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A Surprising and Unlikely Place to Look for Product Ideas

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There are many ways of coming up with new . Everyone has his or her own little method.

When I quit the toy startup I had been working at to start my own design firm early on in my career, I forced myself to come up with dozens of new a day for months. wasn't this special thing that struck me from time to time -- it was work, and I approached it like that.

Back in the day, I would walk the aisles of local stores for inspiration. These days, a wealth of information can be accessed with the click of a mouse. You don't have to wonder what consumers wish was better about the products they use. It's all right there! I'm talking about product reviews, particularly those found on . There are just so many.

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Clearly, people love to complain. The has provided us with the largest forum in the world to air our grievances when a product does not live up to its copy. For a product developer, these reviews are gold. They offer a wealth of insight.

Not all reviews are helpful, of course. Some people just enjoy being nasty, unfortunately. Forget those people. They're just venting, and what you're looking for is constructive criticism. I love a good long complaint about why a product didn't work well. There are nuggets of gold lying around. Mine them.

What do consumers appreciate about a certain product? What do they value? What angers and frustrates them enough to write a review? What do they wish was different?

Look at the reviews as an online focus group. Maybe the product was poorly constructed. Maybe it broke. Maybe it could be made out of a better material. Read positive reviews to discover why some products are better than others.

Do consumers think a specific product is well worth the price? Why? You can learn a lot about a micro-category simply by actively reading reviews.

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When you start studying any marketplace, take a look around. How crowded is the category? I like to look for sleeping dinosaurs -- products that have been around forever but haven't really changed. Sleeping dinosaurs are ripe for . Modifying them in the simplest of ways can be lucrative.

For example, years ago, I observed that guitar picks had looked the same for nearly 80 years. Why had no one thought to personalize them? A friend and I founded a successful business that ended up selling guitar picks in all sorts of shapes, including vampires, ghouls and Mickey Mouse.

If you end up designing an improvement to an existing product based on what you read, identifying a potential licensee couldn't be easier. For starters, I'd call the company that sells the product to tell them you've solved a problem -- all from the comfort of your home.

More often than not, inventors come up with an idea based on a problem they experience personally. That's fine. But I always have to wonder, "Is it a problem others experience as well? Are they willing to pay for a solution?"

When you study the marketplace for inspiration, you don't have to wonder. The answers are right there.

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