The myth of ideas

I’ve come to despise merely talking about ideas. Don’t get me wrong, ideas are essential to every meaningful thing that has ever graced humanity. But that’s like saying that the sun is the reason for to every significant thing that has ever happened in the history of mankind. No sun, no grass, no cow, no beef burger, no man doing something awesome.

People who are obsessed with ideation are like people who spend all their days staring at the sun and talking about the sun; only, ideas are far more enticing. The predominant hook that drags you along is you’ll is the word “potential”.

Potential, potential, potential. If your social group is anything like mine, you’ll be served a gratituous dose of Steve Jobbery, Mark Zuckerish and Googology on how an idea made them successful. If you’re a little more advanced in your years, you’ll have the likes of the 3M post-it and Kodak as references.

The enticement of ideas comes from simple math. Outcome minus cost equals gain. Result divided by effort equals degree of success. The again, divided by 0 is infinity. So apparent “potential” that comes from an idea is typically made out to be unreasonably and outrageously huge. Think of the phrase “it all started with an idea” for a moment, the way most people read it is “they started with nothing, and now they’re multi-million-billion dollar, userbase, bla bla bla…”. Dad always said that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. He was referring to the oldest trick in the con-man’s manual, and he was teaching his kids not to be greedy and gullible.

Here’s what I think of the hyperbole of ideation.

It’s almost as though all the successful enterprises got together and conspired to hide the secret to their success. Everyone agreed never to tell of the blood, sweat, late nights, despair and agony it took to get there. Instead, they’ll all tell the same tale of how one fateful morning, an idea dropped in their mind, how fragile it was, how they almost missed it but a chain of fateful events caused them to revisit it; and that is how they became successful. Genius: because it will occupy the minds of every sucker in suspended disbelief, while the gap between watchers and mover-shakers widens.

It’s not like we don’t already know what it takes: one part inspiration, ninty-nine parts perspiration, make something people want, spend less than you get. But none of that is exciting; doesn’t sound “innovative” enough, because we want a magic pill served up on a silver platter, and a good story to tell our friends.

Well keep thinking that while the rest of us take our one part idea and mix it in with ninety-nine boring execution parts. You’ll be one less person standing in our way.

3 Replies to “The myth of ideas”

  1. Love it. You’ve taken all I think (but never tried to enunciate) about talk – and turned it into a great piece. Def one of my favs. (Y) (Y) (Y)

  2. That’s true. There is a myth of ideas. An idea is a product of something – experience. A process is involved. As Derek Sivers would put it, “ideas are just a multiplier of execution”. Ideas per se nothing.


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