My biggest failing as an innovator is that I get over-attached to ideas. I’m getting better at this, but for a long time if I had a great idea, I was pretty content to just do stuff that managed the idea, or to just talk about the idea, or even to just think about the idea. That’s one of the reasons that I am so adamant here about how essential it is to execute ideas. I’m really yelling at myself.
This is one of the reasons that a lot of the ideas to come from 37signals resonates so strongly with me – they are all about executing ideas. Their book Getting Real is ostensibly about making web apps, but it’s really about how to execute ideas. Here is how Wired UK describes it:
The message: small teams, working on manageable systems, with fewer features mean that applications are better, quicker to market, and faster to improve. Moreover, it recommends that the best way to plan your ideas is to build them first. “The only real way to determine whether something’s worth doing is actually to do it,” explains Fried, 35. “When you sit down to plan something out, you typically make it bigger than it needs to be.”
And then there’s this from the intro:
Getting Real is about skipping all the stuff that represents real (charts, graphs, boxes, arrows, schematics, wireframes, etc.) and actually building the real thing.
Getting real is less. Less mass, less software, less features, less paperwork, less of everything that’s not essential (and most of what you think is essential actually isn’t).
Getting Real is staying small and being agile.
I think that the reason that we sit on ideas is that if we don’t execute them, they will always have potential. If we try it out and it doesn’t work, we lose that potential value.
The problem though is that the actual value of potential value is zero. If we try out a great idea and it doesn’t work, we’re not any worse off than we were before. In fact, we’re better off, because now we know more than we did before we tried out our idea.
As Seth Godin says, real artists ship. They test out ideas, and they get them out the door. He recently wrote a post about Tim Burton – a display about Burton’s work showed that every single year over a 30 year career, he sunk substantial time into one or two projects that never went anywhere. Here’s what Godin says about that:
One key element of a successful artist: ship. Get it out the door. Make things happen.
The other: fail. Fail often. Dream big and don’t make it. Not every time, anyway.
Tim got his ideas out the door, to the people who decided what to do with them. And more often than not, they shot down his ideas. That’s okay. He shipped.
The lesson from this is simple – don’t spend time thinking about your great ideas. Implement them! All the time. The secret that people are always surprised to learn is this: the more time you spend implementing ideas, the more new ideas you’ll have. The paradox here is that if you hoard your idea and don’t try it out, you won’t get any more. You’ll be stuck with your one, great, unexecuted idea.
Get things out the door. Test out your ideas, see what works, do more of that. Build, Launch and Tweak. The faster you do this, the more new ideas you’ll generate. And some of these will be even better than the ones you love right now.