Ideas Aren't Worth Anything – Execution is all that Counts
An idea is like a sapling.
For a sapling to grow into a strong and unwavering tree, it requires oxygen, sunlight, and a nutrient-rich soil. If any of these basic foundations are amiss, it will never reach its intended genetic goal.
Growing an idea into a business is no different.
It requires a solid team (soil), regular outside feedback (oxygen), and gentle yet firm oversight (sun).
I call these three the execution of an idea. Without proper execution, an idea will never be anything more than just that, an idea.
Table of contents
- Good vs bad ideas
- Turning an idea into a business
- The 3 keys of idea execution
- The Dream Team
- Feedback, feedback. feedback
- Oversight – Gives Support, Removes Obstacles
- Final notes
Good vs bad ideas
Although ideas alone are worthless, there are still good and bad ideas. This is not the same thing as to say they’re valuable on their own.
Bad ideas are not likely to become successful businesses even with good execution. Then again, good execution does increase the likelihood of it happening or may reveal quicker that the idea is poor to begin with.
I personally prefer to stray from using the term “bad idea” as I believe any idea can be good under the right guidance and circumstances. This belief, in my opinion, speaks to the very nature of ideas themselves as ideas are always in a state of change. They are not immovable stoic pillars.
Good ideas, on the other hand, have the potential to become something great.
However, without good execution from the company of origin, they will likely get stolen and improved by some other company with more drive and resources at their disposal.
Undoubtedly many promising startups and innovators have learned this lesson the hard way. If you think only a good idea will solely carry you to the gates of success, you have another thing coming.
When a good idea is executed well from the beginning, even a startup has a chance of meddling with the big boys of the industry. Just look at what happened with Tesla, going from 17$ per share to over 300$ in just seven years.
Making it in the automotive industry as an entrant is no cake walk, I can tell you that.
So, in a nutshell:
- Bad idea with bad execution: “Just don’t…”
- Good idea with bad execution: “Ready to have your idea taken by another company?”
- Bad idea with good execution “There’s a chance!”
- Good idea with good execution: “What’s stopping you?”
Simply put, I firmly believe that execution is the determining factor for an idea’s potential to succeed.
But what does good execution require? Let's look into that next.
Turning an idea into a business
Optimally all the ideas you execute are good ones. However, that’s not always the case.
How do you accurately tell apart the good from bad?
Knowing which ideas have actual potential takes vast input and iteration. Therefore, it’s important to have a process that helps filter the good ideas from bad. This is the first step in what is called idea management.
Managing ideas typically covers the execution itself, however, execution of an idea does not include the raw selection process of which ideas to allocate resources towards.
The 3 keys of idea execution
Of course, there are hundreds of things you can do to improve the probability of turning an idea into a profit-yielding business. However, to not go into the smaller “hands-on” stuff, I’ve listed what are in my opinion the 3 key action points for successful idea execution.
1. Building a strong team
2. Getting sufficient feedback
3. Effective oversight
The Dream Team
An idea will only become as good as the team behind it! This is something that many people don’t understand. Especially those who believe ideas are worth their weight in gold all on their own.
What does a good team look like?
I believe a strong team purely from the perspective of idea development or “execution” should have at least the following things nailed down:
- Understanding the origin and goal of the idea
- Being fully committed to taking the idea all the way to the finish line
- Keeping the engine going without constant micromanaging
Understanding the origin and goal of an idea means internalizing the core purpose of why said idea came into existence in the first place and how it can be turned into a successful business. A consensus should reside in the team on that core purpose. This not only increases the likelihood that team members focus on doing the right things in developing the idea toward the said goal but also aids the thought process on what those right things are.
Being fully committed means having a sense of personal interest in turning the idea into something tangible. This interest can be fueled by curiosity, sense of ownership (E.g Being the original ideator), or simply the desire to showcase one’s talents. All team members should have it on some level. Commitment, at least partially, ensures that everyone has high standards for the quality of execution and the will to take it all the way to the finish line.
Keeping the engine going means that team members get energy from one another to keep moving forward, entailing that the team can thrive devoid constant management. Of course, commitment in itself works as a motivator, but it’s typically an individual strength, whereas pushing the team forward means giving others strength as well. Having a “self-sustaining” team decreases the chance that idea development stops when problems arise, or a developmental plateau is reached.
How do you build such a team?
Well, not by calling names out at random, that’s for sure. If you want your team to celebrate the aforementioned qualities and metaphorically carry the torch across the finish line, you need to play it smart.
Instead of only looking at it from a perspective of “Where can I find the right people?” steer some thoughts towards “How do I make the project appealing enough for the right people to come to me?”
Think about it. If you want to attract fireflies, you set up a bright light for them to come towards. You don’t go searching blindly in the dark, unless you know exactly where to look.
