On The Value Of Ideas Vs. Execution

Inspiration and perspective from Silicon Valley for innovators and entrepreneurs in areas and industries outside of technology.

The ongoing effort to inform, innovate and bring to market ideas that will be valued by an audience – and generate revenue/profit – has fueled a discussion on whether ideas or their execution are more important drivers of success. We’ve even discussed it at PSFK – to a degree – with pieces like The Myth of Stolen Ideas. Contributing to the discussion is an interesting perspective by Nathaniel Whittemore at Assetmap – aptly titled Lets End the Myth that Ideas are Worthless.

While Whittemore’s piece deserves the full read, it can also be largely summarized by stating that the author believes it’s not a one or the other proposition. We cannot reduce the importance of ideas (and their inherent beliefs regarding human behavior) nor the contributions of execution in trying to grossly oversimplify creation and innovation down to a magic bullet. We simply have to recognize that a business venture or product idea will not excellence of both.

We found Whittemore’s piece to provide some additional perspective on the current entrepreneurial climate in Silicon Valley. Particularly for those looking to innovative and bring non-technical product and business ideas to market (be in big CPG or a local restaurant with a very specific concept), Silicon Valley provides some inspiration on the process of innovation and entrepreneurial ‘launch’ mentality that could serve as a resource for those with more experiential, ‘analog’ business ideas.

We culled a few notions and resources from Whittemore’s piece that could be of relevance and inspiration:

  • The Lean Startup Methodology – a highly influential intellectual force currently impacting Silicon Valley – helps startups create iterative cycles with actual customer feedback; ultimately, startups are able to achieve more effective ‘product-market fit’, or a sizable audience that truly wants to use your product.
  • The Lean Startup is credited with introducing the notion of the “pivot” – when a company makes a major, difficult shift from an old model to a revised one – into Silicon Valley’s current vocabulary.
  • Y Combinator is currently the most influential institution in the Valley, focusing on developer centric teams and rapid development that gets products to market fast. The ‘pivots’ experienced by its early stage companies are often very public and visible to the Silicon Valley community following them – representing equal opportunities for SV audience to learn from them, or to misjudge why certain things ‘failed’ without fully understanding the reasons/actions driving the idea – vs. the execution – of each idea.
  • According to Whittemore;

Ultimately, the dichotomy between idea and execution is false. Embedded in every step of execution are ideas, or put differently, assertions of belief about human behaviors. The “pivot” itself only works if the pivot is to a new idea that is good and well executed: pivoting from a bad idea to a new bad idea still leaves you in the same spot. Gmail and Friendfeed creator and new YC partner Bucheit gets a lot closer to the smart middle of this conversation with his concept of “judgement,” or the idea that much of startup “execution” is judgement about which ideas to pursue and how.

The piece also got us thinking about the packaging of ideas overall – and how, rather than accept any single idea as thesis because it comes from the lips or pen of a perceived ‘thought leader’ in any given industry, they should be digested and considered, not just as a single, defining magic bullet (i.e, curation! creating community! social!), but as one of several notions to be questioned, tested, applied and judged in order to provide consumers a product – and brand – they actually want to use and relate to.

Assetmap: ‘Let’s End the Myth That Ideas Are Worthless’

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