reading through it I realized that humans are very innovative and can pursue anything they desire. Tyler Wry suggests three steps to generating any entrepreneurial idea which are; research, need and knowledge, and brainstorm. In my opinion, I do agree with Wry as I feel these three steps are required to generate any efficient idea resulting in the idea having a higher chance of becoming a successful idea in the future. Also, this article has given me confidence and a better understanding of how to form more ideas which will help me in the future.

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