The silent devastation of ideas-people

“The reality is that there is nothing quite as useless in this world as an ‘ideas person’. Not only is it excruciating to deal with their egos and misplaced protectionism around their precious ideas, but the reality is simply that anyone can dream and do what they do.”

In the software industry you often come across so called ‘ideas-people’

Behold the unicorn ideas-person. Full of ideas and low on execution.

In the software industry you often come across so called ‘ideas-people’. You usually spot them talking loftily about some idea that they are ‘working’ on. They might even verbally insinuate how big their idea is, and how it is going to change everything. Typically they can flip lyrically between the hundreds (if not thousands) of ideas that they have had. When someone else in industry has had a success that vaguely resembles one of their previous ideas they will publicly lament the fact of how they had that idea years ago, blaming circumstance for not pursuing it. They can go for years carefully nurturing their previous big idea, waiting for life to align just right for them to finally nab that sucker.

The worst part is that their fanaticism around their ideas frequently gets mistaken for passion. Sometimes if the person has the gift of the gab some might be fooled into thinking that such a person is a visionary of sorts. They might get dumb investor money thrown at them. When they fail – which is most of the time – they typically blame external factors for it. The market may not have been ready for their product or the investor funds dried up just before the big breakthrough was made. If they are not technical their darn developers were either too slow, too expensive or too inexperienced. It is very rare that they will blame themselves or their godlike ideas for the (not their) failure. Admitting failure would erode the one thing they hold most dear, their ego.

The reality is that there is nothing quite as useless in this world as an ‘ideas person’. Not only is it excruciating to deal with their egos and misplaced protectionism around their precious ideas, but the reality is simply that anyone can dream and do what they do. Coming up with ideas is not some mystical perch that is reserved for an elite category of human beings that have had some rare grace bestowed upon them giving them raven like vision into the future. In fact if you disseminate most of the things ideas-people come up with you will soon realize that it is nothing more than imitated innovation with concepts simply being copied from other successes they so diligently study and follow.

True visionaries are dreamers but more importantly they are doers. Make no mistake dreaming is a big part of the package of a true visionary but you also have to be able to follow through and actually make it happen. Ideas without execution is absolutely meaningless and wastes everyone’s time. Execution is king.

The devastation that ideas-people wreak is especially magnified in the corporate environment where ideas-people can plow their trade with minimal risk to their livelihood and reputations. If half-baked ideas fail in corporate environments it is virtually impossible to attribute causation since there are simply too many moving parts that may have contributed to that failure. As such a non-execution ideas guru can almost always abscond their precious idea from being the true reason for failure.

In contrast – even though it is not perfect – the startup world does do a fairly good job of weeding out the doers from just the ideas people. Unlike the corporate environment execution is everything in startups. With all the fat taken out of the process there is simply no place to hide. If you cannot build something that is useful to humanity and that people want to use your dead. It is a brutal game that rewards the true visionaries that can actually follow through on their ideas and destroys the pretenders that actually just like the sound of their own voice.

The really tricky bit is that you actually want to encourage innovation and experimentation in corporate environments since this is the only way to evolve and grow. But the people typically tasked with coming up with these strategies and product ideas are usually a little bit light in credentials for following through on those ideas on their own accord.

One Comment

  1. This is really true and sad at the same time. The same applies directly to developers. There are developers who can talk hours about what should be done, why and how but when it comes to the actual work only some are able to do what they say at the quality they claim. In the corporate world is for them then easy to say they couldn’t have done it due to many other tasks they were snowed by. But the reality is often that they just do ego tripping in front of other devs. It is people, isn’t it? 🙂

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