Ideas are worthless, execution is everything

The thing that always surprises me is that entrepreneurs are so protective of their ideas. They don’t want to talk about them for fear that you’ll steal their idea and claim it as your own. They won’t give you the time of day unless you agree to sign an NDA or otherwise agree to put yourself in jail and throw away the key.

When I encounter people like this, I can’t help but to put them in the same category as Betamax cassettes. To some degree, the protectiveness isn’t as prevalent here in Silicon Valley as in other parts of the country, but still it exists.

Ideas don’t have inherent value

What I find is that people systematically overvalue their ideas. They think the idea in itself is inherently valuable. In reality, it’s the execution, not the idea itself, that holds value (with the possible exception of medicine and a few others-maybe). Most people have the same ideas or they have ideas that are in and around the same thing. In fact, when you think you’ve come up with a great idea, you should assume 10 other people have that same idea (or ideas that are very similar). What’s more important is your ability to execute against that idea.

What really matters

The ability to execute is what really matters. If asked to evaluate a potential opportunity as an outsider, I tend to ask 3 questions:

  • How well is the founder/entrepreneur able to do this versus somebody off the street?
  • What are the dynamics of the business itself and how well-positioned is the team to run the business?
  • How well does the business scale (not the idea itself)?
The reality of it all

Everybody knows you’re not going to end up doing what you say you’re going to do in your business plan. Reality is going to intervene at every turn. Being successful, in large part, depends on how flexible you can be and how quick you are on your feet to respond by taking advantage of unforeseen opportunities and making course corrections in response to challenges.

When people are secretive of their ideas with the attitude of “If I tell you you’ll just go build it”, I figure they’re either not well-positioned to run the business or they’re not confident that they’re the only person that can do it right. If they’re worried about it, they probably didn’t have a lot of chance for success anyway.

Ideas themselves don’t have inherent value – it’s more about your ability to execute them.

2 Responses

  • Anonymous // // Reply

    Agreed! At the TEDx we organized in Phnom Penh, a man named Chris Brown shared very similar sentiments.

    Having struggled on the executing side of a few ideas for the past few years, I couldn’t agree with you more… people come in and say “fix this” or “change and do that” as if plans and humans could have jigsaw-like connections. Those who are afraid to share a “great idea” to me seem like they don’t yet realize what it takes to turn that into a reality. If it’s a secret because others will copy it, then what will stop them from copying you once you start? You had better be great at DOING it, so don’t worry about letting others know now! If people are already doing it, that’s fine too! What matters is that you do it better, or differently, or in an area which has been yet unreached… so no need to hide the idea – SHARE it and find out what might not work before you even have to spend the time and money to start! 

    Thanks for the reminder, Adil!

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