Book Review: Lightning In a Bottle – A System For Creating New Ideas

I’m always skeptical when I read that someone has a new system that guarantees better ideas. With I picked up Lightning In A Bottle I was doubly so because the authors are critical of brainstorming, focus groups, and all the other methods commonly touted for idea generation. But once I started reading this book, I could hardly put it down. By the end I was convinced that authors David Minter and Michael Reid were on to something.

For one thing, the format of this book is fantastic. It’s a quick read with lots of boxes to highlight key points, and relatively short chapters. The authors were part of Blockbuster video during the early days, and their failed attempts to expand the successful Blockbuster brand into other areas led them to become interested in why some ideas succeed and others fail.

The authors argue that the first step in any new process to generate new ideas is to learn. They recommend spending several weeks researching the problem you are trying to solve so that future discussions about possible solutions can take place in the proper context. This first point is where so many companies fail. They come up with an idea, and they look for ways to justify and support it, when they should first be understanding problems, and researching the current solution landscape.

The next steps are to develop working theories based on your research. Then develop ideas and concepts based on your working theories. At this point, before talking to any consumers about your ideas, do some financial due diligence. If it isn’t financially feasible, there is no sense in proceeding with the idea. Again, this is a place where many companies miss the boat by trying to make the numbers fit their idea, and not using the numbers as a gauge of whether the idea is worth pursuing.

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After the financial due diligence step, the authors recommend you begin talking to consumers, but they recommend you talk to them one at a time. This is a better approach than a focus group because you get more time to listen and understand what each customer is saying. Of course, you will probably hear some of the same things over and over again, but that’s a good thing – you’ll be sure not to miss an important point if it’s repeated dozens of times. This step too, takes a lot of time. But the authors point out that when 9 out of 10 new ideas fail, it’s worth the investment to increase your chances of success.

The last two steps are to iterate your concepts based on consumer feedback (keep talking to consumers while you do this), and then taking them out of the idea phase and into the monetization phase.

Many of the recommendations in this book aren’t new, but they are things that companies tend to skip in the idea process. The best thing about this book is the convincing arguments made for putting in the time upfront to do the proper research and analysis. It seems like time wasted for ideas that may never see the light of day, but it can save tons of money by killing unprofitable ideas at an early stage.

So if you are an idea person, or better yet, if you would like to become one, pick up a copy of this book and start applying the ideas inside. It’s not an easy fix for coming up with new products, but then again if successful new ideas were easy, you wouldn’t be looking for a book like this in the first place.