In January 1991 Jeffrey Katzenberg, then head of Disney film studios, sent a memo to his executives which included the following:
If a movie begins with a great, original idea, chances are good it will be successful, even if it is executed only marginally well. However, if a film begins with a flawed idea, it will most certainly fail, even if it is made with “A” talent and marketed to the hilt.
What a kick-in-the-pants reaffirmation reading that was.
This is the issue when an “entrepreneur” says they need more money or better opportunities or good luck.
Nope. Stop the presses. Wrong.
Throwing money at a problem will rarely solve that problem. Opportunities are everywhere. And luck is created by doing the work.
A bad idea executed phenomenally well is still going to be a bad idea. On the positive side of this: if you execute a poor idea well you’ll know pretty quickly it’s a bad idea and then you can move on.
A great idea with average execution, on the other hand, has a better than average chance at success.
The Problem: What’s A Good Idea and What’s A Bad Idea?
While I identify with his statement I don’t fully agree with Mr. Katzenberg. What he’s missing is that we are horrible judges of good ideas vs bad ideas.
- How many times was Colonel Sanders’s chicken recipe rejected? Supposedly ~1,000.
- How many publishers rejected Tim Ferriss’s idea for Four Hour Work Week? 20+.
- How many publishers, agents, magazines, and newspapers rejected Tucker Max’s idea for the eventual NYT Bestseller I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell? Supposedly over 500.
Depending on who you ask, these were all great ideas. And, depending on who you ask, they were all bad ideas. These three were off the top of my head, but if you spent an hour on Google I’m sure you could find dozens more similar examples.
What To Do?
This is a dilemma. If we don’t know if an idea is great, good, bad, or atrocious, what do we do with our ideas?
Surely we all have some good ideas in the recesses of our brains. How do we discover them?
My suggestion, with a hat tip to Jeffrey Katzenberg: learn to execute, even if just marginally well.
So many things I’ve read lately have converged on the notion that when you have an idea you think is good you need to test and learn from it as soon as possible. It’s where my new motto, Create. Learn. Improve. Repeat., came from. It’s really a pep talk slash reminder to myself more than anything.
Here it is in a little more detail:
Improve: If the idea worked with some modicum of success, what can you do to improve it? What can you do differently? What can you do better? If it failed, go to the next step.
Repeat: Start this process over, either with a new idea or with a new facet of the same idea. Alternate: keep repeating what worked. If you know how to make $100, you know how to make $10,000. It’s a question of scale.
Ideas are both fleeting and common. Keep generating ideas, good and bad. Write them down. Throw them away. Post them online. Keep your idea muscle strong by getting your ideas out of your head in some way, shape, or form.
Most importantly, when you think you have a good idea, execute.
Execute no matter how much sleep you lose.
Execute no matter how much it hurts.
Execute no matter how unsure you are.
Execute even if you don’t know what you don’t know.
Execute no matter what people tell you. Believe in yourself first, listen to misguided advice never.
Execute because, even though it’s not easy, you have no other choice.