Felix Dennis: Ideas Without Execution Are Nothing

from the a-great-idea dept

Well this is getting a little repetitive, but it’s always nice to add another voice to the (growing) crowd of people, who recognize that execution is much more important than the idea. We’ve discussed this many times and have pointed out people, such as Scott Adams, who have made similar points. The latest such example comes to us courtesy of the Capitalist Lion Tamer, who highlights a brief excerpt from Maxim and The Week creator Felix Dennis’ new book, in which he makes the identical point about ideas and execution. He notes that an idea is not enough. It may be important, but ideas are more “like Nike sports shoes,” in that they can be a tool that can be used by someone to accomplish great things, but in the end it’s the actual execution that matters:

I have lost count of the number of men and women who have approached me with their ?great idea,? as if this, in and of itself, was their passport to instant wealth. The idea is not a passport. At most, it is the means of obtaining one. In some instances, a fixation on a great idea can prove hazardous, distracting your attention from the perils and pitfalls you will inevitably encounter on the narrow road.

If you never have a single great idea in your life, but become skilled in executing the great ideas of others, you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams. They do not have to be your ideas ? execution is all. When confronted with a great idea, your reaction should be to scrupulously analyze its commercial potential in the context of your own ability to transform that potential into triumph.

Ideas don?t make you rich. The correct execution of ideas does.

Doesn’t it seem odd that so many people (and very, very successful people at that) recognize this basic concept… and yet our entire public policy around innovation focuses solely on rewarding the idea, at the expense of the execution?

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Comments on “Felix Dennis: Ideas Without Execution Are Nothing”

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Darryl says:

Yes Mike, we should all take your advice !!!!

so smart you guys are !!! LOL.

so the idea of free or very cheap, LIMITLESS, clear, safe and highly available energy from Nuclear fusion is not a good idea because it is not a practical reality yet!.

Its your limited, narrow minded, tunnell vision world view that keep us (the human race) a level 1 civilization, that is still burning dead trees for our main source of energy.

But if it gets Mike a few points with his equally narrow minded worshipers then that is all Mike wants.

More page hits, and more crystal ball (paywall) sales.

vic Kley says:

(not so) Great Idea don't pay for great ideas!

Not only is this author wrong but grossly wrong. For the most part Great Ideas are ignored and only execution is rewarded. To such an extant that people reward great execution as the source of the great ideas behind it. This makes such executioners emotionally able to rationalize their theft of others work or their use without attribution.

Case in point Apple. The common attitude among newsmen and the public is that the iPhone and iPad are new inventions by Apple some go so far as to attribute them to Jobs. Nothing could be farther from the truth. At least in Apple’s case most of the great ideas in these products have long been in the public domain.

If the attitude of this author continues and builds there will be no great ideas made public in our society. It is just as easy to focus on those things which lend themselves to trade secrets and see the great idea creators spend their days executing (no matter how worthless they may be at such endeavors) while great executors will ahve nothing to feed on.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: (not so) Great Idea don't pay for great ideas!

If the attitude of this author continues and builds there will be no great ideas made public in our society.

Really? I mean, seriously, you think that there will be no great ideas? Considering all the research that shows great ideas tend to come from people who need solutions for themselves… I find that hard to believe.

But, Vic, you have a history of not wanting to understand, so forgive me for not being surprised that you would make such an ignorant statement.

Vic Kley says:

Re: Re: (not so) Great Idea don't pay for great ideas!

Too bad masnick you can’t use make a meaningful argument and so pretend to know my history (perhaps you might actually google my work first) and demean it.

Let me be more precise by Great Ideas I inferred from the quite sloppy Felix piece that what was meant was patentable ideas for potentially valuable technology.

If one can’t make money with the concept/R&D/patent stage, inventors will concentrate on the trade secret where something is hidden and cannot be helpful to the general knowledge base and advancement of science and technology but can make oodles of money for those who possess the secret.

The sad fact is I and many others have already started down this path. Our concentration in nanotechnology gives us the tools to do just that. The competitors of this world will not have a chance and we never have to deal with the court system biased to wealth and corrupt politicians and judges.

Proximity1 says:

Gives short shrift to luck and unscrupulousness...

Heh. That’s so sweet! Nice people with brilliant ideas combine these with superior talents at execution and this happy confluence accounts for the examples of stunning success (measured in $$$, of course).

What a lovely fairy tale. But you forgot to mention the parts that unbridled greed and a “no-holds-barred” devil-take-the-hindmost attitutde to crushing the competition has so often had in these otherwise heart-warming stories of young (or old) intrepid entrepreneur makes good (after cruelly butchering the friendly natives).

