David On Ideas – Ideas are Almost Worthless

March 30, 2009 - By 

What you should be focusing on instead is Execution and Perseverance

A mediocre idea with fantastic execution and staying power is going to be an awesome success

A fantastic idea with a guy who cant hold a single thought in his head for five minutes and thinks of another great idea is not going to be anything.

– David Heinemeier Hansson

From: The Real World: A video of David’s talk at FOWA Dublin

Posted In:  Inspiration
  • I really feel like these types of absolute claims are counter-productive. Yes, a great idea that isn’t executed will not succeed. But a terrible idea that people execute on won’t succeed either. The fact is you need both a good idea *and*, execution, resilience, adaptability, etc. Even people who are incessantly persistent still fail. So there must be more to it than simply “execution” or “staying power”. An analogy might be the difference between greedy algorithms, dynamic programming, and approximation algorithms: which one is right depends on the context. There’s no one magic bullet. Same goes for success.

    Paul Graham writes extensively about this type of issue, as he runs a venture capital firm and made tons of money on a startup in the ’90s. For instance this article about being relentlessly resourceful; or this one that recognizes there are _many_ factors in success or failure.

  • oohhh crap, I’m one of those !!!
    trying to work on it, but god that’s not easy !

  • Yeah, It’s hard to stick with something after you’ve been working on it for a while. You have to remember it’s still new to everyone else even if it’s old to you.

    Great words though

  • I disagree with that statement. example, ever see the movie breaking the waves by lars von trier? (or even dogville) it’s shot with a DV camera with only available light and location sound. hardly hollywood execution by any means yet it’s such a powerful and moving film because the ideas and meaning are so good. ideas/concepts trump execution any day in my opinion.

  • What silly thing to say.
    Execution means something of course, but why on earth must they be mutually exclusive? That statement is like saying you’re proud of being ignorant or something. You can be a good person and be intelligent and you can have GOOD ideas and execute them well. That’s what one should shoot for. Staying power comes from good ideas well executed (Michael Bay aside).

  • 37Signals and their founders can be polarizing of course, but that is where their power and motivation come from isn’t it? Of course there are exceptions, but what’s the use in stating exceptions when we are trying to motivate people to get off their ass and DO what they are thinking instead of just patting themselves on the back for having a great idea.

    Reminds me of a segment from 37Signals’ own “Getting Real” book that says “If our tone seems too know-it-allish, bear with us. We think it’s better to present ideas in bold strokes than to be wishy-washy about it. If that comes off as cocky or arrogant, so be it. We’d rather be provocative than water everything down with “it depends…” Of course there will be times when these rules need to be stretched or broken. And some of these tactics may not apply to your situation. Use your judgement and imagination.”

  • Not sure if that’s what he meant Jim, sounds like the makers of those movies are actually aligned with 37Signals’ “Just Do It” attitude. They got cheap cameras and made their movie despite not having any funding. I would say the quote is geared toward people with that DON’T try to turn their ideas into reality. Sounds like the film makers did just that.

  • Okay guys calm down. The quote is meant to be INSPIRING. If it doesn’t inspire you then it’s not geared toward you. People work in different ways and for some, those words may be just what they need to start moving on a project that they have been putting on for a while. I know plenty of people that could benefit hugely by taking these words into consideration, myself included.

  • I know a guy like that.

  • Okay, well if that’s the stance–to be provocative in order to provoke people to do something–then I think one needs more than clearly incorrect self-help one-liners to be motivated. If a person isn’t already either 1) aware that in order to succeed they can’t sit on their asses doing nothing, or 2) doesn’t understand the not-so-subtle fact that “Perseverance” isn’t all there is to success, then I suspect they won’t magically turn their lives around and say, “Hey! You’re right! Now that I heard that, I’m going to drastically change the way I’ve lived my life the past 25 years!”

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