I think combination calculators are great, so I'm making one. When it's ready, you're welcome to try it out - just join the mailing list.

Combinations are great

Combinations are fertile ground for ideas. Want to come up with a new business? Start putting together companies, markets, and hobbies to see what you come up with. Uber for golf. Airbnb for guitarists. Guitar Center for home cooks. This process doesn't produce new ideas directly - it just produces new phrases. But, on reading these phrases, you might come up with genuine ideas that are worth pursuing.

For example, the phrase "Uber for golf" doesn't mean much on its own, but it gets me asking questions. Do golfers need a special version of ridesharing? Could they share something other than a car, like a set of golf clubs? I've started cross-referencing all my ideas about Uber and golf, which I'd likely never do otherwise.

Written lists are mandatory

We may know about many companies and have lots of hobbies, but we'll only remember a few of each at any given time. The solution is to keep a written list of companies and hobbies.

While we're at it, we could keep lists of other things, like human needs, business models, and our own skills. To use these lists, we could introduce new kinds of combinations: company + person, skill + human need, hobby + business model. It makes sense to keep these in a list, too.

The combination calculator

I'd like to generate a bunch of combinations now that I've got all these lists, but the process is tedious.

  1. Pick a type of combination from the combination list. (e.g. #company for #hobby)
  2. Find the lists mentioned (e.g. company list & hobby list)
  3. Pick randomly from each list (e.g. Uber & golf)
  4. Combine the picks (e.g. "Uber for golf")
  5. Repeat

To generate 15 combinations, I might have to go through 60+ steps. Given the effort, I'd do this only rarely. A calculator would solve this problem, though. It could instantly and effortlessly calculate thousands of combinations. Now you could use it all the time, and even tweak all the lists to see how the resulting combinations changed.

The calculator in action

I setup some lists, made a calculator, and used it to generate a bunch of combinations. You can find the complete versions of the input lists and 50 automatically-generated combinations here.

Here are a few of the results:

  1. SpaceX + newspaper
  2. Modify and resell cooking ingredients (amount, packaging, marketing)
  3. Connect people from youtube and woodburning
  4. Create a shared resource around audio
  5. Uber for audio

Maybe it's time we have a newspaper about space events, lemon zest as a service, a YouTube channel for pyrography, a microphone rental network, and DJs on demand. Or maybe not. Whatever the case may be, my combination calculator will never let me run out of ideas!

I think combination calculators are great, so I'm making one. When it's ready, you're welcome to try it out - just join the mailing list.