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The Value of Ideas (dilbert.com)
285 points by alexandros on June 4, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 98 comments

This post is just plain wrong. Obviously it's tempting to get caught up in ideas and ignore execution, but saying ideas are flat-out worthless is simply being ignorant of history. A few examples:

- Creating an assembly line to mass produce cars in the early 1900s was a good idea. It clearly wouldn't have gone anywhere without execution, but if Henry Ford had instead decided to execute flawlessly on a hand-painted rock business the results would have been far different.

- Starting a software-only company in the late 70s was a good idea. I'm sure most people here know Microsoft's story well enough to understand the importance of execution in this case, but they never would have achieved the same level of success if they weren't executing on a big idea ("a computer on every desk and in every home").

- I think you could argue that the company that makes Snuggies has executed their idea as well as possible. But because of the nature of their idea they will never be anything more than a flash-in-the-pan business. There's nothing wrong with that type of business, but the potential is much smaller.

Yes, your idea matters. It determines what market you'll be addressing and ultimately sets the upper limit for your success. The real problem is that people get caught up in ideas because they're more fun than executing. Realistically the time spent on the idea should probably be a fraction of a percent of the time spent on execution. Pick an idea that you think you can execute on and that has large enough potential, then focus 100% on execution.

He isn't saying ALL ideas have equal potential for success. He is saying the value of most ideas is $0.00. To use your example, part of Henry Ford's success was the $5 work day. He was not the first person to think that increased pay would decrease turnover. He also did not invent the assembly line. The intrinsic value those ideas is nothing, but using the ideas he created value.


None of your examples detracts from what he is saying. Your suggestion comes down to level of success. Your examples only work if Henry Ford would be considered a failure if painted rocks didn't lead to as much success as cars did, despite the evidence that rocks, painted and unpainted, are still a market.

He concludes his post by saying:

Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.

The only way that's true is if you consider success to be binary. Either you succeed or you fail. But level of success is important in terms of economic value and it is demonstrable that the idea is a factor in level of success.

Hyperbole is a literary tool to emphasize a point and should be put in context knowing this.

And also to execute you need to have an idea. Idea and execution are not independent. Idea has value by definition because it is the starting point.

Funny you should mention hand-painted rock business as a counter-example. I presume you haven't heard of the massive success of Pet Rocks? Basically the story I was told was that Gary Dahl had a bet with a few friends that he could sell any product, no matter how stupid or useless, with the right packaging and marketing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pet_Rock

It's still a much more limited business than the one Ford did create. Fifty years from now, the pet rock will be forgotten but Ford's assembly line will still be well known.

But in one thousand years from now, when we're all teleporting, no one will have cars anymore, but I'll bet you will be able to find painted rocks. :-)

This is a fantastic post by Scott.

I think the great idea fallacy continues because it appeals to people's fantasy of becoming successful without much work.

Anyone can imagine themselves having a great idea and then being successful. It's a lot harder (and less pleasant) to imagine taking an unremarkable idea and spending years of hard work to make it succeed.

One of my faverate series was actually generated based on the idea you can make an interesting story from the worst idea.

B & G: The bet was actually centered around writing craft discussions being held on the then-new Del Rey Online Writers’ Workshop, I believe. The issue at hand was central story concepts. One side of the argument claimed that a good enough central premise would make a great book, even if you were a lousy writer. The other side contended that the central concept was far less important than the execution of the story, and that the most overused central concept in the world could have life breathed into by a skilled writer.

It raged back and forth in an ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FLAMEWAR between a bunch of unpublished writers, and finally some guy dared me to put my money where my mouth was, by letting him give me a cheesy central story concept, which I would then use in an original novel.

Me being an arrogant kid, I wrote him back saying, “Why don’t you give me TWO terrible ideas for a story, and I’ll use them BOTH.”

The core ideas he gave me were Lost Roman Legion and Pokémon… Thus was Alera formed. http://www.fantasyliterature.com/author-interviews/jim-butch...

The whole concept of the "great idea" is skewered brilliantly by the Windows 7 ads. We all get a good chuckle watching someone tell us straight faced that, just because they thought of something that could have been better about Windows, they can now take credit for it after Microsoft successfully implemented it in Windows 7.

