Ideas and products do not grow in a vacuum. Instead they often spring directly from the capabilities and environment of their creators, or at least creators have to seek out those things to turn ideas into successful products. One mental model for thinking about products is as the adjacent possibilities of the collection of parts available to the product builder.
Parts that make products possible come in many forms, including technology, skills, capital, distribution channels, regulations, personal networks, communities, and ideas.
YouTube launched just as fast internet connections became popular, Facebook was built for Harvard’s student network and grew protected by US safe harbor regulations for online platforms, Google’s founders at Stanford University created their search algorithm by adapting the citation ranking idea from academic literature, early mobile apps were rewarded by the massive success of the iPhone app store distribution, and venture-funded startups combine capital, ideas, and talent.
Adding new parts to your world opens up possibilities for new products. Product strategies based on the adjacent possible include searching support forums to discover problems with existing products, building distribution before coming up with a product, building domain knowledge and relationships by working or freelancing in an industry before building a product, or building adjacent offers to your existing products.
My best startup advice:— Aaron Levie (@levie) January 12, 2022
1. Find an under-appreciated problem
2. Build the simplest way to solve it
3. Expand the market
4. Find the next adjacent problem
5. Repeat step 2-4 forever
Listening to podcasts with the authors and eventually reading the book Thinking, Fast and Slow added the idea part that led me to create ThinkCool. The part I was missing for the product to become successful was cheap distribution to make unit economics work. After completing the product, I was left with the new capability of building React Native apps.
An observation from having worked in the startup ecosystems in Silicon Valley and Stockholm is that one of the greatest differences between the regions is the density of enterprise companies in Silicon Valley. This missing part of Stockholm’s ecosystem helps explain why Europe’s most unicorn-dense city has failed to create almost any unicorn startups selling to enterprises. One exception is Yubico (creator of the Yubikey hardware security key) that was founded in Stockholm but whose founders moved to Silicon Valley early on, expanding their adjacent possibilities.
What are the adjacent possibilities to your current capabilities and environment, what capabilities can you add or how can you change your environment to inspire new ideas, or what capabilities or environment do you need to seek out to make your current ideas possible?
A good book for more about the adjacent possible is Where Good Ideas Come From.