Where Ideas Come From
Spoon carving is my hobby. I’m a professor of entrepreneurship by vocation.
Whenever I teach introductory courses in entrepreneurship, students say to me, “I’d like to be an entrepreneur, but I don’t have any ideas about what business to start.” So, together, we explore the question: “Where do startup ideas come from?”
Many students think you must have some grand vision of a world-changing app or Internet of Things (IoT) idea in order to be an entrepreneur. “Not so”, I tell them. You don't have to be Einstein to be an entrepreneur.
Most successful entrepreneurs create their businesses because they want to remove friction or solve problems they have faced in their daily lives.
So, I urge students, “Start to pay attention to those things in life that aggravate you; make note of the things that cause friction in your day-to-day life. Pay attention to the things that make you grumble.
Then, rather than grumbling about them, do something to turn your grumbles into an opportunity.
I recently decided to take my own advice.
You see, when I carve spoons, I usually do not start with a problem in mind that I want to solve. I merely look at a log or a piece of wood and try to “find” a spoon or bowl within it. In fact, doing it this way is so important to me that one of my stated values that guide CarvedbyCliff.com is to pursue form over function. I started this hobby to begin thinking like an artist.
But recently, I couldn’t help but think like an entrepreneur. In my latest carving, I set out to solve a problem. Nothing earth-shattering, but something that’s important to me. Let me explain.
You see, I like peanut butter.
I eat so much of it that my wife and I usually buy it in large 48 oz. (3 pound) containers. They hold a lot of peanut butter. But as each jar gets to about half-empty, the peanut butter is increasingly hard to dig out. Our metal kitchen knives are too narrow at the point to hold much peanut butter. They’re also lousy when it comes to scraping around the edges of the jar. Spoons, on the other hand, are too short to reach the bottom of the jar without getting more peanut butter on my fingers than I do on my bread.
That’s aggravating. I’ve grumbled about it long enough.
I don’t like to waste wood. So, for quite a while, I have sorted through the scraps that come from sawing out spoon blanks to find small pieces that are suitable for making butter spreaders. They’re fun; they’re easy to make; I saw plenty of samples on Etsy, and they work for their purposes. But they are useless on peanut butter. Too small and too flimsy.
That’s when my newest idea came to mind. Why don’t I hand carve a larger version of a butter spreader that is specifically designed and crafted to dig out peanut butter from a 48 oz. jar?
I just finished my first one. Can’t wait to test it out.
Meanwhile, I have roughed out two more blanks. I’ll give this first one to my brother, who also likes peanut butter. We’ve often groused together about how hard it is to finish off a big jar of the stuff. I’ll find someone else who is willing to be a beta tester. And I’ll try the third one myself.
I’ll ask those beta testers for feedback about their performance. Could they reach the bottom of the jar? Do they scoop out enough peanut butter per dip to be satisfying? Was the blade too thick? Too thin? Is it long enough to reach the bottom of the jar? Are the edges of the blade of the right roundness to scrape the bottom edges clean? Is the handle comfortable? Too long or too short?
Now that I think about it, there is a lot to consider before I make more of these to put on the market.
With candid feedback from these testers, I should know what it takes to carve a really good peanut butter spreader. Who knows, maybe someday they will go viral. And, you can say, “I knew about Cliff when he couldn’t even get peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar.”” Or, maybe only a few people in the whole world will ever want the same satisfaction that I seek from having a wooden peanut butter spreader that works just right. That’s okay, too. We’ll smile together every time we scoop peanut butter and remember that life is good in this small way.
Regardless of the outcome, this first peanut butter spreader marks a milestone for me. It’s the first thing that I’ve carved where I intentionally put function above form. Maybe entrepreneurs and artists have something to teach each other, after all.