How To Be An Innovator: A Blueprint For Developing Big Ideas and Minimizing Risk

Like many of my readers, I love entrepreneurship and bold ideas. Since my 20th birthday I’ve either founded or co-founded one new company every year—all of which I’m still involved with.

But I have lots to learn. Some days, my ideas feel dislocated from the problems I’m trying solve. Other times, my solutions are big and exciting, but need large investments of time and money—difficult to justify on a raw idea.

My experience with Unreasonable at Sea helped me find a new way to tackle these problems.

Unreasonable at Sea

Unreasonable at Sea is an accelerator program with a unique format. Participants from eleven promising companies board a ship where they receive world-class mentorship. They dock in thirteen countries across the globe where they develop experiments for penetrating that nations’ market.

When the cruise liner arrived in Shanghai I was among the local entrepreneurs helping Unreasonable at Sea’s startups create experiments for China’s market.

While the companies I worked with were fascinating—I’d like to share the process we used to create experiments. George Kembel, founder of Stanford’s, facilitated our discussions using what he calls ‘design thinking.’

The Design Thinking Process

Kembel knows that creativity matters (his passion for the topic has brought tears to his eyes in past lectures). His experience as a CEO, venture capitalist, and teacher was clear as he laid out this strategy to approach problems, develop solutions and lower risk.

Many of his students at the use this blueprint to build successful companies in a very short time period.

  1. EmpathizeEngage with the problem in the real world. Disrupt your assumptions and explore for details with an open mind.
  2. DefineUse your new insights to define what the problem is.
  3. IdeateBrainstorm as many different ways to solve the problem as possible.
  4. Rapid PrototypingDevelop a simple prototype as fast as possible.
  5. Rapid TestingQuickly put your prototype in the world to see how well it might do as a fully developed solution.
  6. Repeat
    Adapt and improve both working and unfinished solutions.


My notes from the Unreasonable at Sea event in Shanghai

How This Process Improves Results

While empathizing can take time, the rest of the design thinking process pushes you to ship quickly. There is great value hidden in this orientation towards action.

  • Speed allows you to build on small wins and gain momentum.
  • Inversely, unexpected results aren’t hard to recover from since you don’t lose large sums of time or money. You learn from the road bumps and immediately apply that knowledge to your next test.

Watch how empathizing changed how these entrepreneurs see a problem.

Now What?

Will this process help you? Tell me how in comments.



P.S. Unreasonable at Sea is one of many companies founded by Daniel Epstein, a hugely inspirational young entrepreneur. At 26 he is on Forbes’ list of ‘Top 30 Impact Entrepeneurs.’ Kudos, Daniel, on conquering the world with your passion.

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