We've been fed this misconception that ideas do not matter and execution is everything.
Entrepreneurs, investors, billionaires. They each come and serve some variation of the same dish.
That one can have good ideas every day, but that part of the process where we need to execute, that's where you people usually get stuck.
And yes, execution does matter.
But it is not everything. Execution is tied to having good ideas.
It is quite easy for a billionaire to say that execution is everything as the billionaire will have the means to swiftly build a team that can bring the idea to life.
And the billionaire will always hunt for good ideas. And this is why is much easier to say that ideas do not matter and that people should get to work.
But getting to work having a bad idea as a basis will usually lead to failure which will also feedback into the "execution is everything that matters" part. Which, again, is not entirely true and oftentimes misleading and a vicious cycle.
So let's take an example.
A few years back, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation organized a contest called the Reinvent The Toilet Challenge.
Where researchers had to come up with innovative approaches - based on fundamental engineering processes - for the safe and sustainable management of human waste.
The challenge was building a toilet that:
- Removes germs from human waste and recovers valuable resources such as energy, clean water, and nutrients.
- Operates “off the grid” without connections to water, sewer, or electrical lines.
- Costs less than US$.05 cents per user per day.
- Promotes sustainable and financially profitable sanitation services and businesses that operate in poor, urban settings.
- Is a truly aspirational next-generation product that everyone will want to use—in developed as well as developing nations.
Okay so if I have to follow the 'execution is everything' advice... I do have everything I need, right? I have my task list, my list of constraints, and what I can do now is get to work.
But the constraints were here long before the contest.
But no one actually took the initiative and time to really put them on paper.
And the fact that one now has an incentive and an important figure leading the movement, a figure having the means to take the execution to the next level... people will start facing problems with the idea generation part.
Because again, it is much easier to say that I do not have the power to execute but I do have plenty of ideas.
Now, if you have more teams working on the same problem where solution variations are constantly being tested... this is when the "execution matters" part comes to life, with new elements such as context, random events, and, why not, luck constantly being added into the mix.
And here we do indeed have the big problem we need to solve, but we need good ideas on how to solve the micro-problems, the constraints... good ideas serving as a solid basis for potential success, and then you can add speed of execution into the mix.
And good ideas are hard to come by.
Mostly because they need to pass through a lot of doors.
One cannot simply have a mind-blowing idea just by sitting and looking at the sky all day. To generate good ideas, one needs to engage in some capacity with the world. One needs to ingest, digest, absorb, listen and accept criticism. One also needs time to think.
So the next time someone starts regurgitating this over-concentrated pop-culture platitude, simply remember that good ideas and solutions to problems are only obvious in retrospect.
And that execution is and will always be dependent on having good ideas.
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