I have spent around the past two years of my life coming up with ‘brilliant ideas’ that other people have executed. At the same time, being an honest man who is hopefully not a cocky one, I must admit that I came up with numerous lousy ideas that could most certainly be classified as trash.
When things went well, I was told, “You came up with the idea, but we did all the hard work.” And when things went south, someone inevitably said, “Who in the world came up with this lousy idea?”
I think they had forgotten that it was me.
It’s not easy being the ideas person. Who holds the winning idea that will strike gold?
I tell you, I haven’t the slightest idea…
When it was just me working on someone else’s idea, it was a different story. Often times I would think, “Who came up with this lousy idea?” It was unworkable, unreasonable and unfathomable to implement it. And after dealing with lots of entrepreneurs and their crazy ideas, I decided that I would come up with them instead.
Entrepreneurs are my breed of crazy.
Since I had spent the better part of my life executing the ideas of entrepreneurs, I took it to another extreme. I made the lousy decision to come up with the ideas myself. And in doing so, I made the cardinal mistake. I stopped investing time into actually doing the work that would lead to its fruition in the world.
What can a humble seed do if it is not watered and planted in fertile soil? What can a brilliant idea do if the environment is not opportune for it to actually grow and if the season is not right for it to flourish?
Can we blame the seed? No.
Can we blame the gardener? No.
Can we blame the soil? No.
Can we blame the season? No.
For an idea to latch onto the earth and form roots, there are so many things that need to come together that it is futile to blame anyone at all.
So, you have a brilliant idea. So what, I say?
As a former angel investor, I’ve heard dozens of brilliant ideas from entrepreneurs in what can only be described as speed-dating for business. Some of the dates I had were terrible, some of them were promising and I know deep down that some of them will take off and eventually meet their dream angel investor.
What differentiates these three scenarios? Before I answer my own questions, I have some thoughts to share.
Not everyone is capable of coming up with that brilliant idea. At the same time, the person who came up with that brilliant idea is often not the one who can–or maybe should–execute it.
I CAME UP WITH THE IDEA, he or she loudly proclaims when they realise that someone else has gone ahead and executed it. It happens in business and at work all the time.
I’m not dismissing the ideas person; as the brilliant idea is usually the first step to success. Without the idea, we’ve got nada, zilch, nothing. Once you have decided on the idea that you’re going pursue, in comes person number two, the person who is going to execute it.
If you ask me, the execution part is far tougher than the idea generation part. It takes the ability to put that idea in what is hopefully fertile soil, nurse it to maturity and then carry it into the marketplace where there is a customer waiting–and willing–to pay for it.
Having said all that, we can–and ideally should–wear both hats in the course of our lifetime. It comes down to the venture we’re talking about. Who has the skills and who has the idea? The person who has the skills may not have the idea; and the person who has the idea may not have the skills. In either case, it’s good practise to do both as you will need to do both during the course of your career.
Coming back to my earlier question, how do you know when you’re onto a winning idea?
The answer is simple. Or rather, it requires you to answer further questions.
Firstly, does ‘it’ hold the key to get me out of whatever predicament I’m in? And secondly, is the door even locked?
Many entrepreneurs start businesses because they do not want to be salaried employees. Working for yourself is not as easy and glamorous as people seem to think it is. Is the idea you intend to execute the one that will make money? Or are you getting into it for romantic reasons–say, for the joy of creating and building something? Or maybe you just enjoy the excitement and the adventure. There’s nothing wrong with starting a business for any of those reasons because we all have emotional needs that we’re looking to get met at work–whether we’re working for someone else or ourselves.
So tell me, does that brilliant idea hold the key? The key that will allow you to escape the cage?
Now, onto a more personal problem–are your heart and head in alignment? If the answer is no, think twice. It’s all well and good to throw caution to the wind and follow your heart, but if your head is screaming NO, it’s probably for good reason. On that note, if it seems like the logical thing to do, but the thought of it absolutely sickens you, then once again–think again.
There is no formula to instant success; the same way that there is no standard or set formula to executing that brilliant idea. It is all trial-and-error. It is all ‘you live and you learn’.
As for me, out of all the ideas I had–and had other people to execute–I must admit that only one of them was a good one. It surprised everyone around me that I even had one good idea given the losing streak that I was on.
I’ve realised that perhaps I shouldn’t be the one to come up with the ideas. I now know–and appreciate–what I’m good at and what I do well. All I need to do is focus and stick to it.
I am, at my best, and at my most useful, an industrious queen bee and a beaver who creates the ecosystem in which life can thrive. As for coming up with the idea, I’ll leave it to the entrepreneur. They seem to know better what will take root and what won’t. The ones who are born to create somehow know instinctively what will work and what won’t.
And then, it’s just a matter of time.
I’ll stick to building things.