ideas are just a multiplier of execution

by Derek Sivers

It's so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want me to sign an NDA to tell me the simplest idea.)

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.



SO-SO- EXECUTION = $10,000
GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20.
The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000.

That's why I don't want to hear people's ideas.
I'm not interested until I see their execution.


2005-08-25 00:35:53
ideas Vs Execution
Indeed Excecution of Ideas is "PRIME" Factor from ages like all civilizations the "Heros" are not the thinkers but "Action" oriented folks be it Rulers/Sculptors/Film Stars in recent years etc.

This POINT missed by MOST : Idea is like "word" - powerful when written,more powerful when understood and Most powerful when Lived.That is why we have proverb "WALK YOUR TALK" perhaps

2005-10-12 18:56:12
NDA's and great ideas
While I agree that a great idea is not worth much without execution, I have to say that the reason for the NDA has little to do with how great the idea is. Rather, I submit that people ask for NDA's because they are worried about others executing on their ideas before they do. Admittedly, this might be said to imply that the idea "pilferer" was better at execution than the originator. Howevever, it might also be that the originator was just putting his plan together and wanted to get it right, but just took too long in the planning stage, while the other guy just went for it without much of a plan.

In my opinion, there is a factor missing from the equation of your model - the timing factor. It's inaccurate to state that the worth of an idea is based soley on the excellence of the idea times the excellence of the execution. You also need to divide by the number of people already in the market when you entered:

Idea * Execution / Market Saturation Factor

People who ask for NDA's do it to keep the market saturation factor low.

2006-03-19 06:51:11
NDA's and great ideas
Doesn't Derek's "multiplier" take market saturation into account. For instance, wouldn't a weak idea take into account uniqueness and # of competitors?

I've tried to play this out in the real world using Apple's iPod as an example. The iPod wasn't the first, Apple did not create a new category, they didn't invent or own mp3 technology, etc. The selection of Derek's multiplier in this example seems to be dictated by all of these elements (and probably more), including market saturation.


2006-05-22 10:48:33
cd baby
Hey Derek-my name is Janet. I would like to start a music career with CD Baby. But I need to know the steps/process required to mail you my demo tape and get started. What I basically wanna know is how do you start in the music business? Should someone interested in your label come to Portland to audition? I live in Dallas, Texas. Or do you know of any local record labels in the Dallas area? I think you should write an article answering these questions on the cd baby website. There are many artists out there who would like to know. I used to live in Seattle and that's how I heard about your label. But now I live in Dallas. And in Dallas, they only have like, country labels. So write a short article. It will help many. Plus I'm only 16 so I need help getting started. Thanks-Janet
2006-06-16 22:33:07
Yes, execution is important. Ideas are still important because without them there is no execution to begin with. Ideas set the wheel in motion, with execution the rubber meets the road.

I came to this site linking from somone who used your little brainwave above to make a case for why we don't need to protect ideas, because supposedly it's execution that matters so we should freely sprinkle our thinking around, which is the most bollocks-for-brains things I have read recently.

We protect ideas precisely because someone else may execute them faster than us--due to our limited resources, not necessarily incompetence or complacency--so that we could have at least a bit of a headstart.

2006-09-09 03:52:51
Hey the new site!!! Keep up the good work. I'll send you text sometime. If you're home at any time we'll have to meet up for a pint in the Crown again. Have a good one
2006-11-29 11:56:39
Ideas and execution
Most good ideas are also simple. It often takes a great deal of time,money and insight to arrive at an idea or concept based on the idea. Trial and error is an expensive teacher. It takes its toll on the innovator, often making him or her least able to implement further. After all the work involved, it's only natural to try to protect the idea or concept. A NDA is a small price to pay although it's really a useless piece of paper. When one knows something new it becomes part of your thinking process and would be difficult to talk around, especially if you're in a position of answering questions.
super boy
2007-01-05 22:38:28
Ideas a lifeless brilliance
2007-08-28 12:36:20
How about the following:

-> PRODUCT = 0

Think about it!!!

2008-01-10 03:28:47
This is so naive... I know people who stole ideas without any hesitation. I work for VC and from my point of view it should look more like this:

Bad idea = 0
Good idea = 10 - 1,000,000
Great idea = 10 - 10,000,000
Brilliant idea = 10 - ...
Stolen idea = 0

It's all about potential behind the idea. So... my advice: ask for NDA, it wont hurt you and it can save you from being robbed.