Microsoft Corp. Nice people doing wonderful things for the world, right? It’s just that a (bunch of) funny thing(s) happened on the way to the top.

Cheat first and often, be nice later–and, luck and cash, lots of them, don’t hurt, either.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:


This is a relatively an obvious idea. All it takes is a brief look at history and current successful businesses.

Apple – Steve Jobs didn’t have the idea for a personal computer. That was Wozniak. Jobs was the businessman/marketer. And to be really successful, it took the idea of a GUI (“stolen” from Xerox PARC).

Microsoft – Bill Gates, again, a businessman. The idea of licensing something (an OS, which Gates didn’t even have at the time of the deal) to another company (IBM) had been around since before Gates was born. And again, to be successful, integrating other ideas into the product (the GUI and others “stolen” from Apple).

Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, just a way of efficiently producing it. Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb or movie projector, he “stole” those ideas from others.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

*all uses of “stole” in the above post are nonsense, as you can’t steal an idea. You can copy them, and the world is better off each time good ideas are copied and improved upon.

proximity1 says:

"getting there first" also figures in the success of bad ideas...

P.S., more on how bad ideas ‘make good’ in the real world:

Being first or very early on the scene is often a decisive factor in what, who, comes out on top–though, it goes without saying that exceptions to this exist, of course.

Here’s a grand example, one of the oldest if not the biggest, still dominant orthodoxies–

the idea that “Shakespeare” was this poor country lad from a rural and apparently illiterate home who, by sheer dint of native genius, determination, (and luck and hard work, of course,) scraped together what otherwise could only be called a nobleman’s wealth of intricate insider knowledge of the world (of courts, of nobility, of nationas and languages, of art and literature—the guy knew not only English and added a wealth to it, but Greek and Latin as well) far beyond and outside of his experience or that of anyone he knew directly. He just picked this all up while going about his rural life, attending the country school, hanging around his betters, etc. That’s the utterly preposterous but mainstream conventional view. And it’s the mainstream view after centuries of assault because it’s favored by a privileged mandrinate which, for centuries, has peddled it in academia, high and low and simply taken on faith, at face value, by millions who simply take what they’re told by their expert superiors and don’t ask questions. Unfortunately, the early investigators of “Shakespeare” were so astoundingly inept that, if it had been up to such literary sleuths to figure it out, we’d still be in the dark about who shot Lee Harvey Oswald; yes, you read that right. Lee Harvey Oswald, not JFK. The “Shakespeare” expert sleuths would still be on this case, carefully mishandling every salient fact and bit of evidentiary material.

Who cares about who “Shakespeare” really was? you ask? Okay. Here’s another orthodox fable of conventional wisdom:

the marketplace is where rational actors seek their own greatest advantage and in the process produce efficient and orderly prices in a process of fair and open trade that benefits talent and produces a greater general material well-being for all.

Believe that? Well that’s the standard theory, taught by the high priests of the divinty schools of the MBA.

And, as is pointed out above, there’s the safe, clean,, cheap nuclear power fable. How’s that working out for us?

proximity1 says:

Re: Re: Re: "getting there first" also figures in the success of bad ideas...

“Fine actually – apart from the hype of people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

“In fact the point you are trying to make above is well made wrt to nuclear power- it’s just that the roles are reversed.”

Words. Empty words.

Go and live near the Fukushima plant; buy property there, set up house, and then write about how the “roles are reversed”. Okay?

I bet not. You aren’t anywhere near that site and you’re not planning on getting anywhere near it in this lifetime. At the current rate (Chernobyl, 1986; Fukushima, 2011;– i.e; a “Level 7” event every 25 (or fewer) years, I figure the planet has, at a maximum, some 100 to 150 years of potential human habitability under the very best, most favorable, scenarios–that is, that incredible “good luck” holds out–if nuclear power continues to be exploited.

More realistically, what I expect is that if you’re middle-aged (in your 50s) and have any children, your grandchildren’s children, or their children, will curse and damn the memory and behavoir of all who think and thought as your comment suggests you do. After that, the planet won’t be fit for human habitation–unless, and maybe even if, nuclear power is definitively abandoned.

There is still (after 56 years) no feasible plan for long-term disposition of nuclear wastes. That aspect, alone, exemplifies the truly unprecendented folly of this technology. Throughout recorded history, no other human undertaking has ever approached in any order of magnitude the incredible folly of the 56-year nuclear power technology, none.