Could be useful as a reference the next time someone has a business idea that he "just needs a tech guy to implement."

It looks like their agency is still Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. For reference, here's some of their other work:

Laptop Hunters - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIS6G-HvnkU

Gates/Seinfeld - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFE3XiAxDjA&feature=relat...

Good News (Kylie) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ssOq02DTTMU

Seems like a strange way to advertise.

CP+B also did the famous (and awesome) Burger King Get a Whopper for defriending friends campaign.

I just saw that they also did the BK Freakout, where they pretend the Whopper is discontinued and watch people go nuts. Talk about customer loyalty.


I think part of it is due to academia. In computer science classes a lot of questions have a "best" answer. In the real world customers don't buy software because the architecture started with the "best" ideas. They buy software because it fits their need. The best idea could contribute a superior customer experience but it is peripheral to what it takes to be successful.

"I think part of it is due to academia. In computer science classes a lot of questions have a "best" answer."

Only if your conception of "academia" doesn't extend beyond first-year undergraduate coursework. Real academia is entirely about tackling questions for which answers are unavailable or incomplete, and finding better answers. Intellectual astronauts don't make it out of grad school, because they don't publish papers (for that matter, they tend to barely make it out of undergrad, because they're the guys most likely to be complaining about "jumping through pointless hoops").

Academics also tend to love to talk about their ideas with other people, and aren't very secretive (with the exception of their closest competitors, perhaps). My first real intro to the attitude that ideas are inherently valuable was when I moved into the tech world. If I had a nickel for every goofy entrepreneur I've met who is in "stealth mode"...well, I'd make more money than I did in academia.

Clearly I was not talking about Research at academic institutions. I'm sure your research is valuable.

What a curious post. Pure mathematics is nothing but ideas - often very deep ones that very few people are capable of originating. If you take Adams literally, then mathematics is worthless. Is the idea of the Ricci flow, which Perelman used to prove the Poincare conjecture, really useless?

The problem Adams is addressing, so far as I can see, is that many people think trivial, easy-to-have ideas are somehow valuable. Of course, that's false, as Adams says. Value is associated to scarcity. Easy-to-have ideas aren't valuable, simply because they're not scarce. An idea like the Ricci flow is valuable, because very few people are capable of having it.

Ditto the ideas behind deep algorithms. PageRank had value in large part because relatively few people had the depth of insight required to come up with it.

Come to think of it, the Turing machine was an idea that Turing invented to formalize Hilbert's intuitive notion of an effective computation. And I think that idea turned out to have some value.

That’s an absurd comparison. Generating mathematical conjectures and then proving them takes decades of preparation and careful study and analysis of a difficult problem. Generating a movie plot idea at the level Adams is talking about takes, with no preparation, a few minutes and a dinner napkin.

The equivalent kind of “idea” in mathematics might be “I’m going to understand and model heat dispersion in a block of metal”, with the “execution” being developing the underlying machinery (partial differential equations) gathering enough data, and building a model (the heat equation) that fits the data and can be used to compute practical approximations. The “idea” part can be done by anyone; the execution is made up of decades of hard work and hard thought by several of the world’s most famous mathematicians, building on centuries of previous effort.

I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the idea for Ricci flow or PageRank was generated with a dinner napkin. Quite literally, I once used a napkin to explain the Ricci flow to a mathematician, and I've seen dozens of papers start that way, including a few of my own. Such ideas gain value from their scarcity, not from some immense complexity.

Okay, but you wouldn’t come up with PageRank until you’d thought about searching and sorting big quantities of data for some time. If you were just trying to sort 10 numbers, you wouldn’t come up with PageRank. It took a “search the whole web” scale problem for the ideas about how to accomplish it to start bubbling up to the surface. (Probably a bit of an oversimplification, but you get the idea.)

Ricci flow isn’t even meaningful until you’ve developed up differential geometry – not exactly an afternoon stroll for a layman.

I completely agree. My original point was that valuable ideas are very difficult to have, and thus scarce. That's why Ricci flow and PageRank are valuable, while "let's build a social network to do X", for some choice of X, is not. Difficult-to-have and can-write-on-a-napkin are not mutually exclusive, of course!

