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Friday, December 30, 2005

The Power of A Good Idea

Do you have any friends who go to Engineering grad school? Have you visited their work cubicle before ? What you are gonna find there is quite amusing. A toothpaste and a toothbrush, lots of caffeine in its various forms like tea or coffee, a 12 pack of microwaveable asian noodles and the Dummy's guide to grad school survival. Okay, I made the part about the Dummy's guide but really they almost live at school. A friend of mine is doing his Phd in biotech at Stanford and he is an exception to what I just described. His daily schedule is very similar to mine. He works from 9 to 6 and is usually free on the weekends. To add to the mystery, he usually takes time off from his research during winter and summer to travel. One day I asked my friend to reveal the secret behind his productivity. He told me that at any given day, one could have a few good ideas. You try to work hard to get some results out of those and any effort beyond that does not really add much value. While my friend is much smarter than the average me, there is some truth to what he said and I have seen that personally in my own work. I tend to have this bad habit that whenever I get stuck at work, I mechanically try many things very quickly to solve the problem. This is another case of Dijkstra's I described in my previous posts. The cost of trying out a mediocre solution to the problem is small because it did not require much thinking from my side. But, at the end I am not getting any close towards solving my work problem. I was able to become more productive by forcing myself to concentrate on few good ideas that could really solve the problem.

While I am at it, lemme give some examples of what I consider good business ideas. These are already established businesses so don't quit your job and walk to a VC yet. LinkedIn, Evite and TinyURL are examples of what I like to refer to as simple-but-beautiful ideas. They are beautiful ideas because they are simple yet very useful to many people. They are simple because they are not technically hard problems and the implementation behind them has already been done many times before. Add to that, they have the property of self marketing which means everytime someone is using the service, he/she is also refering someone else. That combined with a friendly intuitive user interface enabled them to gain a large user base very quickly.