the value of an idea

Published on May 9, 2020

Ideas are worth a dime a dozen.

This is a maxim I think a lot about. In my day, I come up with a number of ideas. Most of them are completely useless -- my thoughts on whether I should try out a new breakfast tomorrow are not going to help me advance in my career -- but some of them are good.

The trouble is that while having ideas is a great thing, it doesn’t matter much if you are capable of coming up with good ideas. You need to do something with those ideas.

I remember reading stories about how some investors have invested in companies that are pursuing somewhat dubious ideas, and their reason for doing so is because they believe in the team. They don’t care about the idea; they care about the team.

This is because a great team can do anything with an idea. If a team is great, they’ll discover at some point if an idea is bad, and they will move on and pivot. But if a team is bad, even if they have a good idea, they’ll get hung up on things that don’t matter.

I am trying to be more proactive in sharing my ideas with others. In doing so, I have one goal: to hear about my ideas from the perspective of someone who has a different range of experience from me.

When I share an idea with someone, I often discover a number of holes in what I am thinking about. Yesterday, for instance, I shared an idea with a mentor, and he rightfully pointed out how difficult it would be to vet talent for the idea I was thinking about.

I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective. If I hadn’t have asked my mentor for feedback, maybe I would have started working on the idea, only to realize that challenge. Because the idea was for a side project, encountering that challenge could have been enough to encourage me to quit.

Having processes to come up with good ideas is important. I certainly invest in creating quiet spaces in which I can think. I believe in eliminating distractions.

Equally important, however, is executing on an idea. I could have fifty ideas tomorrow for side projects, but at the end of the day I will not have learned much. What if I spent tomorrow coming up with ten ideas, choosing one, and actually starting work toward that idea?

I have gotten into the habit of saying “I’m thinking about what’s next” a lot, and I say that because I feel like I need to be working on something. But, I think it would be better just to say “Here’s one idea I’ve been thinking about. I don’t know if it will work, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.” That way, I can facilitate constructive feedback from someone, rather than just saying that I am allowing thoughts to germinate in my mind.

Ideas are worth very little. It’s the execution that counts.

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