You’re right. The difference is just one of definitions. What you call “valuable ideas” are what I call “solutions to really hard problems, developed after years, decades, or sometimes centuries of dedicated work.” What Adams calls “ideas” (e.g. for movie plots) are a completely different animal.

I'm shooting from the hip here, but I think maybe there's a distinction to be made between ideas for a product and ideas as a product. The end result of the ideas of mathematicians is mathematics itself - furthering mathematics was the goal all along. Obviously ideas count when you're working within the realm of ideas alone. However, when the ideas are a means to an end (e.g., a movie, say), the implementation is what counts. You might have the world's greatest screenplay in your desk, but if you haven't gotten to the execution stage, what kind of movie do you have? (None.) Whereas if you'd started with something, anything, like walking trees fighting hobgoblins, say, or the idea that maybe humans are just batteries for supercomputers in the future, your movie might have a chance, depending on its execution.

You make fine points and I agree.

But if I may, it can be expanded on. In mathematics, a theorem is an idea combined with proof. In short, the idea is combined with the knowledge that it is a true and accurate fact (at least within the domain you are working in. Things are true in C that are not true in R), along with some idea why it is true emboddied in the proof. It is this combination of the idea with knowledge it is right that makes it valuable.

To be slightly more concrete, the idea that P = NP is not overly valuable. It is not yet proven either way and it could be true or false. A full proof would be tremendously valuable, and very surprising to many who are very confident P != NP. Creating a proper proof seems much more akin to writing the novel than it is to having the idea for the novel.

Sure, in a way, but, at what point do we say the idea has value? PageRank didn't seem particularly valuable until the Google folks built something "useful" out of it. I can imagine that someone who could envision its use (or, more esoterically, someone with lots of money who likes collecting things) might have bought the idea itself, and while the idea itself has intrinsic intellectual value, it is of no good [to society as a whole, or to those who do not enjoy understanding the idea for its own sake] nor of any profit just sitting there as an idea, or as a research paper.

Companies spend money regularly to license patents... to pay to use ideas. But what company would find value in simply licensing the patent just to enjoy it? The value is found in licensing the patent and using the idea to create something with it.

At the very least, there is more than one kind of "value".

Respectfully (very respectfully, because your book still haunts my shelf like a specter of how little I understood what was happening to my brain when I took Quantum Computation...) I disagree. At least in part.

The ideas you point out are not at all easy to have in the first place, they also, I think, required proper execution to bring them to fruition.

Now, Adams is speaking much more to, I think, artistic creativity than mathematical creativity, but that first blush of an idea which starts with "What if I..." is the same and requires a carefully executed (but wildly different) follow through.

Imagine the scenario where some guy, say Joe, said to Turing, "What if a machine did it?" to which Alan goes through the effort of building the formalization of the machine. But Joe comes back to say "Well, that was my idea."

To come back to my partial agreement. In retrospect, people looking back and may tend to think "well I could have thought of that." And yet the necessary background to effectively wade through the ideas that rage through ones head as he thinks about a problem is non-trivial.

Perhaps that's true of either process. When a writer takes what appears to be a really lame idea and says "I can make that work" he or she has probably already, automatically, in the back of his or her head taken a few steps imagining how it would execute.

I'd say yeah - without the proof of the Poincaré conjecture (execution), the idea of the Ricci flow is an amusing conceit.

And worthless beyond that.

Even though such ideas are rare, its difficult to measure their value meaningfully until something is done with them. You use the proof of the Poincare conjecture to demonstrate that Ricci flow has value for instance, but without such derivative work can you convince others that it has value?

"Pure" mathematics sometimes has applications as well - number theory and cryptography, boolean algebra and circuits, etc. I do not think that Adams would argue that pure math is worthless, rather that it has applications that haven't shown how valuable it is or is not. Value is associated with utility as well. If Markov chains didn't help us describe things well, despite it seemingly being difficult to come up with, it would have little value. However, anything that stretches the limits of human understanding has value in that it increases our capacity reason and shows paths that do not bear much fruit.

