Start with a contradiction. If you’re planning to invest your precious time and energy in a product / service opportunity that doesn’t solve a contradiction, keep looking.
A contradiction is two opposing forces or dimensions that apparently can’t be improved simultaneously. We usually optimize across contradictions instead of solving them — by increasing one variable while decreasing the other variable. Optimization is not the same as resolution. Optimization produces incremental innovation; resolution produces radical / disruptive innovation. Optimization can be a distraction from discovering significant, long-term product / service value.
Solving a contradiction addresses the two essential elements of a viable business model: Customer value (delivering two dimensions that previously required a compromise) and competitive advantage (delivering customer value that the competition has not discovered and / or is not equipped to deliver).
This approach is a variant of a broad domain that is known as systematic innovation. I will describe how prominent innovators have used this approach to disrupt entire eco-systems in medical technology and information technology. I will describe how I used this approach to discover a Web middleware innovation that is currently generating a royalty stream.
Discover product / service value with systematic innovation. When you solve a contradiction, communicate your solution in the form of the contradiction that you solved. Until you discover a contradiction that you can solve — keep looking!