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Ask HN: Out of ideas, what to do?
29 points by kyloren 474 days ago | hide | past | web | 42 comments | favorite
I am having a lot of free time during this period but I don't seem to get any good ideas into my head like it used to be when I was busy.

What do you guys do when you don't have any good idea? How do you look for inspiration? Have you guys faced similar situations?

In my personal "going out, meet people" was not such an effective strategy. I tried this when I first moved to New York, I went to all kinds of parties, events, galleries, festivals, met lots of new people, etc. But in the end it didn't really help much. I had a great time, but as for ideas not so much, since I'm mostly focused on enjoying when I'm doing these activities. To be fair, these activities do sometimes give you ideas but it's not as effective as I expected.

On the other hand, reading lots of books, reading lots of online papers and articles, learning new things, watching videos of people experiencing stuff, etc. have been effective for me. First, these are all "indirect experiences" and they give me inspiration without me having to directly experience them. Second, I do these things not directly in search for ideas but use them as inspiration to come up with new ideas myself. For example, you watch someone do something on a video, you can be like "what if?" => That's an idea.

I learned this from James Altucher - force yourself to write down 10 ideas every day. They can be terrible and impractical ideas, but don't worry about it. The exercise is meant to help you exercise your creativity muscle. After a while, you start to see your creativity muscle improve. After all, you just need a single good idea.

That's what I was going to say. I used to do this as a daily drill. It doesn't have to take long. You might feel a little silly doing it, but do it anyway. It does work, and makes it easier to start getting ideas. :) Have fun!

Don't look for ideas, look for problems to solve.

I always break this down in to two tasks:

1. Identify The Characteristics of a Good Idea

This is a little bit like product/founder fit. What works for you may not work for others. Typically good ideas are not complex but quite simple. They are often comprised of other good, simple ideas (good artists copy; great artists steal).

With respect to ideas for a product, I would say it depends on your experience and resources: have you done this before, do you have a team, do you have the skills? In general, I've seen too many people take on projects that are too large. The most common result is that they never ship. Even when you have ruthlessly stripped all features to the bare minimum, you will still suffer from Hofstadter's Law (even when you know about Hofstadter's Law):

"Hofstadter's Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law."

Start Small. Launch. Charge. Grow.


2. Find Good Ideas Where You Least Expect

There are a few strategies that may jolt you in to a fit of inspiration. You may find that ideas are all around you, waiting to be found.

Ship. Exercise your idea muscle by coming up with lots of ideas. Most of them won't be great ideas - that's ok. You're looking for quantity, not quality. Allow yourself the chance to fail (they're just ideas, you haven't implemented them) enough times so that you can find one good idea.

Don't Rush. Don't try to force it: Rovio struggled and struggled to find a game that the mass market would like. They launched over 50 games before Angry Birds.

Work Backwards. Start with what a good idea looks like when it's complete and then work backwards to the smallest origin of that idea. Implement and iterate.


I've written more about these subjects here:



Thanks for the in detail answer, no I didn't know about the Hofstadter's Law, I will read more about it.

Also about the second part of the answer, when you ship something and fails I feel disappointing about the time and effort that I have put for it and gaining nothing in return, especially about the time which could have been put for something better.

> I've written more about these subjects here:

To be read as: Please click these links so I can get some money so I can continue getting rich from writing blog posts and not have to work an actual job.

I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum ... Too many ideas.

What I'm working on now: 1. www.ghacklabs.com 2. www.paypress.co

Other domains that I bought and want to do something with: (not online)

1. www.pitchgems.com 2. www.startupjail.com 3. www.startuppimp.com 4. www.airaccelerate.com 5. www.ycdinners.com

+ a few more ...

I used to find it hard to get ideas for new projects. Now, I see problems OR something just cool I'd like to do. I don't have the bandwidth to handle everything so I've had to put put some things on the back burner.

I've actually written about over 200 startups in the past few weeks, and one thing I really like about this - working out trends i.e. seeing overcrowded places and knowing not to even bother about going there (ex. 50 food apps - menu app, delivery app, food marketplace etc ....)

I'd love to hear more about the startupjail and startuppimp ideas ! :)

One comes after the other...

Go outside. Exercise. Meet new people.

Inspiration always comes when you least expect it.

I kinda understand it now, because when I was busy I used to get lot of ideas but now nothing... blank

Meeting with new people makes you think and generate ideas for what this people needs in their life, in a startup way.

i dont meet new people much, but my mind generates lots of ideas when meet someone new, specially other area of expertise than mine.

In the absence of some driving good idea, enjoy not being driven by some single good idea.

Enjoy your free time and make yourself a better person. Here are some ways to do so.

Learn things. My last big learning project was mathematics (spent five structured years on that one). Now I'm learning Japanese. No purpose other than that I want to know more than I know now.

Read more. Read some history. Read some classics. Binge read Murakami.

Pick a couple of discrete technical aspects of some tool you never really understood, and hit them hard. I did this with C++ move semantics, and the shiny new template concepts. It's very satisfying to hit hard something you know you don't understand, and come away a few days later knowing it backwards.

Get more exercise.