Although this “catching bees with honey” -mentality may seem like a pretty obvious way to go, it’s not quite that simple when you actually try to do it. Making people come to you is much more difficult than going to them.
Here’s some of my suggestions on how to find the right people and make the project visible to them:
- Search for people from the source: Find the original ideator(s) or other people who have shown interested in the idea before. They may have invaluable input on the topic and passion to take it all the way.
- Ask around: Use your contacts to do systematic headhunting for prime candidates.
- Increase transparency Make sure that anyone even slightly relevant has the chance to find the project and show their interest. Don’t erect barricades where there should be none. Use all channels at your disposal to promote the opportunity of being a part of making a change.
- Appeal intrinsically Build the hype of joining the project via any intrinsic value it can bring instead of monetary fixes like pay raises. Tell them about the opportunity to change the company itself or to be at the frontier of creating something new and bold. It could even be the possibility of finding new and better assignments or showcasing talents that gets them hooked.
After, or rather, “if” you have found a sufficient number of promising candidates, you must go through a rigorous vetting process – keeping in mind the points from before – to find a group with a good mix of talents, versatile knowledge, and great compatibility.
What’s the right size for a team?
According to Katherine Klein, a renowned expert on the topic, after 5 people a team starts losing individual value, thus relatively decreasing the team’s effectiveness. However, in my opinion the optimum team size varies greatly depending on the nature of the idea, and the people at your disposal. In most cases, a good team size is somewhere in the range of 3 to 8 people.
Although anyone’s “dream team” surely has a wide range of knowledge and expertise, it would be foolish to leave brainstorming to just those in the inner circle (read, “the team”).
Instead, if possible, use all the collective knowledge and input at your disposal. Depending on how sensitive the information regarding the idea is, you can involve people in other functions inside the company or even create an idea challenge.
Feedback is the comforting voice saying, “you’re on the right track,” and if not, it can help you find the right track. Feedback can be helpful anywhere from settling small disputes in the team to getting majority opinions on larger course-defining decisions. Thus, it is important to get it as often and as much as possible. As long as it doesn’t steer all attention away from actually executing the idea.
How and where to find people to participate and give feedback?
Largely, in my experience the how happens the same way as assembling a team around a project.
Make yourself and your intentions known and be transparent about it. Use all channels at your disposal and provide intrinsic motivators for those who do partake. You could even give a chance for people to become a more significant contributor to the team if they manage to provide real value.
As for where this feedback would intuitively take place, it isn’t something that can be managed through a traditional suggestion box. Not only would that result in chaos, it also wouldn’t be very accessible or encourage people who have no dog in this fight to contribute. Instead, it’s good to have a separate idea management tool where you can facilitate and store the feedback.
Oversight – Give Support, Remove Obstacles
Every team needs a leader. Or at the very least, an entity that eliminates potential inhibitors before they arise.
By oversight, I do not mean any form of micromanaging as doing so would negate the effects of everything else you’ve done regarding idea execution.
In my opinion, a good leader for a team where unadulterated idea execution is key, is one who understands their role. It’s not about being in charge but rather doing everything possible to help the team function at the maximum level.
Of course, a good leader should also know when it’s time to step in and enforce rules to exact discipline. However, if this is the case, there may be something wrong with the dynamic of your “dream team”.
What does a good leader do?
Although it may sound ironic, ensuring that the team can work autonomously may require quite a bit of work. Here are my 4 key ways of working of a good leader:
1. Stopping outside disturbances. Any bureaucratic matters that may be of hindrance to the idea execution process should be taken care of.
2. Understanding the individuals. Aiding in maintaining the right amount of drive requires understanding the team members on an individual level. What makes everyone “tick”, so to speak. By understanding the variations in personalities, temperament, and working preferences, you can not only better intervene before any potential problems or conflicts arise, but you can also help in keeping everyone going at a 100%. E.g. If a member of the team especially thrives on gratification, a good leader makes them regularly feel as though their work is appreciated.
3. Having open doors. A good leader keeps their doors open and gives support, no questions asked. If you’re unapproachable, team members may not come to you with worries and questions regarding the project. Most problems are avoided through transparency and early reaction. A good way to maintain this “doors open” -mentality throughout the project is by organizing mandatory weekly check-ups in order to keep everyone on the same page regarding the current situation.
4. Building support for the team A leader should muster good support structures around the project. This means that when it seems like there’s nothing to do, a leader doesn’t just wait for things to happen. Rather, a good leader constantly attempts to improve the chances of success for the idea execution. E.g. Hyping the idea and the progress they’ve made to leadership as keeping decision-makers in the loop increases the chance of ultimate implementation.
While executing an idea is never easy, only by educating yourself and doing the right things can you ultimately prevail. If you fail, learn from your mistakes and improve your craft as you go forward.
Keep nurturing your saplings and they may yet grow into giant sequoias.
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