Yesterday somebody posted a blog titled Let’s End the Myth that Ideas are Worthless. This is a pretty neat idea and obviously falls right into the flamebait category over at HackerNews as lovingly represented by the 80+ comments among which the most upvoted one is basically saying “you are an idiot, get off my lawn”.
Posts like these come and go on HN every few weeks, but what’s different about this one is that for some reason or another – probably because it was 3am and my brain was slowly going into that dazed imondrugs state – it really got me thinking about the whole debate. What’s stranger still is that the topic wouldn’t leave me alone and I kept pondering during class today.
What if execution and ideas are patently impossible to tell apart?
The dictionary defines an idea as
[ahy-dee-uh, ahy-deeuh] Show IPA
1. any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity.
2. a thought, conception, or notion: That is an excellent idea.
3. an impression: He gave me a general idea of how he plans to run the department.
4. an opinion, view, or belief: His ideas on raising children are certainly strange.
5. a plan of action; an intention: the idea of becoming an engineer.
6. a groundless supposition; fantasy.
And it defines execution as
[ek-si-kyoo-shuhn] Show IPA
1. the act or process of executing.
2. the state or fact of being executed.
3. the infliction of capital punishment or, formerly, of any legal punishment.
4. the process of performing a judgment or sentence of a court: The judge stayed execution of the sentence pending appeal.
5. a mode or style of performance; technical skill, as in music: The pianist’s execution of the sonata was consummate.
6. effective, usually destructive action, or the result attained by it (usually prec. by do ): The grenades did rapid execution.
7. Law . a judicial writ directing the enforcement of a judgment.
8. Computers . the act of running, or the results of having run, a program or routine, or the performance of an instruction.
On the face of it, it would seem that an idea is something that exists solely in the mind and execution is something that exists solely in the physical or even real world, where things get made and do something.
Now as soon as you get into computers, the difference becomes a little muddled and strange. Just what exactly is the physical world when it comes to a bunch of bits jumping to and fro to produce a result that might or might not mean something useful?
But anyway, let’s say we all have roughly compatible understandings of what execution is. Here’s what really matters:
[an idea is] any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness, or activity
Keywords being understanding, awareness and activity.
Once you think about it you can quickly see that rough, uncut ideas are a dime a dozen. They pop up all the time and with the current world population that probably translates into a few million good ideas every week. But an uncut idea is worth just as much as an uncut diamond … a whole lot and nothing at the same time.
All that really matters is whose hands the uncut idea is in. Give it to someone who knows what to do with it and you will get a lovely diamond, the idea will adapt and change and when all is said and done, the person will forever go down in history for having had a very awesome idea and being lucky enough not to screw it up.
But give the very same idea to somebody who doesn’t know what to do and the result will likely be that everybody will laugh at the poor sap who can’t have great ideas. That poor guy, it must be tough not having good ideas. Nobody ever (or very very rarely) blames execution, it’s always the idea that’s at fault.
This is likely because the only way of proving that an idea was ever any good is to go out and make something awesome out of it. Sure, we might fail and our cut diamond might have a black spot in the center, but at least we’d know it was a diamond. Otherwise it would forever continue looking just like a regular rock.
Therefore a better way of saying “ideas are worthless” is probably to accept the fact that ideas are just as important execution and that execution shapes ideas into their full potential.
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