Great ideas aren’t enough

History is littered with great ideas that either failed or never even saw the light of day. Despite this fact, some people still seem to think that having a great idea is enough to succeed (however you want to define success).

I was reminded of this “great-idea delusion” recently when I read a post about marketing by Julien Smith, whose provocative opinions I enjoy a great deal. While I respected the basic premise of his post (that marketing needs serious re-examination), his conclusion that good ideas or a good platform or the best delivery would succeed, ipso facto, struck me as idealistic and bordering on the absurd. Unfortunately, I suspect this philosophy is widespread, and entrepreneurs, innovators and idea-people are led astray into falling in love with their ideas, rather than the reality of bringing them to light.

It takes a lot for a good idea to succeed, and sometimes it doesn’t even matter if the idea is that good…Success depends on many factors. In a recent post, Scott Berkun captured a lot of reasons why great ideas aren’t enough. Here’s my short-list of thoughts on what it takes to bring a great idea to market.


Every great idea needs someone behind it with passion. Without the visionary driver who pushes to bring an idea to life, it’s going to be difficult to succeed. Someone has to have that passion, a sustained passion that burns throughout the birth and maturation process. It doesn’t matter who it is, as long as they have the influence to drive the idea forward. It may not even be the person who had the idea, but that’s irrelevant. Every idea needs a human engine.


The marketplace is a life support system for the fruit born by great ideas. There has to be consumer demand for the product or service or content being brought to market, and an adequate supply to meet the demand. Great ideas delivered to a market that’s not ready are pearls before swine, and those delivered to a satisfied market are ignored. Basic economics. Deal with it.


A great idea executed poorly might as well be crap. You have to execute well to show the promise of your idea, even if the execution is not perfect. This means delivering a useful product, a great service, or valuable content out of the gate. These days, many people don’t get a second shot. Everyone learns from the ideas of others, and if you can’t execute reasonably well when you release, odds are, other people will copy your idea, learn from your mistakes, and execute better.


It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intellgient, but the ones most responsive to change.

 – Charles Darwin

Market conditions change. Competitors come out with products or services or content that rival (or exceed) yours, often based on the same seemingly exclusive great idea. Sometimes this means your idea needs to morph into something else. Those who pursue an idea to its natural end, without the willingness to adapt, are often just sailors taken to a watery grave by the mermaids of their ingenuity. The greatest strength of innovators comes from their willingness to let go of their great ideas, and their ability to evolve these same ideas into something else.


Great ideas don’t live forever; They have an expiration date, at which point they become passe, me-too plays, or just plain uninteresting. It’s absolutely essential to execute on great ideas in a timely fashion. Sit on it for too long, and you can bet someone else will do it before you. There’e no monopoly on good ideas, as I mentioned above, and no shortage of people who will try to bring them to life.


A great idea that no one else understands is worthless. I’ve seen many startups with great ideas, but most were unable to communicate their worth in terms that anyone could understand. Einstein once said that the greatest physicists were those who could explain their ideas to children. The same is true in business. If you can’t explain your awesome idea to just about anyone, forget it. Game over.


It’s silly to think a good idea is enough to succeed all by itself. I wish it were true. The reality is that there are myriad market forces, competitors, and matters of context that can turn any great idea into a dried up piece of clay. Or at least, turn it into just another widget in a bucket filled with other widgets that look pretty much the same. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your idea is enough to succeed on its own merits. It’s a sad fact of the marketplace, but the quality of ideas is not enough to sustain them.