Use Dark Magic to generate Product Ideas

It’s not easy to generate good ideas, particularly not when trying hard to do so. In those moments, thinking harder doesn’t usually get me very far but here’s a a technique I’ve found to be quite useful instead.

The “Dark Magic method” is certainly not something new but rather an ensemble of several interesting strategies I came across (from guys like Tim Ferris or Jason Fried) applied to product ideation. More specifically, Tim has suggested thinking of crazy stuff (and rejecting any idea that doesn’t seem crazy at first) as a way to get to novel directions and Jason is known for stating that “solving problems that customers actually have” is the most important factor in a successful product.

That being said, more than generating just any product idea, we want to get as many ideas as possible that fit the following criteria:

  • Are real customer pains
  • Are somewhat novel (or at least are not “the problem everyone is solving”)

It was while trying to get those two outcomes that I ended up using some variations of this method and refining it along the way. Here’s how it goes.

Step 1 — Who’s your User?

Start by identifying the people you’re building the product or feature for. You could do this in any way you find appropriate, like using personas or simply writing down a high-level definition of your customer.

If you don’t know who to build a product for, I’ve found it useful to list a bunch of interest groups you are part of yourself. In my case it would be something like this:

  • Product Manager
  • Startup employee
  • Remote worker
  • Freelancer
  • Weightlifting enthusiast
  • Self-improvement enthusiast
  • Campervan enthusiast

The important part for now is to be able to picture clearly who is on the receiving end of the product you’re creating. That’s the person who’s supposed to like it and pay for it.

For the sake of providing an example, I’ll pick one of my interest groups above: (rather weak) Weightlifting enthusiast.

Step 2 — Incarnate your User

After you know who you’re building for, the next step is to put yourself in that person’s shoes. If you’re not a target User yourself, it’s usually a good idea to picture someone you know who is.

Take some time to think of this person (or this part of yourself), how his or her routines are, how a normal day looks like. That will help you create empathy and more easily think like that person.

Since I took Weightlifting-enthusiast-Guilherme as the customer I’m thinking about how my normal training routine looks like, from the moment I prepare my bag at home, walk to the gym, warmup, start the first exercise, …

Step 3— The Dark Magic

Now that you’re living in your target User’s skin, complete the following sentence:

“It would be nothing less than dark magic if I could … ”

And make sure to come up with real magic-level stuff! Don’t bother thinking of concrete products or features for now. Try to focus on outcomes that would be so great you can hardly believe they’ll ever be possible.

And that’s it. The expectation is that if you follow this process you’ll end up with a few ideas that simultaneously contain immense value to your target User and are none of the usual things everyone is solving already.

Hope you find this useful and definitely let me know if you use the method — I’d love to hear!

👉 PS: Here are a few dark-magic-level wishes I came up with as weightlifting-enthusiast-Guilherme. I’d definitely pay money for products that deliver (some of?) them:

  • … be 100% sure of what exercise routine works best to achieve my goal in the shortest time.
  • … be 100% sure the gym is kind of empty (so I don’t have to wait any equipment) but still with enough people (so I don’t feel alone there).
  • … get one final and unbiased view of all Nutrition “knowledge” in the world and know exactly what’s the best diet possible, all things considered: health, physique, environmental impact, etc.
  • … see what’s happening to my body in real time, on a molecular level, so I know if my training is doing what it should.
  • … always get real-time tips during my workouts so I know instantly how to improve my technique.
  • … input my desired fat percentage into a machine and simply be at that level ~30min later.