Inspiration vs. Perspiration

Last night I ran across an interesting perspective on the value of ideas versus execution.  Here’s what the author, Derek Sivers, says:

Ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.


  • Awful idea = -1
  • Weak idea = 1
  • So-so idea = 5
  • Good idea = 10
  • Great idea = 15
  • Brilliant idea = 20
  • No execution = $1
  • Weak execution = $1000
  • So-so execution = $10,000
  • Good execution = $100,000
  • Great execution = $1,000,000
  • Brilliant execution = $10,000,000  

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

Using this logic, a brilliant idea with so-so execution is worth $200,000, but a so-so idea with brilliant execution is worth $50,000,000 (250X more). 

I generally agree — more value is created by great execution than great ideas.  But I also believe that ideas and execution are not independent concepts — great business ideas are, by definition, easier to execute.  Why?  Here’s a few reasons:

  • Great ideas are usually unique, which means less competition
  • The best ideas are usually simple ones
  • Great ideas are more inspiring and motivating

My point is this:  Part of what makes a great business idea great is that it can be executed in an elegant way.  Ideas that sound great but are impossible to execute or address a non-existent market are just interesting.  The world is littered with interesting ideas that make terrible businesses — I’ve come up with a few myself!  But some ideas are so good that they leave room for error — even if you only get them 80% right you’ve got a nice business on your hands.


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