Hi. Yes that is exactly what I am doing at the moment.

I am learning German, also I am learning machine learning these days.

But haven't you felt at the end of the day doing all this spending time on something like that is worth it? What's the outcome in putting your time in to something like that?

Haven't you felt like that??

Because I feel like that at times :¡

Perhaps you spend too much time on HN and other such places, and been infected with the idea that if you're not hammering away on the next Uber all the time, you're not worth a damn and you're wasting your life.

It's not true. If you spend a few hours learning a foreign language, purely for the fun of it and because it's nice to learn, and at the end of it feel like you should have been using your free time to make an app instead, the problem is not that you should have been making an app instead.

What's your favorite Murakami ?

> My last big learning project was mathematics

May I ask for what purpose? required for professional purposes?

I don't know if I have a favourite, but I did enjoy "Sputnik Sweetheart" more than some others. "1Q84" was really good. I found Murakami easy to binge on, and reading too many at once easy to fall into. They were very moreish. David Mitchell, on the other hand and despite the similarities, is sufficiently different (and to my mind, better, but that's obviously personal preference) that I can read them more slowly.

Mathematics; about seven years ago, I was dissatisfied with my maths (or more to the point, I could feel my ability slipping away for lack of practice) so I decided to do a masters in maths. I wanted to be significantly more capable with mathematics than I was. Just that. No other reason.

I wrote about it a bit here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11267827

It looks like everyone is assuming you are looking for an idea for a startup. You might want to be clear about that?

You can find problems to solve, or find things you or someone else are interested in. On some occasions, there is nothing wrong with looking at other people's ideas for inspiration. Even better if you can iterate their idea and make it better or find a different permutation of that idea.

Get feedback from friends, family, or intended audience.

I usually have hundreds of ideas at a time. If you ever have those moments just pick 10 to prototype out of 100 ideas and 1 to actually build.

PS. always write your ideas down somewhere

If you are into data:

- Some content on self-service BI vs normal standard BI

- Some content how to get proper analytics requirements from business users

- Implementing cool analytics on Tableau using superstore data set

- Check Quora for more topics to write about

Basically, write content first, figure out who likes it (profile your fans), sell something to them once you have some traffic.

That's what I would do at least that's what I am doing.

Some options: - Learn a new language - Solve something that annoys you - Automate something that wastes your time - Explore a different area. Programmer? Try working with hardware instead (build something on Arduino) - Read some books

Above all, appreciate the chance to stop, relax and think. These opportunities become increasingly rare as you get older.

Yes I am doing exactly that these days, I am learning German and also learning machine learning, but I feel like all these things are not helping me to achieve anything. Like even if I learn machine learning now the machine learning standards at the moment is miles away. So what's the purpose, because of all this I decided to ask from you guys :)

You don't have to be the best at something to get use out of it. Sounds like you need to think a bit more about what you actually want to achieve.

Good food for thought on getting unstuck, Jay Abraham's Sticking Point Solution > http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6515635-the-sticking-poin...

I write one page pitches for notable ideas I have, it's also good to force yourself to elaborate on it while also being concise.

Feel free to steal any of them: http://munfred.com/pitches.html

I find going to a conference not only helps keep me current but actually feeds a lot of ideas. I think most of my ideas are actually derivatives of someone else's ideas, so hearing what other people are doing in the field starts me thinking about things that I could be making.

Less "ideas". More "actions". Actions -- interaction -- beget ideas.

For me, finally getting back to taking glass blowing classes. Something that will fully engage me and take my mind off of all the ideas and life experiences I'm not having nor fulfilling.

Best of luck.

What sort of ideas are you looking for? What happened to all the good ideas you had in the past?

Most of the time the ideas that seemed good felt not so good after sometime, other ideas that tried ended up failing to gain traction and ended up in GitHub or dead files folder.

So in other words they weren’t such good ideas after all :)

Don’t be do hard on yourself since contrary to the conventional wisdom here, true good ideas are rare [1].

So are you looking for startup ideas or just project ideas?

1. https://www.tillett.info/2015/08/30/ideas-are-not-cheap/

Well I was thinking of a project idea that I can later turn in to a business if it goes well.

Yah the thing is even though you think it's a good idea you never know until you try it only after trying you realize it's not a good idea after all

If you do come across a new startup idea you think is good then you might want to run it over my good idea checklist [1]. If you do have one that hits at least 16 on this list then get in contact with me so I can steal it from you :)

1. https://www.tillett.info/2016/01/27/a-good-idea-checklist/

Yes I read the post and it's good. But not sure if an idea will be a successful one if it meets all the criteria, but if it hits majority of the criteria then it will be a good idea non of the less.


I am hardly "spamming" my blog - I am trying to help the OP with posts I have written that answer exactly his questions.

Apart from your comment being totally against the ethos of HN, how exactly am I making a living out of my personal blog?

Enjoy the free time!

Just try to read something, or do what you like than you can feel the inspiration.

How about creating a resource for people needing help finding good ideas?

Go for a long walk.

Read more books, turn off the phone.

Screw having an idea. Go play video games.


It's not that I have not tried anything, tried failed, It's not trying but finding an idea to try.

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