Interesting. An idea must still have some sort of execution, no? In mathematics, I would have thought that proof is the execution of a purely mathematical idea. Obviously, I do agree with you that some ideas are precious (to take a non-mathematical example, the idea of Freedom).

Adams seems to have only had utilitarian ideas in mind. His post didn't strike me as curious, however. I did not expect him to discuss pure mathematics.

You bring up an interesting topic. Is the idea of Freedom valuable with no execution?

Freedom itself is almost priceless. I am well aware that the freedoms I enjoy now was bought with the blood of many who went before me. But that was the very costly execution that made freedom a reality. Is the idea, without tht execution to create freedome itself, of great value?

I believe it has great value if it inspires people to execute it.

Good point. With that said, the main value lies in having it and thus in the execution. The value of the idea itself without execution is only in inspiring people towards execution.

Reminds me of Ed Catmull's talk about Pixar management at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k2h2lvhzMDc#t=21m50s -- "If you have a good idea and you give it to a mediocre group, they'll screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a good group, they'll fix it, or they'll throw it away and come up with something else."

I'm not convinced that the idea/execution dichotomy works. Consider the steam engine of Thomas Newcomen. We may say that it was a triumph of execution. The earlier Savery engine failed commercially because it used steam pressure and early boilers and pipe work could not contain it. The idea of using atmospheric pressure to do work and leaving the steam circuit unpressurised was the key idea in the Newcomen or Atmospheric Engine. Since this idea was due to Denis Papin, who failed to exploit it, we may say that the idea was worthless and Thomas Newcomen's success was due to good execution of Papin's idea.

Here is a second idea which fills out the rest of this paragraph. In 1712 high pressure steam was one hundred years ahead of its time. Pipes would leak, boilers would burst. Papin's idea of using unpressurised steam, condensing it, and letting atmospheric pressure do the work is obviously stupid, but if you don't want to wait 100 years, it is the only option, so just persevere and make it work.

This is idea is the ignition key of the industrial revolution. We cannot ignore it, and yet it sits in the middle of the gray area between /idea/ and /execution/, mocking the dichotomy that Scott Adams blogs about.

"You can only hold the opinion that a particular movie concept is a good or bad idea if you don't understand what a movie is or what an idea is."

This is ridiculous. Does he honestly believe that a movie about me eating a bowl of shredded wheat in a dimly lit room has the same probability of succeeding as a movie about Batman? Why do some movies get made and others not if it is meaningless talk about the worth of an idea? Are studio executives using some random process to determine which movies get made? Do they have no idea what a movie or an idea is?

Clearly it is meaningful to talk about the quality of ideas, and right now there is nothing else to talk about with regard to a Dilbert movie.

He has a valid point that the quality of the idea is a marginal factor in the success of any endeavor, but he generalizes it to the point of absurdity when he claims you can't discuss the quality of an idea. This sort of careless generalization seems typical of his blog posts that make it to hn, but I suppose thats why he is drawing cartoons and not proving theorems.

"Does he honestly believe that a movie about Batman eating a bowl of shredded wheat in a dimly lit room has the same probability of succeeding as a movie about me?"

You're confusing execution with the idea. The idea of you sitting around eating a bowl of cereal might seem boring, until you look at other ideas.

An author sitting around a hotel in the middle of winter. (The Shining) A mother and son sitting in a car. (Cujo) Office workers dealing with life. (Office Space) A man trying to get a rug. (The Big Lebowski)

The idea (A Dilbert movie) isn't the execution. It's merely the idea. A movie about you doesn't have to be boring. But the execution of it could result in a boring movie.

The problem with ideas is people always refer to the idea as bad, yet point to perceived execution as the reason. Just because an idea is good doesn't mean it's going to be a good movie.

A good idea for a movie doesn't mean it's a good movie. A bad idea for a movie doesn't mean it's a bad idea.

I think Hogan's Heroes is an excellent example. Really, a comedy about POWs in WW2? Really?

"A good idea for a movie doesn't mean it's a good movie. A bad idea for a movie doesn't mean it's a bad idea."

This is exactly what I meant when I said that the quality of an idea is a marginal factor in the success of an endeavor. I fully agree that execution should be the main focus.

