Your Ideas Are Worthless

That got your attention didn’t it?  🙂

Yes, that was intended to entice you have a read. No, this isn’t my version of “click bait”.

Let me explain…

Two of my favorite sayings (I have many) are as follows:

  • “Ideas are a dime a dozen, people to execute them are invaluable”

  • “Ideas are easy – Execution is hard”

The second one is an especially good one, in my opinion. Just think about it – it is incredibly easy to come up with an idea to do, build, or create something. But translating that idea into reality is more often than not pretty difficult.

Another related saying:

“It looked good on the greaseboard!”

(Meaning when it was the idea was drawn out on the greaseboard, or “kicking it old school” on the chalkboard, it looked great. When we coded or created it, however, it didn’t quite work as planned)


But I digress, which I am also good at.


Let’s put some data behind this, just for perspective. If we use the US Patent as the “ultimate” idea count, here are some recent statistics to chew on:

(source: US Patent Office)

Doing some simple math, that means there were 5,201,398 patents issues in those five recent years. That’s quite a bit, especially if you think about all the paperwork that goes into getting a patent. It’s not just filling out an online form and signing a couple papers. It is a very involved, and often very expensive process.

So given that level of effort, there were still over 5M ideas that people thought willing to invest the time and money to patent. How many of those actually go anywhere though?

“According to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, each year more than 30,000 new
consumer products are launched and 80% of them fail.”

(source: publicity.com article)

That’s a pretty sobering statistic, in my opinion.

I could write many more pages citing all sorts of statistics, but I’m going to bet a dollar that you get the point here.


The bigger question though is why do I even bring this up?!


Too often, in both for-profit and non-profit businesses, I run into people that suggest some pretty interesting and compelling solutions to all sorts of challenges. But when pressed for a plan to deliver and/or execute on that, the idea breaks down pretty quickly.

I am not opposed to ideas and discussion about “out of the box” ideas – those kind of discussions, with open-minded teams, are where some pretty cool things happen.

The challenge many face are people that say “Just do _______” (fill in the blank) and then drop that in your lap to figure out. I have seen this first hand in both for-profit and non-profit businesses.

On the non-profit front, this happens with well-meaning volunteers all the time. They see something they don’t like, then say “just do ______” and then toss that over to staff or a committee to figure out. Reality usually dictates a very different approach, and then they are annoyed when their idea isn’t implemented. Whenever I am heading up a committee, I am very clear when recruiting volunteers that we need people that are willing to execute, not just brainstorm on random ideas.

The days of the “Think Tank” I suspect are gone – at least I hope so. If you want some entertainment, click HERE for an old UPS commercial that highlights the problem with “idea guys”.

Again, I go back to “Ideas are easy – Execution is hard”.

It would be incredible if someone would pay me a zillion dollars to just think of random ideas and not have to consider at all the execution side of things.

Think about it this way – how many “ideas” have come up to solve world hunger. Not so easy eh?


Back to the title of this blog: “Your Ideas Are Worthless“. OK, so maybe that’s not entirely true. But it might be if you don’t consider translating your idea into reality at some point.


Here’s the bottom line: Do NOT be “that guy” that storms into a meeting and says “Just do ______” unless you have at least a bit through the execution side of things.

Nobody likes “that guy”.  🙂

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