Nobody Likes the “Idea Guy”

One time I had a “great” idea for a telephone company. Service would be free—all the calls you want! But you’d have to listen to advertisements before each one. I asked my friend what he thought the idea was worth. His answer:

“I don’t know. Telephone companies make a lot of money. Maybe $1 billion?”

Great! I had a $1 billion idea!

Of course, I never started my incredible telephone company and I definitely never made my $1 billion.

Looking at it now, I was lacking 3 things that would have gotten that idea off the ground:

  1. Any idea, whatsoever, about how to start or run a telephone company.
  2. Any desire to run a telephone company.
  3. An understanding of what it is that makes a business truly valuable.

The “Idea Guy”

We all know an “Idea Guy.” He’s the one that seems unbelievably intelligent and creative. He has an endless list of interesting ideas, but he waves his hand and says “minor details” when you ask him how any of them might actually work.

We all know someone like this because the Idea Guy needs a partner (that’s you). He can’t make anything happen himself, so he tells you all his ideas and waits for you tell him he’s a genius and that you should be business partners.

“Don’t worry,” he expects you to say. “I’ll do all the work. You just keep pumping out those great ideas.”

But an idea, unfortunately, is worth nothing. Less, even, than the paper it’s written on (idea guys love restaurant napkins).

The Money is in the Execution

An idea is only a multiplier. You have to add execution to the mix to actually create a business.

A great idea that never comes to life is worth nothing. How much would you pay your smartest friend for her best idea? Nothing, of course—you’ve got plenty of your own!

But an average idea you dedicate yourself to can make you rich. Look around at all the businesses in the world, and most of them are pretty boring, run-of-the-mill companies. Look at most successfully self-employed people. A lot of them are doing fairly average things.

The difference is that they do these average things very well. And that, in its own way, makes them remarkable.

Putting Idea and Execution Together in Your Own Micro-Business

Conventional wisdom says, “Think big. Act small.” Or even, “Think big. Act even bigger!”

Maybe that advice works for some, but I’ve tried it many times and it doesn’t work for me. My new mantra is,  “Think small, and act small, too!”

The problem with thinking big is that it produces a laundry list of actions that are too heroic for you to actually take on. When you have a big idea and no confidence in your ability to execute it, the result is… nothing! Time to move to the next “big idea.”

On the other hand, when I force myself to think small, I also force myself to come up with something I know I can do—something I’m sure I can execute. When your idea matches your confidence level, good things happen.

A better way to put it is that I bring my ideas down to my confidence level rather than try to bring my confidence up to my ideas.

That sounds limiting and counterintuitive, but the truth is just the opposite. When I’m able to execute a small idea, I gain more confidence. When I gain more confidence, I take on bigger ideas.

As far as I know, there’s no instant confidence-building potion, so my strategy is the best I’ve got.

The Last Word

If you have a business idea you want to try, but you’re having a hard time getting started, consider a new approach. Stop trying to fake confidence you don’t have just to satisfy your ego for a big idea.

Instead, cut your idea in half until you have something you know you can do. Then go do it! If you want more confidence to take on bigger things, there’s no better way to do it than by having some success with smaller ones.

Or, you could keep jotting down more ideas on restaurant napkins, waiting for someone else to make them happen. The choice is yours.