The path from 0 to 1 might start with asking and answering three questions. First, what is valuable? Second, what can I do? And third, what is nobody else doing?
The questions themselves are straightforward. Question one illustrates the difference between business and academia; in academia, the number one sin is plagiarism, not triviality. So much of the innovation is esoteric and not at all useful. No one cares about a firm’s eccentric, non-valuable output. The second question ensures that you can actually execute on a problem; if not, talk is just that. Finally, and often overlooked, is the importance of being novel. Forget that and we’re just copying.
The intellectual rephrasing of these questions is: What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
The business version is: What valuable company is nobody building?
These are tough questions. But you can test your answers; if, as so many people do, one says something like “our educational system is broken and urgently requires repair,” you know that that answer is wrong (it may be a truth, but lots of people agree with it). This may explain why we see so many education non-profits and startups. But query whether most of those are operating in technology mode or globalization mode. You know you’re on the right track when your answer takes the following form:
“Most people believe in X. But the truth is !X.”