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Ideas Are Easy... Execution Is Difficult

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Excellent post by Mike Masnick on Techdirt:

It's an ongoing theme around here, but ideas are everywhere. The real trick to making something great often has extremely little to do with the idea, and much more to do with the execution. That's where the real innovation occurs — in taking an idea and trying to figure out how to make it useful. It's that process that's important, much more than the original idea. As nearly anyone who has brought a product from conception to market will tell you, what eventually succeeds in the market is almost always radically different than the original "idea." That's part of the reason why patents are so often harmful to innovation. The patent is for that core idea, which is rarely the key in making something successful. But by limiting who can innovate off of the idea (or just by making it much more expensive) you're limiting that process of innovation. ... [A]s the founder of [failed company] Cambrian House admitted in explaining the company's changing plans, it wasn't difficult to get people to come up with all sorts of interesting and exciting ideas — but where the company failed was in getting anyone to actually execute on any of those ideas. Ideas are a starting point — but it's high time that we stopped worshipping the idea, and started recognizing how much more important execution is in driving innovation.

Jeff Tucker makes a similar point in his article Is Intellectual Property the Key to Success?:

A clue to the copyright fallacy should be obvious from wandering through a typical bookstore chain. You will see racks and racks of classic books, presented with beautiful covers, fancy bindings, and in a variety of sizes and shapes. The texts therein are "public domain," which isn't a legal category as such: it only means the absence of copyright protection. ... But they sell. They sell well. ... The much-predicted disaster of an anti-IP world is nowhere in evidence: there are still profits, gains from trade, and credit is given where credit is due. Why is this? Quite simply, the bookstore has gone to the trouble of bringing the book to market. It paid the producer for the book and made an entrepreneurial decision to take a risk that people will buy it. Sure, anyone could have done it, but the fact is that not everyone has....

As Tucker observed to me--this whole issue speaks directly to the Kirznerian vs. Hülsmannian view of entrepreneurship, and also the Hayekian vs. Salernoian view of calculation. Or, as my "little buddy"* Gil Guillory wrote me,

This is a key point in VC partner, multiple entrepreneur, and author Rob Adam's A Good Hard Kick in the Ass: Basic Training for Entrepreneurs. The very first chapter is "good ideas are a dime a dozen", with lots of good anecdotes and rules of thumb. One of them: at his VC company, if someone asks them to sign an NDA, they see it as a red flag. What's most important, he says, is having a good execution team. A good execution team is what they fund, even if the idea is not that hot. They'll find a winning idea with a good team. And this is also what Napoleon Hill wrote. And Carnegie. And Martha Stewart. And Jim Collins."

*My 4 year old referred to him and Tom Woods that way after a Boston Legalesque sleepover.


Stephan Kinsella

Stephan Kinsella is an attorney in Houston, director of the Center for the Study of Innovative Freedom, and editor of Libertarian Papers.

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