What I was trying to say is that not all ideas are equal. You can always make a worse movie with a better idea, or vice versa, but some ideas are easier to pull off than others. Given the exact same level of execution, "Batman fights the Joker" will beat "Random nobody in Nebraska sits in the dark eating cereal" every single time.

If all ideas are of equal quality, why would Hogan's Heroes be an excellent example? Wouldn't all examples then be equally good or bad?

Hogan's Heroes is an excellent example precisely because the idea is harder to pull off than other ideas. If you gave Hogan's Heroes and American Idol each to 100 teams to turn into a show, I believe American Idol would become a hit with greater frequency than Hogan's Heroes.

I know "12 Angry Men" that might beg to differ about people just sitting around making a great film.

Regarding Hogan's Heroes -- some ideas might require better execution to succeed. Tablet computers, which have been around for a while, seem like a good example of this. Or a social networking site, or a stock trading algorithm, etc.

One of Warhol's films was a guy eating an apple and talking on the phone...


Saying ideas are "worthless" is a hyperbolic way to put things. Why can't people say "an idea's relative importance is not as big as many people think."

I think Derek Sivers puts it nicely, it is a multiplier (but yes you need to execute in the first place): http://sivers.org/multiply

Yes, provocative illustration, but very entertaining, I admit. The magic trick was to reduce every idea to one word or one sentence. Can be used to make any movie plot sound weird.

Some ideas are easier to execute than others. It is certainly possible to create an award-winning movie about two gay cowboys, but I bet there are far fewer writers/directors who could pull it off than those who could produce yet another successful romantic comedy.

So if your one goal is to make a successful movie, your chances of success are probably better if you choose to do a romantic comedy rather than a movie about two gay cowboys. Unless, of course, you are confident in your ability to make an amazing gay cowboy movie, in which case you should do it.

In other words, execution is everything, but that doesn't mean you should ignore ideas when deciding what to do.

This seems like a false dichotomy, yet one that's argued all the time. The actual argument seems to be about the definition of the word "idea".

Maybe the word "Titanic" is a bad idea for a movie. It's not even really an idea at all. The actual idea for "Titanic" was a very high-budget, ominous, cross-cultural love story with great special effects set on a famous ship. But at what point are we talking about execution? Execution is itself a series of good ideas to materialize a concept, right?

What's certainly true is that "A Dilbert movie" is not a sufficiently developed idea for anyone to say whether it's good or not. Of course, the role of cultural critics is not to elucidate uncertainty but to make strong statements that others will read and argue about.

Seems like an over-simplification to me. An idea without execution is worthless. But execution without an idea is pretty worthless too.

Even if I mastered execution, I couldn't sell a product that costs you $100 and punched you in the face every time you used it, because it's a shitty idea.

Of course you could. The target market would be masochists and they spend money on those kind of products/services already.

boxing trainer, boom.

I tried to come up with one myself (shitty idea) and thought I had one with "beer that tastes like urine", but then I realized that such a product could conceivably find a market with alcoholics trying to condition themselves against drinking.

So yes, even Miller and Coors still have a market (sorry, home-brewer joke).

"I tried to think of a shitty idea with no potential market, and came up with 'beer that tastes like urine.' Then I realized Miller and Coors beat me to it."

(trying to show the importance of the execution of an idea)

Okay, how about clothing that melts away when it gets wet? Got anything there?

Sounds like something you would go to your local "sensual items" shop for, and given Rule 34, it likely already exists. Certainly some candied versions do.

If it's a lot cheaper than regular clothes, make it fashionable/slutty and call it disposable club-wear.

This reminds me of this post from Derek Sivers: http://sivers.org/multiply

Only if master executors were dumbos. As someone pointed out above, good executors fix mediocre ideas.

Agree. Different ideas have different execution and value potential: for example an idea to dig a cubic foot hole in the ground in the middle of nowhere has a different potential than an idea about how to solve the financial crisis.

Gifts for people you don't like?

A slight nitpick: Hogan's Heroes was about a prison camp for Allied POWs - not a concentration camp.

"For example, here's the world's worst idea for a movie: Titanic."

Hmm, expect that doesn't strike me as an idea for a movie so much as an idea for an idea for a movie.

