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Ideas, Execution, and the Rare Auteur

Idea Man.

ideas are just a multiplier of execution - O'Reilly ONLamp Blog

Derek Sivers' short blog post from 2005 has been making the rounds lately -- it came to me via Chairman Gruber -- and I have to say, I can't stop thinking about it. I think this is really profound thinking around the fundamental misunderstanding many people have about the value of ideas.

In a nutshell, Derek says ideas are valuable only inasmuch as they can be multiplied by execution. So, if you remember your 3rd grade arithmetic, you can figure out the product of even the most fantastic idea when it's multiplied by zero execution.

I, too, frequently encounter this attitude of "Sign the NDA! Sign the NDA!" any time someone wants to tell me about their squirrelly idea for making a bajillion dollars on the internet, and I almost always end up saying the same six things to The Idea Men:

  1. Ideas are like assholes and blogs; everyone has at least one. And the cost of ownership for an idea is nil.
  2. Who will this product delight? Why does it delight them more than any other thing in their world today?
  3. What stops Google from replicating your idea -- at full scale and with a huge installed base -- over a long weekend?
  4. Who is the auteur here? Who in your organization gets to tell everyone else to shut up and follow his or her quirky vision and ridiculous obsessions? These obsessions matter.
  5. Who's the proven sergeant-at-arms in your group? Does this person have a demonstrated track record for ensuring that everyone else in the group is executing flawlessly on the auteur's vision?
  6. What will everyone involved give up to become awesome? Alternately, how will you know when this project has failed and should be euthanized?

It's amazing how many sociopaths are out there dashing around, playing entrepreneur, and yelling into a phone about drilling-down -- with what appears to be no idea how to actually get something amazing to market.

They sing themselves little songs and tell themselves little stories over ciabatta sandwiches and Excel, rhapsodizing about their personal Candyland where everybody starts using their goofy product because... just...because. It's crazy. And it's everywhere.

As I sit here today, I'm more convinced than ever that:

"auteur * (2x execution) = awesome"

An idea is no more useful than a coupon for a bag of sugar; show me the finished cake, then we'll talk.

The bottom line is that if you don't have an amazing, passionate idea and the means to make it superb, you're probably just a douchebag with an expensive phone. And a stack of NDAs.

About Merlin

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Merlin Mann is an independent writer, speaker, and broadcaster. He’s best known for being the guy who created the website you’re reading right now. He lives in San Francisco, does lots of public speaking, and helps make cool things like You Look Nice Today, Back to Work, and Kung Fu Grippe. Also? He’s writing this book, he lives with this face, he suffers from this hair, he answers these questions, and he’s had this life. So far.

Merlin’s favorite thing he’s written in the past few years is an essay entitled, “Cranking.”




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