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How Important Is An Idea?

March 13, 2014

Ideas are cheap.

Execution is hard.

I was talking to my friend Howard about the value of ideas.

Don’t you ever worry that someone might steal one of your ideas?

Not at all. People come up to me all the time at conventions and tell me they have a great idea for a story, but they are afraid to tell me because someone might steal the idea. I don’t really want them to tell me because I have my own ideas, more than I can ever draw. But, even if I didn’t, ideas are cheap. It’s going out and executing on that idea that’s hard.

A friend of mine was Stephanie Meyers’ instructor at BYU. Meyers wrote the Twilight series. He tells the story,

Stephanie came to me and said she wanted to be a novelist. I explained that she should work on a story with a young female protagonist. Then have her go to a new location where things are a little different.

I grew up in Forks, WA for a time, maybe my character could go there?

Ok.

And it’s really cloudy in Forks. There could be vampires?

Perfect.

And maybe werewolves?

No, I think that would be too much.

The point is that the Twilight series was not a totally new idea. Sure, Meyers gave it her own spin, but vampires have been around in literature since Brahm Stokers Dracula back in the 19th century. So, it wasn’t the idea, it was the execution.

Now let’s switch to business. There are stories about the timing of requesting patent for the telephone. There were several people working on the telephone or harmonic telegraph as it was called. Bell got his patent application submitted a few hours earlier than Elisa Gray.

While working for Microsoft I had an idea for a way to restructure our team. I shared this idea with a coworker. Mostly I was trying to work out how best to present the idea to management. A week later I was talking to the same coworker.

I had another thought on that restructuring idea.

Yeah, I already asked management.

Asked them what?

Asked them about restructuring the way you suggested. They said no.

I was furious. It was my idea and he’d run to management with it. So, what’s the difference?

I think it has to do with both the nature of the idea and the closeness of those who might co-opt our ideas. When it comes to being creative either as a novelist or a cartoonist, or a musician, ideas are easy.

Write a song about a guy and his pickup truck.

There’s an idea for a country song. It’s been done multiple times in the past couple years. It’s not the idea that separated the successful song writers from the unsuccessful ones. It was the execution.

Other ideas, especially ones that are a discreet concept: building a telephone, suggesting a new team configuration, painting the house purple, those ideas are more prone to being stolen since the execution is inherent in the idea.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

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