Do you find yourself at sea in your attempt to choose your big idea for the next project?

Finding ideas for business, life and other career-related issues presents itself as a hard task master. It’s worse when there are multiple concepts bugging the mind. This is so because creativity benefits from limitations. Nonetheless, you can scale through this process by applying the principle of differentiation and derivatives in Mathematics. The goal here is not to bore you with arithmetic and symbols. We will only pick the principles and apply them to our discourse.

Okay. Let’s roll. What is differentiation? How did scientists come about this principle?

In Isaac Newton’s Day, one of the biggest problems was poor navigation at sea. Prior to the development of calculus, the stars were vital for navigation. Shipwrecks occurred because the ship was not where the captain thought it should be. There was limited understanding of how the Earth, stars, and planets moved with respect to each other. Calculus (differentiation and integration) was developed to improve this understanding.

Derivatives are used to determine the maximum and minimum values of functions such as cost, strength, amount of material used in a building, profit, loss, etc. In other words, the essence of differentiation is to express the distinguishing qualities or differences between functions. At sea, sailors use differentiation to determine the distance and position of ship in relation to other functions, such as the stars, mountains, the earth and so on, that are sacrosanct to the navigation of the boat.

A common rule in differentiation is the power rule. It is a simple rule that helps you find the derivative of a variable raised to a power. There are three steps to the power rule. We will apply these steps to the process of choosing the big idea you need.

Step 1: Bring down the power

Bringing down the power is the process of inverting or finding the value of an exponent backwards. This is called logarithm. For an equation like “2x=32”, you can get the value of “x” by just finding the exponent of 2 in 32. This give you 28. Hence, the value of x=8. However, it doesn’t flow like this if 32 is replaced with 30 in the equation. This is where you need logarithm: to bring down the power. Okay. Enough!

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Let the big idea be “x”. and you are to find its value. For such a dicey circumstance that you have found yourself in, the search for an idea, you won’t get the right answer by solving it at the exponential level: the abstract. You need to bring down the power. Come back home.

Note that there is no small idea or big idea. The size of an idea depends on the capacity of the conceiver. Therefore, instead of searching around for the “big” idea probably because of the margin, popularity or what have you, focus on your skills, experience and passion. It doesn’t matter how small the idea may look, since it is your zone coupled with your passion, you can make it grand. No idea is small, it is only small because you are small.

Go with what you already know, or don’t mind learning fast. You don’t need to be an expert right away, but leveraging skills and experience you’ve gained can increase your chances of success. For instance, as a linguist, you may possibly have a desire to do business in agriculture. But you have little or no experience about it. For a start, it is better to come up with a business idea that applies to language. Think of writing a book, editing for authors and blogs, publishing and so on. And if you are to write a book, focus first on what you know. Pick your idea from there and hit.

The nature of the lamp-holder (you) is key to your choice of a light bulb (idea). Bring down the power to you, and don’t be afraid to be sincere with yourself.

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Step 2: Differentiate the outside and the inside function

Just like calculus, every idea has the inside function and the outside function. The outside function has to do with what others consider as benefits from the idea. And the inside function represents features, or all the stuffs about your idea, and how they interact to offer value to the outside function. The outside function is differentiated by multiplying it by the derivative of the inside function.

In economics and marketing, differentiation is applied in the process of creating differences between products. Differentiation looks to make a product more attractive by contrasting its unique qualities with other competing products. Differentiation is created by evaluating variables: the means and the sources. The means focus on the product, which includes making physical, perceptual, service and supply chain changes. On the other hand, sources focus on customer needs and desires which include quality, functionality, form, place, time, and ease of possession.

Generally, differentiating the outside and inside function is analysing in detail all that it takes for the idea to come to fruition. And on the other hand, researching the needs that your idea will meet in the society. You can’t divorce the two. This is because the ability of the idea to thrive depends on the market buying the idea. You must strike a balance between the idea and the market.

Before jumping in, make sure you’ve done your due diligence. Ask yourself: Is there enough demand for the product or service in your market? Can you afford the start-up costs? How will you stand out from competitors? Come up with a plan to examine its validity. This also applies to picking a topic to write about.

Step 3: Simplify

Before staking your money in the idea, simplify if needed. If it is a product, create a prototype. If it is a book, you may need an outline. In academic writings, you are sometimes required to come up with an abstract and outline of chapters before you begin the thesis or dissertation.

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Simplifying an idea takes out the complexities and dispels the fear. This is because, as John Maeda says, “Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.”

Simplifying an idea requires asking questions. Henneke Duistermaat explaining how to simplify a topic about how to build a thriving business online, shares some thoughts on the kind of question a writer should ask.

Firstly, what type of online business are we talking about? Promoting a freelance writing business online is different from building a Software-as-a-Service business.

Secondly, when you want to know about building an online business, do you want to learn more about business processes or marketing tactics or about picking the right idea?

So, instead of trying to answer all ideas in one go, start with one simple question. Write about how to generate business ideas, how to do a quick feasibility study, or how to pick one business idea.

To simplify your ideas, simplify your question first.

Sometimes, simplifying the idea may require creating a pictorial representation of what you have in mind. Drawing helps to clarify the thought.

Finally, applying these principles will guide you to draw lines between one idea and another. You identify the big idea and those you can’t pursue right away, or those you should thrash. Steve Jobs believes, “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.”