I think most people would agree that ideas make the world go around. Ideas can move mountains, ideas are the lifeblood of business, and they’re worth their weight in gold. But what if I told you that ideas are over-rated. That we spend too much time rhapsodizing over them, perfecting them, and paying homage to them? Because, while ideas can be sexy and exciting and even amazing, they’re really a-dime-a-dozen. Who hasn’t had a good idea? And how often has that brilliant idea led to great success?
Ideas are really just a starting point – they’re part of the means to the end, but most definitely not an end in themselves. The key is what you do after having one. How you distill it, communicate it, develop and iterate it, and then get-it-done. Here are some keys to successful ideas:
Don’t have just one
“Nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one you have.“ Emile Chartier
People get attached to their ideas and stick to them like white on rice. They hold on tight and don’t let go. They refuse to question them, they defend them all costs, they resist input. They suffer from confirmation bias. However, it’s critical that you be open to feedback, to evolution and iteration, and to conflict. Question your assumptions. Welcome tough questions. Invite opposing views. Not every idea is a home run, and not every one is great right out of the gate. But if you’ve only got one, you won’t allow yourself to think that way.
Ideas need to be shared
“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Lee Iacocca
A good idea needs to be communicated – so simplification and conviction are key. Distill it down to its essence, make sure you can convey it, and demonstrate your passion.
And dispense with all the confidentiality, privacy, keeping others out. Ideas need transparency and input. Share early and often.
Ideas need followers
“A mediocre idea that generates enthusiasm will go further than a great idea that inspires no one.” Mary Kay Ash
I don’t care how unique or novel your idea is, if it doesn’t gather momentum and get people excited, it’s likely not going to work. It needs to spark something in others for it to be helpful. It needs to create acolytes, advocates, believers and dreamers.
Ideas require hard work
“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration” Thomas A. Edison
Having an idea is just the beginning of your work – what happens next is much more important. That is, the “stratecution” – the strategic and creative activation and execution of the idea. Without it, an idea is simply a theory or hypothesis. So an idea needs to begin to work through the who, what, how, when of the idea. The what-it-might-look-like, how it might begin, where it might be going. What does success look like, how will we measure our performance, what results are we looking for? This process requires both dreamers and doers – those to figure out what the idea could be, and those who can make it a reality.
It’s been said that a great idea that is poorly executed fails, but a mediocre idea well executed succeeds at some level. This is true. For years, this was the hallmark of Proctor & Gamble‘s marketing. Average ideas, blasted out across every channel, connecting from top to bottom of the funnel, and driving across everything the brand did. Nothing anyone ever went “aha!” or “wow!” over; but always successfully making the cash register ring. A brilliant idea has, no doubt, a multiplier effect on great execution – but it does not nor cannot substitute for it.
The most important part – Get ‘er done
“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.” Alfred North Whitehead
The final key to ideas is making them happen, with speed and iteration. Stop perfecting them and get them started. The devil is indeed in the details, so start developing them – and be open to adapting as you learn. You’re always better off starting and learning in the real world than waiting and trying to perfect what, in essence, is a hypothesis.
Ideas aren’t magic. Ideas aren’t silver bullets. And ideas can’t be walk-off homers. They’re a starting point for the real, hard work that it takes to be successful. So, what do you think of my idea?