Execution is easy, ideas are everything

More than a few venture capitalists like banging on about how important execution is.

Mainly by borrowing a well-worn phrase from venture capitalist kingpin John Doerr who famously quipped that ideas are easy, execution is everything.

John tossed it off at the end of an onstage talk with Paul Martino (General Partner at Bullpen Capital) at a financing conference in San Francisco back in 2015. John was bemoaning what he felt was the overvaluing of unicorns.

No matter. Every venture capitalist on earth took John’s phrase as gospel. It’s easy to denounce ideas when you don’t have any. Venture capitalists are not venture idealists. By definition, if they were capable of having good ideas they wouldn’t be venture capitalists.

Because the truth is good ideas are hard. Great ideas are really hard. Truly creative ideas are really really really fucking hard. (Shitty ideas? Dime a dozen.)

Most creativity in technology is not really creativity at all. It’s merely invention. Two things already exist and a technologist puts them together in a new way. A technologist patents something new and easily explainable. A scientist discovers something that already exists. These aren’t truly creative ideas.

Truly creative ideas are almost impossible to explain. If someone can immediately understand an idea, it’s obviously pretty pedestrian. It’s not mind-blowingly amazing.

The mark of a truly creative idea is that it’s simultaneously self-evident and bewildering. That’s quite a feat to pull off.

Yet despite their strangeness (or perhaps because of it), truly creative ideas are what make all the difference.

Einstein’s theory of relativity is a truly creative idea. (Actually, it’s two truly creative ideas that encompass two interrelated theories by Albert Einstein - special relativity and general relativity, proposed and published in 1905 and 1915, respectively.)

World-class ideas are the hardest thing to come by. Everything else is just moving pieces about, playing the game, finding new players, and keeping score.

Execution? Walk in the park. Piece of cake. These days it’s just a platform stack.

Innovation and marketing is all that matters. They’re the two most important functions of any business or enterprise because they make all the money. Everything else is a cost.

Look at the upcoming wave of successful direct to consumer brands and you’ll see a disproportionate investment in innovation and marketing (around 60-70 percent) over operations (around 40-30 percent).

How can any incumbent business burdened with 90 percent operation costs while only investing 10 percent in innovation and marketing hope to compete? It’s being outspent six or seven-fold on gaining customers and making money.

No matter how well they execute everything, they’re history.

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