Ideas Into Execution: Giving Away An Idea To Make It Happen

from the the-anti-patent dept

We spend a lot of time talking about innovation and ideas. Part of that discussion often turns to patents, and questions of whether it is better to "protect" or "hoard" your ideas, or to focus on sharing them. Patents live in this nebulous world between the two, where you partially (sort of) "give away" the idea, in exchange for the right to protect it. This seems counterintuitive when you think about it. Plenty of research has shown that people invent and innovate more often because they want what they're inventing themselves -- not because they want some sort of monopoly right over it. Other research has shown how innovation (rather than invention) is really an ongoing process, that often involves building on various ideas. For years, we've discussed how the "idea" is quite often overvalued, while the execution is undervalued. Lots of people have ideas. How you execute on them is where the real innovation occurs.

I was thinking about all of this after hearing of the launch of a new service called Mixtape For You, which let's you create a limited time mixtape, which only a single person (who you email) can download. What does this have to do with ideas, execution and innovation? Well, let's go back a bit... and follow this (somewhat convoluted, but fun) trail:
  1. On Memorial Day weekend in 2009, at the annual Sasquatch Music Festival, some shirtless dude started dancing, and someone else started filming him with a cameraphone. Then someone else started dancing with the shirtless dude. Then someone else. Then a few more people. Then a bunch more. Then pretty much everyone. The guy who filmed it put the video up on YouTube, where it went viral (nearly 3 million views at this point). I remember seeing it passed around as a video that "just makes you smile." And it does.

  2. As the video became popular, some started to think about it a bit more, and all around smart guy, Derek Sivers, wrote up a nice little blog post in June, analyzing the sociological aspects of the video.
  3. That discussion turned into an absolutely wonderful 3 minute TED Talk, given in February of this year, that Sivers gave, using the video as a way to explain and demonstrate the importance of "first followers" in creating a true "movement."

  4. That talk got a ton of attention, with lots of people telling Sivers that he should turn the whole "first follower" meme into a book or something like that. Sivers, however, said he wasn't that interested in doing much with the concept and decided, in the very nature of the "first follower" to give away the idea and embrace anyone else who wanted to take the idea and run with it:
    If this "First Follower" idea inspires you to elaborate on it, please do. Feel free to write a hit book about it, tour the corporate speaking circuit talking about it, or anything else. I won't.

    You don't have to ask my permission, pay me, or even credit me.

    I've been very lucky with lots of opportunities. This one's all yours.
  5. Another all around smart guy, Andrew Dubber, picked up on the idea and considered doing exactly as Sivers suggested above, and writing a book based on this concept. But, after sleeping on it, he decided to innovate and execute in a slightly different way. Instead of taking the "first follower" idea and preaching it, Dubber wanted to be a first follower of Siver's other concept: giving away ideas. He decided that he would give away 30 ideas in 30 days -- just like Sivers "gave away" his idea.
  6. Starting March 3rd, Dubber did exactly that, giving away an idea a day.
  7. On March 16th (day 14), Dubber's idea give away, was called I Made A Tape, and was based on the idea that, back in the old days, when people made mixtapes, they were usually for someone specifically. And while there are a bunch of "mixtape" services out there these days (though the RIAA likes to shut them down every so often), Dubber thought it would be cool to create one that allowed someone to be more personal:
    So that's why my idea is an online music sharing site -- but one that can only be shared with one person. You craft a "tape" with a single person in mind, and then that mix is sent to that person with a unique URL that only they can access.

    They can download or stream the mixtape, and it comes with the liner notes that you've written.
  8. And then... on April 6th, some other guy, Ray Kuyvenhoven launched, based very much on Dubber's idea from just a few weeks earlier.
I'd been following the whole chain of events from the very beginning, but what struck me about it, and what caused me to write this post was when I read Dubber's followup post, gleefully talking about how cool it was that Kuyvenhoven actually executed on his idea, this one line stood out:
I invented something, and it came true because I said it out loud.
That's a really powerful statement when you think about it. And, of course, it goes way beyond that. Just look back at the trail of things that happened that resulted in this particular offering coming about -- how many of them were disconnected and simply shared. Yet, we keep hearing people talk about the need to "protect" an idea? Innovation doesn't come out of protection. It comes out of building on the ideas of others and sharing and others taking a different view on it and finally someone executing, not because they want a patent, but because they want the product.

And to tie this all together, Sivers (who kicked off a lot of the chain of explosions above) has also pointed out himself that it's the execution that matters, and ideas, by themselves, are "worth nothing unless executed."

But think about all this in context, and you realize that it was the openness and sharing of ideas that resulted in execution. It happened by building on different ideas -- not "copying," but innovating. And, it's not just this one idea. Remember, Dubber put forth 30 ideas, and others have been doing the same, building on those ideas themselves. In fact, some have committed to delivering on other ideas that Dubber put forth as well.

Now, before people get upset and say "well that's great, but it doesn't mean patents aren't useful," you're right. I'm not saying that any of this negates the need for patents (there are other reasons for that), but I found it to be such a great example of how ideas travel and morph and lead to eventual execution, totally separate from focusing on the need for protection, that it felt worth sharing. And hopefully, someone else might share it, build on it and do something different and innovative with this idea themselves.

Filed Under: derek sivers, execution, ideas, ted

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  1. icon
    Marcel de Jong (profile), 10 Apr 2010 @ 3:49am

    Re: Priorities

    not everyone is money hungry or credit hungry.

    This "giving away ideas" idea is not based on personal gain, but rather sharing with others. It doesn't have to be me-me-me-me-me-me-me. How about us-us-us? Sharing with others is what you learn in kindergarten, but sadly seems to get forgotten over the other formative years.

    For instance: I have a good job as a software tester, but that does not mean I have ideas on other issues than that. Do I have to demand payment for my ideas if I tell them to friends who act on them? No. I'm just glad that my idea might get further than just my mind.

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