The Itch to Create - Part 4: Judging Ideas for Demand Fit

This is Part 4 of a series on The Itch to Create. See Part 1 (Clarity on Why), Part 2 (Making it Inevitable) and Part 3 (Taking Outside Advice).

Most product ideas are dead-ends. You think you got a bright idea, but it won’t work in practice. People won’t buy, not enough demand, you don’t have an audience to announce it to. You’re probably wasting your time.

That is, unless you’re just playing, practicing.

Today, we’re playing.

We’re playing with judging an idea for demand fit.

I’ve written on how to be serious about evaluating a product opportunity: do a pre-sale, or research into online “watering holes” for evidence of struggles, or have conversations with people hiring/firing alternatives for the same job-to-be-done.

But here, we’ll just look for struggling situations that would cause someone to switch to a product like ours, the main requirement for a product innovation. There needs to be a struggle.

And our product idea will have a ton of competitors. It’s in an overdone category. Still, we’ll see if there’s something here.

So here’s the product insight.

A Glimpse at a Struggle

The other day, Ryan Singer posted a tweet with this insight about to-dos (lots of competition in this space):

Did some research on to-do behaviors today.

Big asymmetry: to-dos are easy to add and hard to remove.

Almost impossible to get the consensus necessary to remove something from a list.

Need more options besides “done” and “archive” to deal with this.

This is interesting.

Another one, also by Ryan Singer, posted a couple weeks before:

Multiple people have said they feel “guilty” about rewriting a task to better reflect the work they did and what’s left.

Makes my job-to-be-done ears perk up. Evidence of struggle. /cc @bmoesta

Some feature ideas come up:

  • Like Ryan hinted at, a to-do system that has another option besides “done” and “archive”.
  • A to-do system that takes to-do ideas differently than to-dos you commit to doing.
  • A prompt, when checking off the to-do, that encourages re-writing what was actually done.

Let’s draw a bigger box around the problem. Maybe to-dos aren’t meant to be kept around for too long.

  • A way to force the user to keep re-writing to-dos every day.

That’s actually a system I’ve been using for myself. I re-write new lists constantly. Maybe there’s an idea for a product there.

I’m Careful Not to Keep To-dos Around Too Long

As some of you know, I’ve been writing my to-dos differently for a long while now. I write have-done lists, a way to write lists of things I will have done in the future. And I always re-write them.

Almost every day, I start a new list going from today outward. Whatever I wrote in the past matters less to me than today’s outlook for what’s next. And my list isn’t a wish-for list, it’s a make-it-inevitable list. I re-write “I will have” statements until they sound true. Always today going forward. Powerful system.

But I know that this system only gets adopted after having experienced some hard struggles that few will experience.

And maybe the whole system isn’t needed. Maybe it’d be enough just to equip people to make simple to-do lists a daily re-write thing.

The thing is, regardless of the problems with to-dos, to-dos work just fine.

To-dos Work Just Fine

A pad of paper. A notepad on your phone. People use those every day. That’s what most to-do systems are competing with - “I’ll just use pen and paper”. And there’s hardly a struggle to be found here.

Despite the myriad of to-do apps on the market, they’re all competing with making a temporary list that you throw away.

I could make an app that forces people to create a new list each day, maybe with a way to see recent days by swiping left, but there isn’t a struggle felt by anyone that would cause them to seek a to-do system that removes the struggle with to-do removal.

So let’s dig to see when that problem becomes a struggle. The struggle happens for everybody, but it’s accentuated when your to-do is in a system where there’s other people seeing the same to-dos.

When Statements

Situation #1

When I’ve been investing in a personal to-do system and I find I’ve got to-dos I’ve written in the past that would be a burden to sift through, I want to… (find a better system?) so I can (have a fresh start?)

See? That person won’t nuke their old to-do system. They’ll drag that old system until they change careers. That person might switch to another system in parallel for the job-to-be-done of staying in the league of organized people, but for most, pen and paper will probably be the winner here. “I’ll just make a list just for today on a piece of paper.”

Situation #2

When I find myself hesitating to remove a to-do I’ve created in our team project management system, I want to take a decision about it so I can be the one that takes the lead on cleaning up.

That’s interesting. For those with the ambition to be someone who takes the lead, this is an opportunity to shine. For those without that ambition but yearn to be empathetic to others, this is a dreadful task, most likely relinquished to the person taking the lead.

This subtle threshold re-inforces the power dynamics of a team. This asymmetry between adding to-dos and removing to-dos contributes to workplace hierarchy.

No wonder we see workplace to-do systems getting really complex. So many fields to clarify ownership, next steps, weight and urgency.

But the problem seems to be the asymmetry. To-dos go from idea to big deal faster than they can go from big-deal to no-big-deal.

But what if there was a way to make created to-dos less of a big deal at the moment they’re created?

There’s obviously a struggle being felt somewhere, and it’s probably in the context of teams and communication and ownership.

The struggle might not create enough momentum for someone to go out and look for a brand new product. But the momentum might be enough to have someone reach for a feature within a product, or it might solve such a general product for an entire team that the team lead will jump on a new tool that solves this problem well once they hear about it. Ryan might be onto something here.

So anyway, that was us playing with demand fit. Enough for a first take. We disqualified a product idea by realizing there isn’t a struggle that would be felt for personal to-do systems that would compete with pen and paper, and we’ve learned about honing our demand-fit skills by concentrating on those “when” statements.

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