Monday, October 17, 2005

The rules for generating new ideas and new business models

This past week I have been filled with enthusiasm for new business models and new ways of thinking about products. Not just new marketing of the same old stuff, but genuinely new stuff.

Cory Doctorow, who is possibly my favorite author lately, has serialized a new novel in Salon, called Themepunks. It is set in the near future, but could be set in the now if we had just a little more technology. He really has a great way of taking the current stuff and extrapolating just a little bit further into the future and coming up with some really neat stuff. The current novel has all kinds of ideas for new products that are so clever that I wonder if someone won't try to make some of them work: Garden gnomes to keep track of everyone coming and going in the house, plus messages and anything else; RFID tags on all of your belongings so you never lose anything and roommates don't argue. My favorite is the futuristic Tickle-Me Elmo's that are networked well enough to drive a car. I just want to get enough computing power to someone so some of these great ideas of Doctorow's can come alive. The latest installment of Themepunks can be linked from here, as well as the earlier parts.

The other interesting thing that turned up this week was an interesting presentation about what game styles have been mined out. The idea is that all games can be dividing into different classes depending on the actions or type of game. The part that is of interest to me is that the author of the presentation, master game designer Greg Costikyan, has systematically thought about the current game classes and then attempted to define the unexplored game space. This is the stuff I would love to do if I had the time, or someone would pay me for it. It's a great combination of creativity and systematic thought that just might give someone a new idea for a game, either a video game or something more conventional, or something completely unconventional, which may really be the point.

The theme that has been brewing in my mind, that Cory Doctorow and Greg Costikyan embody as examples above, is the systematic approach and extrapolation of a pattern or idea to new material. It's a skill for the 2nd millennium. I think it is more than data mining, it is about taking what you have found that exists and postulating all the rest of the stuff that doesn't exist but must follow from the conclusions. In a paraphrase from a novel by Charles Stross, not just a better mouse trap but the solution space of all the better mouse traps as well as the algorithm for finding the solutions. How do we use what we know to find not just new things, but the rules for generating all of the new things in that idea space? It boils down to the meta problem of not just finding a new product or idea, but finding the process for generating new products or new ideas. If you find a fish you eat for a day if you learn how to fish you eat for a lifetime.

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