2008-03-16 04:17:39
Um, that's why Yahoo said no to Google's PageRank invention - to them, the idea was nothing. So they didn't really want to hear it, and now they're hanging on by a thread.

Call it "the execution of Yahoo"

Sridhar Oruganti
2008-04-04 01:25:17
Wish I knew this a cpl of years ago.I saw my own terrific idea(well according to me) rejected just because the superiors didnt get a "hands on" feel.
I also vouch for the fact that implementing an idea as a pilot and then taking to the higher ups is almost always a sure shot method than just making ppts
Anyway,a very good article
2008-04-05 17:21:50
I agree that execution matter much more than idea alone (though the multiplication theory looks over-simplification of the fact). Best example is Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg, its founder was accused of stealing this social networking idea from fellow Harvard students (creators of but how of us today know about ConnectU in comparison to Facebook? :)

I have recently written about Patents (a related topic to protect ideas), do have a look - Are software patents evil?

2008-07-18 09:54:50
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2008-07-18 15:55:34
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2008-07-25 02:18:54
That is so right. an awful idea with brilliant execution is recipe for disaster!
michael nelson
2008-08-03 11:38:53
You know of a sort you are correct,ideas with no execution are not of any benifit!,this is so....but the problem ideas are,once told to someone,who can execute the idea,and make millions from it,dont useually remember the one who freely?,gave the idea-it just seems to me that an idea is worth what someone will pay for it,as I knew Arther Miller,who paid 50,000 for an idea that was of no execution,loss 50,000-I gave him one free-be that prved to be a winner!,millions were made and are still being made from the idea-mk
2008-08-06 20:42:21
Check your math. "The most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000." should be $200,000,000.

But there's still time to improve the execution of your post! ;^)

2008-08-06 21:21:57
Execution is irrelevant. Ideas are worth thousands of years. A sports team can have fantastic execution, but who remembers them a hundred years later? Record-holders (in any field) have the best execution to be found, but they are only memorable until the record is broken. But even a bad idea can get you remembered for quite a long time. Do you know, off the top of your head, what company had the highest revenue in 1883? Now, do you know who Plato is?
2008-08-06 22:46:13
All right, that was my original pissy reaction. Now that I've showered and thought about why the original proposition sat so poorly with me, I'm ready to actually discuss this rather than farting out bullshit. Basically, I think it's right but only for a too-limited concept of "idea:. Here's a link:

A Sun developer discusses what about the Solaris development has resulted in what in many ways is a more mature kernel than what Linux development has been able to put out. His points are mostly about priorities, but I'd like to look at what unfolded, particularly in the Observability case:

-The Linux kernel devs come up with an idea: a look at the inner workings of the kernel would be helpful to them
-The Solaris kernel devs take this idea and write something that is significantly better

This is where Mr. Sivers is right: because the Solaris developers executed better on the idea than their Linux counterparts, victory is theirs. But I'd argue that what the Solaris team actually did is, before executing, to take the original idea and reject it in favor of a related but superior idea, and then execute on that. This is where I think Mr. Sivers is too restrictive: he is only right if ideas can't be about execution. But patently they can, even if you quite reasonably do not excuse the pun: a patent is just a very detailed idea about how to execute, and it is extraordinarily valuable. That is, the idea "observe the kernel" is a fine idea, but is not worth much; but the idea "observe the kernel and all process communication with it and [insert description of how to do this in a lightweight and expressive way]" is far superior idea, but it is still an idea, and also very valuable. That's why the Sun guys get paid.

2008-08-06 22:47:45
Oops, I guess that'd be a brilliant idea with brilliant execution. I'm not too brilliant tonight, am I?
2008-08-07 08:21:11
Execution is good idea.
2008-08-07 23:20:40
The most auwful idea takes great execution to be worth -$1,000,000!!!
2008-08-08 00:16:31
intellectual property law is just feudalism dressed up in suits instead of tin armor.
Alexa Weber Morales
2008-08-12 13:35:07
To address a previous comment: I like my intellectual property. It feeds me and my family.

I agree that execution trumps ideas. But man does it suck when someone steals the idea that you spent months preparing to execute. It also sucks when a corporation tells you to put together a business plan and competitive analysis together for your great idea and then decides not to execute for political reasons. So, at the risk of muddying your math, I think you need to add a political factor. A bullshit meter also comes in handy.