Why Coming Up With a Great Idea is Worthless

Posted by:

“I hate coming up with a great sketch idea.”

That’s what Bob Nelson told me when he was one of the writers on Almost Live!, the comedy TV show that I executive produced in Seattle for 15 years. (For the record, Bob Nelson went on to earn a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination for the movie Nebraska.)

“I hate coming up with a great sketch idea.”

Now, why would he say something like that?

Because coming up with the idea is the fun part. Now you have to execute that idea.


Bob went on to say, “When I have a great sketch idea, it seems perfect in my head. But when I actually start typing the script, it feels like I’m typing all the humor out of it.”

That sums up the difference between inspiration and execution. The inspiration—the raw idea—is brilliant in its perfection, but it’s devoid of detail. That’s why it appears so perfect. What you’re seeing is a soft-focus image of the finished product. To grossly oversimplify brain science (and my apologies to you neuroscientists out there), it’s the right brain version of the outcome.

The left brain version is a function of the execution. This is the part that creative people tend to dislike (again, a gross oversimplification, but then I’m not submitting this to the Journal of the American Psychological Association, assuming there is such a thing). Because when you get to the actual details—how are we going to make this, what is it going to look like, what words are the characters going to say—the soft focus starts to become hard focus, sometimes even harsh focus. It’s where the fun turns into work.

But I would argue that, in many respects, the execution is more important than the inspiration.

Execution is more important than inspiration. #Creativity Click To Tweet

To explain why, let’s go back to high school physics.

[You: “Do we have to?” Me: “There, there…just for a little bit.”]

If you put a snowball on top of a mountain and just let it sit there, that’s called potential energy. Potential energy is like your raw idea before execution. It might have a lot of latent power, but that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee. (Or, since I live in Seattle, that and seven dollars will get you a cup of coffee.)

But let’s give that snowball a little push. Now all that potential energy turns into kinetic energy, which keeps on growing and growing until all of a sudden you’ve caused an avalanche that wipes out a small town in Switzerland. Shame on you.

You see the point, though, right? An idea that’s not acted upon is worthless. But give that idea a little push—give it some left brain execution, and that idea could change the world.

So—what action will you take to execute your idea today?

An idea that’s not acted upon is worthless! #Creativity Click To Tweet

About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
  Related Posts