An idea may be worthless if it is little more than a potential trigger word or some vague imagery. It can be valuable if it in turn prompts a better, more substantial idea.

It seems that when people say that execution is everything, part of "execution" is to first take a vague, ill-defined, near-meaningless idea and turn it into a well-formed, full-bodied idea.

This is a Hollywood/James Cameron extravaganza--the mediocre love story and CGI are just assumed. "Titanic" is, in fact, the complete and full idea behind that movie.

Michael Bay tried the same thing with Pearl Harbor, but his execution was very sub-Cameron. Also, there's nothing romantic about the Japanese bombing a fleet in port. The Titanic is probably the best disaster you could do this with. There's still the Hindenberg, but the target audience for these types of movies would get distracted and confused by all the swastikas. So "Titanic" wasn't that bad an idea after all.

An idea that's the right goal or vision for me probably wont be the right one for you. What makes an idea good for me is who I am. Pursuing a great idea for making a better stove is probably not the right goal for me. But it was for Fred Carl, who founded Viking Range.

Dreams, visions, goals are specific to the right people.

Here's the world's worst opinion on movie making: here's the world's worst idea for a movie: Titanic.

Can anybody name even a single, solitary reason--even one--why the story of the Titanic could be considered anything other than a fantastic idea for a movie? The only thing I can come up with is "It's been done (successfully) too many times already", but that actually disproves the general assertion. I mean--it's up there with WWII and James Bond as far as great movie ideas go, and yet, he says "worst"? Bizarre.

Show business, being primarily driven by the profit motive, tends to focus on ideas to which an audience can relate and enjoy. The story of the RMS Titanic, being one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history, is generally antagonistic toward these ends because most (not all) people don't like thinking about the possibility of dying on an ocean-liner and do not enjoy watching it happen to others.

It should be clear how these two are in opposition. For this reason alone, conventional thinking would call a movie about the Titanic a "bad idea."

The movie worked, though, and made a billion dollars because the director executed it in such a way that it actually wasn't about a sinking ship and people drowning, it was about something else. And this other thing (call it the human spirit or what-have-you), overcomes the tragedy of the situation to make it something the movie-going audience could relate to and enjoy.

From a more technical perspective, the Titanic story could be considered a "bad idea" because, on the surface, the plot should hold no surprises to anyone: boat sets sail, boat hits iceberg, boat sinks, passengers are drowned.

The remarkable thing about the Titanic film is that EVERYONE knows how it's going to end, even before they sit down to watch it. This, according to conventional wisdom, would be a bad idea as far as show business is concerned. Who wants to see a movie like that? Yet audiences returned to theaters multiple times. It is a credit to Cameron's direction that the film could overcome such a large, inherent obstacle in the Titanic storyline.

The "conventional thinking" already produced numerous successful titanic movies, so I'm not sure what you're getting at. They were successful without Cameron's various flourishes, but that's aside the point anyway.

EVERYONE knows how it's going to end,

Just as with every movie based on any war, any book, any real-life story, any standard hero/villain setup, etc. In ancient Greek drama, almost every play was based on well-known stories. So, the audience knowing "how it's going to end" has been conventional for several thousand years, at least.

one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history,

Replace "disaster" with the word "tragedy" and I think you can see how the titanic, again, fits in perfectly with conventional, time-tested, subject matter for dramatization. Maybe I'm missing your point, but many, many, many movies are based on bad things happening to people. The worse, the better, in fact.

Cameron's warping it into a chick flick has nothing to do with Adam's assertion. It's not a question of 1000 million vs. 100 million in revenues.

I think it's good too. Consider other tragedies:

-Losing battles: Tricky to pull off. Michael Bay flubbed Pearl Harbor's execution, but being the victim of the Japanese doesn't match up to being the victim of hubris and ill-fated love. Losing a fight might work if it's Legendary Fight For Good Against Evil, like the (legendary) Alamo, but show me an Alamo movie that caught on as much as Titanic. If you want to see a battle, you want to see the good guys win. That's the instinctive human reaction to seeing people fight.