Vic Kley says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "getting there first" also figures in the success of bad ideas...

There will be no fission plants in 30 years that aren’t being phased out and there “spent fuel” converted to energy in a FUSION reactor essentially eliminating the issue of “long term nuclear waste”.

Fusion will go on to power human activity until the Sun burns out.

The singularity of “Ignition” is only days away.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "getting there first" also figures in the success of bad ideas...

Words. Empty words.

Go and live near the Fukushima plant; buy property there, set up house, and then write about how the “roles are reversed”. Okay?

If my life/job etc took me to such a place it wouldn’t bother me.
Go talk to the people who actually live in these places and you will find that they are quite content.

Just heard on the news from someone who is actually near Fukushima right now and the message was “why is every one going on about the nuclear plant – no-one here is bothered by that – we’re trying to recover from a major earthquake and tsunami.”

Patrick (user link) says:

Ideas are not patentable

“and yet our entire public policy around innovation focuses solely on rewarding the idea”

Actually, that’s wrong. Ideas aren’t rewarded, inventions are.

As Supreme Court Justice Breyer recently recognized, institutions don’t invent things, human beings do. Institutions have demonstrated a preference to use inventions without paying for them, which is the problem, not the solution.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Execution is all that matters in IP

So, Thomas Edison was busy executing on electric power generation, sound recordings, and some other stuff, but not interested in lighting as such. He invented the light bulb because he intended to profit from the patent (no execution). He also invented things because he expected to profit.
Using the ideas of this article, he should not have (and likely would not have) invented the light bulb and a host of other useful things that improved life.
BUT, execution is all that matters because some nitwit says so.
Agreed, though, it is the most important in most cases.

proximity1 says:

a stranger to yourself...

“If my life/job etc took me to such a place it wouldn’t bother me. Go talk to the people who actually live in these places and you will find that they are quite content.”

You don’t say? Well, mister, (or ma’am) again, I say, ‘Mighty big talk.’ And very easy, too, since you obviously likely judge the probability of your “life/job” ever taking you to such a place as something just next to absolutely zero probability. And, too, if the time came, you could (and you would) simply ignore, forget, dismiss this bluster you’re shoveling here. What work do you do? Let us judge for ourselves how likely it is that your job would take you to such a place as Chernobyl or Fukushima.

As for this claimed witness you heard somewhere there near Fukushima, where and when was this report? Since you didn’t hear or see it live and in person, it had to have been reported to you via a news report; so, please cite that source, hmm? Can’t remember? What a surprise!

My guess is that your interpretation of the person’s attitude about the actual dangers of being near the Fukushima power plant is very very far off the mark.

But now we’ve strayed far from the theme of this thread; having good ideas as opposed to implementing them.

But, a liason between that and our dispute isn’t out of reach. People have an amazing capacity to delude themselves, to live in what otherwise appears as the most amazing states of denial when circumstances are dire enough to drive them to it.

You offer a spectacular picture of this. I needed the reminder that in fact, to so amazingly little insight into yourself is not, after all, very unusual at all. It is pathetically common. When Socrates enjoined his listeners to “Know thyself,” he was presenting a tall order and he must have known that.

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Execution versus ideas

To continue my previous thought; I once was involved with a man who very much wanted to start a business. He had selected the business, but didn’t have a unique niche to launch it in. Since I have degrees in several fields that were at least marginally involved, he appealed to me for help.
Because there was a close relationship, I worked to help him. I had NO interest in collaborating in his business (and he was very much disinclined to include others), but I did find a unique way to provide a different type of product.
He was extremely successful with my idea (which, being only an idea – well, 80-100 hours of hard work to bring it to a working product – was HIS, as far as we were both concerned).
He couldn’t patent it – it wasn’t his idea. He didn’t want me to patent it; ego, I guess.
Eventually, as he became very successful (in a small way), a very large company simply incorporated the product in their offerings, and used their marketing clout to push him out of the market.
Due to an unwillingness to give up, he died penniless.
Was this right? Should another company ruthlessly cut him out with “better” execution (well, nasty marketing)? Would it have been better for me to patent my idea and simply sign it over to him?
I gather it is better to punish small businessmen for daring to offer a product a large company might want????

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

But, on execution versus idea

“Doesn’t it seem odd that so many people (and very, very successful people at that) recognize this basic concept… and yet our entire public policy around innovation focuses solely on rewarding the idea, at the expense of the execution?”

Okay, putting it that way, I agree wholeheartedly – ideas should be linked to (public benefit) execution. The present system sucks, big time (and I am an IP attorney!).

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