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The thinker/doer problem goes way back. In most organizations the person who thinks of something gets the lion's share of the credit, and the person who implements it does the lion's share of the work. And if it turns out to be a bad idea, the thinker can always blame a bad implementation, thereby passing the lion's share of the blame to the doer.

I've seen careers made and broken based on whether people got to play thinker or doer.

This makes rewards for thinking very lopsided. However the problem is that actual credit for success REALLY belongs with the people who did the work.

This problem shows up at every scale in every organization. For example there are hundred people who want to be the business side of a startup for every person who wants to build the tech. Why? The business person gets to be the thinker, the developer does the work. And then the business person expects to become the CEO and get the bulk of the payout!




But you can't say that the doer always deserves the credit either. Sometimes the idea is the hard part. Similar for blame. It doesn't work to make generalizations. You have to make a judgment call every time, and usually the answer will be a complicated mixture.


And I didn't say that the doer always deserves the credit. As an example, who deserves more credit for the success of Apple, Steve Wozniak or Steve Jobs? Wozniak created the Apple I and most of the Apple II. But clearly Jobs' ideas built the current company.

However these cases are the exception, not the rule. As a rule ideas are cheap, implementations are hard. And success has more to do with iterating on the implementation than the starting ideas.


The Jobs/Wozniak example is a great one. I might suggest that Wozniak's execution created the company, and Jobs' vision transformed the company into what it is today.

But that transformation involved nearly destroying the company first, getting himself ousted. Then recreating MacOS as a UNIX platform for a market that did not want it, only to be finally integrated by the dying Apple as a Hail Mary play by both Jobs' and Apple.

Jobs' get a lot of credit for the vision, and even the execution. But it could have turned out lots of different ways. If Pixar had not been successful (in no small part because of Jobs dumping millions and millions of his own money into it), one could imagine NeXT not being bought by Apple.


  > However the problem is that actual credit for
  > success REALLY belongs with the
  > people who did the work.

  > And I didn't say that the doer always
  > deserves the credit.
You kind of did.


No, I really didn't. Coming up with ideas, then iterating on them, is itself a form of work. And when done well, it is a more productive form of work than figuring out technical challenges.

Take my Steve Jobs example. Do you really think that he didn't work hard?


"Ideas" alone are almost never worth anything. You have to do the work to back it up. Everyone I know has about a dozen ideas (you hear them all the time as someone who makes ideas real).

What matters is the technical skill to make the idea go from a fantasy to a reality semi-reminiscent of the idealized fantastic version, whether that skill is in business, accounting, programming, marketing, or whatever.


Yes, I've heard the "ideas are worthless" meme, I just don't entirely believe it. Ideas are easier to have, so a bigger fraction of them are worthless, but that's not actually a good measure of the "relative worth" of ideas and implementations, precisely because the mechanics of producing them is different. Good ideas, e.g. actual market opportunities, problem-solving breakthroughs, are rare and valuable. Insight is valuable.

You can execute as hard as you want, but if you're headed in the wrong direction, the only good thing that's going to happen is that you're going to learn when ideas really are important.


Sure, an unrealised idea is next to worthless.

The real pain is making a decision and expending resources on your challenging/risky idea. There's very little appetite for the responsibility and risk that come with big ideas (in a BigCo).

Got the ability to think up new ideas, sell them within an organisation, and get them executed (hello 'doer') in a way that provides value to that organisation? You're gold, and worth way more than the 'doer'.


>Got the ability to think up new ideas, sell them within an organisation, and get them executed (hello 'doer') in a way that provides value to that organisation?

No one can "have" this ability because it's transient. Unless you control the entire corporation (in which case you don't need to influence anyone else anyway), there is always someone who can come in and break your previously-perfect ability to "sell" your ideas inside the org. You're claiming that artful politicians (or, more blatantly, "good bullshit artists") are more valuable than skilled engineers. I don't believe that.


Eh, this is true of start up business ideas, but not necessarily true in an enterprise that has hired a bunch of doers. Vision is rare and important.


I actually don't really agree. From all the medium-large sized business I've been on the inside of, as both a consultant and employee, it seems that a lot of people have a lot of pretty OK ideas about how to fix things within the org and where to take the products. In general, excluding a few noobs and whack-jobs, these ideas seem to be about as viable and plausible as the ideas that actually do get pushed down.

The valuable thing in a big company isn't the idea; it's the way the idea is executed. You'd be amazed what kind of nonsensical ideas will work if your team gets it just right.




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