-The Hindenburg. Too many swastikas--the audience will get distracted and want the damn zeppelin to burn just because it has Nazi livery. Seriously, the Hindenburg would make an even better Titanic (you have the romantic lost era of zeppelins) if it wasn't for the fucking swastikas on the tailfins.

I loved the movie but I'll take a shot. Some possible reasons:

1. A story about a sinking ship could be a rather bleak, depressing watch. 2. So, the maiden voyage of a ship turned out bad because it hit an iceberg. There was no war element, nothing. Have ships sunk due to icebergs before? Sure. 3. A movie about Titanic could be a better candidate for a documentary, not a hollywood drama.

I could pass.

It was James Cameron's execution (including the Jack/Rose love angle, the human emotion, the SFX) that made the movie into the gigantic hit it turned out to become. The idea was alright, at best.

It's a romance story where everyone dies at the end.

What's the target demographic? Guys? No, too much romance. Girls? No, too SFX heavy and everyone dies.

Don't say James Cameron can't play to a crowd.

  It's a romance story where everyone dies at the end.
People seem to think "Romeo and Juliet" was pretty good.

"Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything." I don't agree with the first part.

Are you guys suggesting execution is mechanical? A good execution requires a lot of ingenuity and creativity and taste. So there again, good ideas are crucial.

Perhaps the correct phrasing is "Ideas without execution are worthless." Ingenuity, creativity, and taste locked up in your own head and not executed are worth nothing to the world around you.

A lot of first-time entrepreneurs (me included) make the mistake of believing that the right idea is paramount for success. As Adams points out that's not true. It's getting old but it's still the truth: Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything

I might be a rampant first-time entrepreneur wannabe, but I still believe ideas have a little value. I'd rather say: Bad ideas are worthless, great execution makes the difference.

I feel the author did not do a good job in defending the thesis of "Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything."

I do agree that relying on the first aha-moment,however grand it may be, to carry the entire weight of success is a bad investment. Similarly to throw away an insight without analyzing it is equally foolish. Of course, you can never predict if an idea will derive its entire value when thrown and mingled with other external factors. However that doesn't mean that the idea itself plays a small role in the success of any endeavor. Every execution step that the author talks about requires coming up or at least using the so called ideas. You need creative insights in every step of your project. This will require the same amount of diligence in defining the purpose, testing the hypothesis and maybe even jumping that leap of faith. The author needs to clear the distinction between a conceptual idea and the execution of it.

Lastly, he has to mention the metric required to judge the success of an idea. Since he envelopes every single Idea into one set, he has to have a parameter to at least attest the value of them. I personally feel ideas as diverse as Darwin's idea of evolution to an entrepreneur's idea of a company to an artist's idea of an art cannot be lumped into one category.

I do agree with the author that ideas when defined without any context or in isolation cannot be judged. But none of the arguments that he makes truly discounts the worth of it.

Scott completely misses this important fact:

Some ideas (really collections of ideas) are easier to execute in one medium than another.

Rather than some larger commentary on ideas versus execution the complaint that "X wouldn't make a good movie" is usually meant in the sense that the things that made X good in medium A would not translate well to medium B, where B==film.

For instance I think it's perfectly fair to say that it's not a good idea to make Lord of the Rings into a musical.

You may counter that the execution is everything, but I'd respond that if you made a good musical out of the material, it wouldn't be LotR -- it would be some vaguely related thing. It would necessarily lose some of the things that make LotR great.

While I greatly admire Ed Catmull and his insights into teams, I don't think his "good team will fix bad idea" comment is relevant here. Part of implementation is choosing your implementation medium. Pre-specifying the medium (i.e. let's make X into a film) is an implementation decision.

It would be analogous to a startup saying "let's take this great system and re-implement it, but it has to use technologies UVW". That's an implementation decision that may be badly flawed.

  You'd be hard pressed to come up with an idea so bad that
  it couldn't succeed with the right execution. And it would
  be even harder to imagine a great idea that couldn't fail
  if the execution were left to morons.
  Ideas are worthless. Execution is everything.
Words to live by. I often have to re-evaluate my own thinking because I tend to fall into the trap of waiting for a better idea.

Theodore Rubin, in "Overcoming Indecisiveness" wrote:

"The Big Fact is this: In very few instances is one decision actually better than another.

