In many ways the ‘Ideas vs Execution’ debate is a false dichotomy. When you are executing your business plan, you will be implementing a plethora of (hopefully) great ideas. And frankly, an idea is really only worthwhile when it includes some kind of execution plan.
Nevertheless, the distinction is useful. It is a good way to frame how an entrepreneur should think about their business. It is far more important for entrepreneurs to be ‘getting things done’ than thinking about an endless stream of new ideas about how they are going to change the world.
Put simply, execution gets the product shipped and brings revenue in the door; revenue pays the bills and keeps you in business. It is really difficult to overstate the importance of the action in executing your plans and responding to the changing business environment.
I have been privileged to be associated with many wonderful entrepreneurs through my work at ISLabs and Silicon Cape. Each interaction I have had with these remarkable people just reinforces my belief that those who are prone to action are more successful in starting and running businesses.
The Better Product Gets Paid
Melodramatic by design, to me ideas are like carbon monoxide; overly abundant and mostly useless. Everybody has them but very few act on them, which renders them meaningless in the end. Of course there are always exceptions. Sometimes there is that ‘big idea’ that transcends time and trends, but these instances are extremely rare. It seems that even the great ideas are subject to the dulling of time, as one can see with the book and Gutenberg’s printing press; slowly being marginalised with the growth of life online.
There is much evidence to support the ‘execution over ideas’ paradigm. Google didn’t invent search engines; Napster actually gave birth to peer-to-peer music sharing but doesn’t exist today. Friendster was the first social network while General Motors became the dominant motor company in the world in the 1920s based solely on its ability to execute, without ever inventing anything. The hard truth is that if you make a better mousetrap, people will buy your product.
The Power Of Reinvention
Another important lesson for entrepreneurs is: What you start out wanting to do is almost never what you will end up doing. Invariably, business plans change as you adapt to the ever-changing climate around you, and the greater flow of information makes these changes occur with great rapidity.
Bill Gates started out building programming languages but ended up hitting the home run when he licensed operating system software that he resold to IBM. Nokia started out in forestry, not phones; General Electric started out in white goods and today makes most of its money from jet turbines, medical diagnostic tools and until recently, financial services.
The lesson here is that reinvention is more important than invention and that most certainly requires a powerful ability to execute within your business DNA, rather than come up with ideas. In reality, as you execute, you also learn that what you thought would be a good idea might not hold as much promise as initially anticipated. If I had to promote either the idea or the execution,
I would certainly choose the latter.