Dale Knauss in learning 10 minutes

In Defense of Ideas

I have a score to settle.

You may call me a ne’er-do-well, a rabble rouser, or a malcontent. But for too long justice has been subverted and the bourgeoisie has stood in the way of something beautiful.

I speak of course of the poor, misunderstood, and often maligned idea.

“Ideas are worthless, execution is everything.” — Every Author/Blogger

The argument against ideas is varied and I won’t attempt to recreate it perfectly here. The gist of it is that a great founding team coupled with flawless execution, perfect timing, and a whole lot of luck is what it takes to succeed with a startup.

Ideas, the theory goes, aren’t worth a dime. Everyone has them and they won’t get you anywhere on their own. What’s more, most ideas are flat out wrong and will require serious iterations if not total reversals in an attempt to find a business that works.

Compounding the problem, you have self-professed “idea people” who bring little to the table beyond their “world-changing” idea.

The case for ideas

Don’t get me wrong, execution is vital and close to my heart. However, ideas, good and otherwise, are the lifeblood that keeps our wonderful world pulsing with energy and soaring torwards greater heights.

Sure, the founding team is critical and many investors will look past terrible ideas if the team is right. But without faith that a team will eventually produce a great idea, no money would ever change hands.

Absolutely, if you don’t have great timing and a whole lot of luck, you’re dead in the water. Though, that’s the case with or without a great idea so that’s a wash (pun intended).

And you’ll get no argument from me that “idea people” aren’t worth a whole lot once you get going. Fortunately, they’re not the only ones with big dreams.

Ideas are energy in its rawest form. They have the power to captivate us, inspire us, draw others to aid us, and make us do what we thought was impossible.

Every startup, political movement, book, and artistic expression started as a simple idea in someone’s head. Let’s face it, most ideas suck. Many that do work are iterated, subverted, and otherwise altered beyond recognition. However, without that spark of golden light, we’d never have the power to begin on our quest.

Ideas allow us to tell great stories

When the founding fathers of the United States spoke of the idea of freedom (okay, they were really just fed up with taxes but bear with me), they were able to rally many of their fellow countrymen to take up arms and fight. Without the idea of freedom as a rallying cry, how many would have left the comfort of their homes to risk their lives?

The story they spun, with the British as evil tax-hungry (a burdensome two percent in 1775 New England) tea-sipping overlords, was so evocative that it changed the world forever.

So it is with startups.

How do you expect to inspire investors, co-founders, and customers to coalesce around your cause without an idea that gets them excited? Who are the bad guys you are fighting? How will you rally your troops? Are you, wielding your idea aloft like Excaliber, the hero?

A better idea

Instead of pooh-poohing ideas, I say we embrace them.

We acknowledge that they may need to change based upon customer feedback.

We accept that for our idea to grow we must share it openly instead of keeping it to ourselves.

We understand that execution, persistance, and teamwork will bring us across the finishline.

And then we finally give ideas the credit they are due.

We leverage them to build a team of fantastic professionals.

We craft stories around them to engage with, learn from, and excite customers.

We let their vibrancy keep us warm when we feel overwhelmed or discouraged.

And we sit on their shoulders as they elevate us to new heights.