"In the majority of issues, almost any choice can be converted into a constructive decision."

His point is not to waste time and energy dithering - it is the commitment to making a decision work that is most important. Just substitute "idea" for "choice".

I'm reminded of the common argument that some proposed solution "works in theory", if only the practice could be sorted out. But the concept of things working or not working in theory is meaningless - whether something works or not is inherently a question of practice. Outside of execution, there is no way to assign value to a theoretical model.

Is Hamlet an idea? It has certainly been executed famously in a number of different ways. Does a play not exist until it's produced?

What's the idea behind the Mona Lisa?

Of course, there's that whole sticky wicket of Platonic forms , in which the object (the execution of the idea) is just a flawed imitation of the true idea.

(But I hate to sidetrack the thread into a debate over materialism -- although I think the mathematics point was spot on...)

Of course, in reality, Scott was probably a little frustrated that some fans were shooting down a movie before they had ANY IDEA whatsoever about it -- and here the rest of us spend our time debating his idea about their lack of an idea. If ideas are worthless, what are ideas about ideas?

There seems to be a bit of a strawman argument going on here. When people share "their opinions on whether it was a good idea to create a Dilbert movie" there's a fair number of assumptions tied up in there. It sounds the same as the question "Can Hollywood make a successful movie out of the characters created by Scott Adams?" Could the Hollywood studio system of the 1950's have made Easy Rider? No, of course not. Adams makes some interesting and fairly uncontroversial points about execution, but seems to do so on the back of a misunderstanding. There aren't that many movies that Hollywood can make with Dilbert, and most of them aren't worth watching.

I disagree with the author. Ideas are not worthless. It is just that execution has a much bigger impact on the result. Ideas are like seeds. Without seeds you can't get anything. But even with bad seeds one can get a good result with good ground and good caring. And very good seeds can be spoiled. Ideas are thus important, but not as much as execution. Considering them as worthless is wrong.

I'd say instead that the real value of ideas generally cannot be known/calculated until executed. They are somewhat like prophecies. Only a good track record will get people listening and willing to pay 'in advance.' In the meantime your only hope is to capitalize on the idea yourself (and if you're planning to do so, the potential value of the idea merits some considerations of secrecy).

It will be called XKCD and have no discernable characters.

xkcd has characters. There is hat guy, Megan, Bobby Tables, Randal, and a few others.

Even the main stick man character is the Author's own voice (or that's how I read it). So that's the most prominent character. His "Dilbert" if you will...

And the mom and the girlfriend and...

Now it does.

Hat guy first occurred in comic #12, and then became a regular character in comic #29. xkcd is currently at #749.

I run into people blinded by the idea fallacy every now and then and I can't but shake my head. They'll tell me, I have this great idea for for you, but you'll have to pay me or give some equity. And all I feel like doing is vigorously shaking them.

Good ideas have more room for error -- you can take a great idea and do good work and still be successful. Bad ideas require greatness; you have to get it just right.

I think it's the wiggle room that a good idea affords that people latch onto.

Personally, I can't stand when people claim ideas are worthless and execution is everything. The fact is that ideas INFORM flawless execution. Ideas and execution are inextricably linked.

"The value of an idea lies in its execution"

Spot on! Whether it make or break an idea lie with the ability of the entrepreneur and its team.

Ideas aren't worthless. Ideas are plentiful. Ideas are made valuable by extraction and refinement of the key elements.

The "execution is everything" mantra is tired hyperbole. Of course 'the idea' is worthless if it's nothing.

That's the whole point of the article. He is saying that in the context of an idea.

We should abolish patents.

On a tangent: Is XKCD really the most-viewed comic on the internet?

I wonder what people like Scott Adams thinks of it or whether they even get it. He understands technology but XKCD is geeky beyond that.

Scott could be a Supergeek for all I know, but XKCD is typically aimed at the lower rungs of the geek ladder. Even so I think it comes up with brilliant ideas all the time, and succeeds despite the relatively mediocre execution. (You have to use the words 'idea' and 'execution' differently from Scott to see it that way, but that's part of the problem with an ill-defined opposition like idea/execution)

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