The Myth of the Great Idea

As with many of these articles, I’m going to write about a misconception I had before I started a business. This one is that a single great idea is worth a lot of money.

Think you have a million dollar idea? You may be right! Just follow this procedure to find out.

  • Step 1, have a great idea
  • Step 2, get off the couch
  • Step 3, risk your life savings
  • Step 4, work 80 hours per week for two years
  • Step 5, a million dollars! Yay!

Most people think the value is in step 1. Good guess, but it’s not. The blood and sweat of implementation is where the value lies.

A single big valuable idea is a myth. There is some value in ideas, but only if there is a steady stream of good ones, not a single brilliant one. You need people who can come up with many new ideas to swerve around the obstacles that the original idea is headed for.

Steve Jobs is a good example of this. Apple’s success was not because of a single simple idea like “make slick fun products.” When Steve was kicked out of Apple it slid into mediocrity. If there was a magic “Apple idea” then the team Steve left behind could have just used that blueprint, but they floundered instead. We experienced it by developing software for Apple computers after he left. It was a nightmare. After Steve returned, Apple technology recovered and now we enjoy developing Apple products.

If an “idea person” tries to join your team then run the other way. You need people who do actual work. They are the ones who test 10 ideas every day in the crucible of real life and slowly build a network of them that work together.

A corollary to this is that you shouldn’t beat yourself up if an idea doesn’t work out. Try many ideas. Expect to fail a lot. Just be scientific. Judge an idea’s value on the objectively measurable results. Mercilessly abandon bad ones and you end up with just the strong ones.

About the Author:

Jeff Butterworth is the founder of Alien Skin Software. He used to create the products, but now he does marketing and gets coffee for the programmers.

6 Comments

  1. J.F. Herrera August 31, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    Great article. I could not agree with you more on this point. The interesting part to this reality is that those around you who don’t understand the process, see you and discourage you from continuing down the road of “failure”, after all everything one does is a failure, because they don’t understand that the very same road leads to success if you just persist.

  2. Share your knowledge. | Alien Skin Software September 9, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    […] seen from my numerous articles, we have many tricks and techniques for being productive, not one magic idea that we need to protect. You shouldn’t worry about your competition anyway since there is […]

  3. Death by 1000 Yeses | Alien Skin Software September 16, 2011 at 11:11 am

    […] of the project is dumped onto other people and the executive goes off in search of the next great idea. The most deadly kind of project is one that is permanent because it is a drag on your […]

  4. Jimmy N. September 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Hey Jeff, excellent points. Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers? He discusses what makes great people great, and brings up a lot of the same points that you made. People often think that people like Bill Gates or Kobe Bryant are simply born with a gift and that everything comes easily to them, but in fact it takes a buttload of work to become the best at something. Thanks for the read!

    • Jeff September 20, 2011 at 11:54 am

      I’m glad you brought up that book. I seem to recall that Malcolm Gladwell found that expertise usually requires 10,000 hours of practice, no matter what the field. Put in a lot of time and you’ll become good at anything. There are few shortcuts.

  5. So long, Steve Jobs. | Alien Skin Software October 6, 2011 at 9:08 am

    […] life has taught me some useful lessons, such as the myth of the great idea. Here is some advice Steve shared at a Stanford commencement address. I wish I had heard this […]

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