Idea vs execution: are ideas worthless?

Where’s the local maximum, the highest hill? Photo: garry61

This is a favorite topic on the tech entrepreneur site Hacker News. It keeps popping up every other day, just recently in this thread about disruptive ideas.

The notion that “ideas are worthless” is sort of a counter reaction to the instinctive approach of most beginner entrepreneurs, who think that their idea is the best ever (and must be kept secret so no one “steals it” – aka stealth disease) and if only they could get funding, find a team, wait for the economy to bounce back, wait for spring to arrive and wait for the moon to be aligned with Venus THEN they will most definitely succeed because the idea is so good.

You might as well give them the exit money straight away because, you know, it such a great idea.

As you might suspect, I disagree. I do think that ideas should be treated as though they are worth close to nothing.

The article linked above, about disruptive ideas, describes different ways to find holes in existing markets by thinking out of the box. Aha! you say, see, the idea actually is important!

Well. I’d like to think of it this way: execution is the active searching of the problem space until you find a local maximum of customer value. The idea is only the starting point.

Sure, you can get lucky and find an idea that is already on a local maximum – but you wouldn’t know that without verifying it.

Simply thinking “what if you sold socks that didn’t match?” (an example in the article) is far from enough to prove that it’s a good idea. If you gave it just five minutes you would probably come up with a hundred similar seemingly weird ideas.

Some examples:

What if TVs were not boxes but bubble-shaped?

What if cars bounced like rubber balls? Would that make them safer?

What if pants had four legs? Of different lengths.

What if shoes were glued together?

What if I had an internet connected computer in my sight of vision constantly?

What if books never ended?

What if people could grow all their food, including meat, at home, in a box like a micro oven?

I can go on like this forever. How do I know which ideas are the good ones?

By testing them in the real world – searching the problem space for a local maximum – that’s the only way. And that takes execution and effort. Thus: the idea, by itself, is worthless.


  1. Pingback: Three hard startup milestones « Opportunity Cloud
  2. Pingback: Where to find BIG Ideas… « Wots the BIG Idea?
  3. Pingback: Startup Garage - Debattinlägg i Sydsvenskan

Leave a Reply