Ideas Are Cheap

by Mr. Cheap

Occasionally you come across an article that gives you an epiphany and shifts your view of the world. One such article for me was Tom Sloper’s excellent #1 lesson for aspiring game designers. While its interesting in and of itself (assuming that you’re interested in video games), I think the core idea extends to most areas of life.

It is: “Ideas are worthless, it’s implementation that has value”.

This flies in the face of a lot of deeply held beliefs many people have. I knew one man who spent his life coming up with ideas for inventions and trying to sell them to companies. He was retired and broke (late in life he finally tried to finance one of his ideas himself and lost his house). He was convinced that a clever idea pitched to the right person would make him rich.

The Google guys originally made the rounds trying to sell their PageRank approach to various companies for $1 million. They were turned away, and eventually decided to just do it themselves. The idea wasn’t worth $1 million, but the company they’ve built is worth over 100 billion.

The argument could be made that the value of their idea was unknown when they were pitching it, and that its worth more now that its been proven to be a better approach. I’m sympathetic to that view, but I really feel there’s more to it than that. You can read their original paper on PageRank and implement it yourself if you want, but your new search engine certainly isn’t going to be worth billions.

I think there’s an abundance of good ideas in the world. The easiest part of creating anything new is to think of an idea that would be an improvement on what is currently in existence. I think just about anyone can do this easily. The hard part is making that idea happen, and dealing with the hundreds or thousands of obstacles that stand in your path. This takes resources (including your time), in a way which brainstorming doesn’t, and makes it inherently more valuable.

In his article, Tom cites the example of a friend of Dune author Frank Herbert who suggested to the author that he tell him a great idea for a novel, Herbert write it, and they split the profits 50/50. Herbert refused, saying that writing is the hard part. Similarly, Craigslist is FULL of people trying to find a programmer to implement their “revolutionary idea for a website”. They offer to give the person who does all the work building it a share of the resulting site. How nice! I foolishly met with some of these wannabes in my younger days, and not only did they expect me to do all the work, their ideas were pretty lame (“its like MySpace, but cooler!”). Ideas for websites are the easy part, BUILDING them is hard!

I have over 20 ideas for innovative businesses that I think all could work. Implementing any one of these ideas (or even building something that wasn’t original, like starting a Subway franchise) would be FAR, FAR more valuable that a “portfolio” of ideas that never go anywhere. I’ve actually been tempted to start a series of posts detailing my ideas just in the hope that someone likes one and implements it: these ideas have so little value that I’m happy to give them away.

Starting a business is REALLY hard, which why I just yak about ideas instead…

Be Sociable, Share!