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How to Think About Ideas

I had an interesting exchange with an old-school consultant about ideas. In his view, ideas are to be protected as intellectual property, not shared on the Internet. He’s horrified that so many of us share, and he is disconcerted by the idea that Google can help anyone find any idea that they may need—without him.

The following is a random list of ideas about ideas. Do with them what you will . . . or don’t. It’s up to you. They’re just ideas.

On the Scarcity and Value of Ideas

Ideas aren’t scarce. Ideas are infinite. The value in an idea is found in the ability to execute and make it meaningful, not in protecting the idea from others.

The person who executes on an idea is the person who creates—and captures—the value from the idea. No benefits accrue to the person with an idea and no willingness to execute on the idea, regardless of how valuable the idea.

Ideas are the Foundation of Resourcefulness

You have access to limitless ideas, as long as you maintain your awareness and a desire to notice them.

If you don’t know how to move your business forward, solve a problem, win your dream client, or whatever else you are struggling with, you haven’t generated enough ideas. There is an idea that will move you forward. It’s there somewhere, I promise.

Capture Ideas

Capture ideas that you find interesting and valuable. Capture them regardless of how trivial they may seem at the time. Keep a journal of these ideas so that you can refer to them later. Some will grow in value over time. Some all but lost and all but forgotten ideas will be priceless later.

Many of the best ideas you have will come to you at an inopportune time. Always have something in which to capture ideas with you at all times.

Judging Ideas

Don’t be too fast to judge ideas. Ideas are like tools; you need the right tool for the right job. Every tool has its use.

Instead of shooting down ideas, instead of playing devil’s advocate, decide what is valuable about an idea. Find something about the idea to like, regardless of how wrong it may seem to you at first.

You don’t get to decide what tool someone else may need. The fact that an idea that is wrong for you says nothing about how valuable the idea may be to someone else. Judge the idea only on it’s useful to you, and only in the present situation.

Be Willing to Trade Up with New Ideas

Ideas that are valuable to you can become your belief system. When that belief system gets rigid and inflexible, you lose the opportunity to improve because you have cut yourself off from new ideas. Closed systems die; it’s what they do.

There are some universal truths that cause pain when they are violated. Ideas that go against universal truths aren’t worth pursuing. Any ideas that suggest that you can “get rich quick,” “lose weight fast,” or “have what you want without doing the work,” violate universal truths.

Much of what we believe to be universal truths when it comes to business, sales, etc., aren’t really universal. They are temporarily universal. A temporarily universal truth is only a truth until there is a significant paradigm shift to another temporary paradigm. The United States Postal Service would be a very different business if it understood the paradigm shift brought on by technology and provided consumers with electronic mailboxes. Your business will face a similar paradigm shift that will be brought about by a new idea, and your business will succeed through new ideas that take advantage of that paradigm shift.

Be willing to consider new ideas, adopt new beliefs, and take new actions.


What new ideas have you adopted in the last quarter?

How are you executing on those ideas?

How do you generate more useful ideas?

How do you capture those ideas?

What beliefs have you traded up to better beliefs because of new ideas?

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  • Tedrubin

    Love this post Anthony. So many still think that ideas are what make things happen and they are what have true value. You clearly understand, and demonstrate here, the fact that ideas are a dime a dozen and come and go. It is those who execute ideas, work hard at making them a reality, and jump in at the right time are the ones who succeed. Ideas come and go, many have them at the exact same time or over the course of a number of year. Guts, execution, hard work, and timing play as big, or most likely, a bigger part than the idea itself. 

  • Chris Beaman

    I capture ideas using Google Alerts. For instance, I have one alert set up monitoring for the phrase “idea for an app.” Every week, I find all the instances where unsuspecting users innocently share their app ideas on forums and blogs. I find this to be a fruitful method of sourcing the crowd for their unprotected ideation.

  • Diana Silva

    Thank you for this.
    I think that in order to really fully make the most of an idea and put it into action it is important like you said, not to be judgmental of those ideas that others put out there.  Combining ideas is what makes great ideas.  
    At the moment I have a number of tools, but for sure Google has multiple ways capture them.   It really depends on what I am doing when a great idea comes to mind.  

  • Zoe Alexander

    Anthony, this is a very useful post for me as it has helped me focus on a few issues that were troubling me. You are right, ideas can have their value at different times and so should be written down for an opportunity at a later date when more value can be realised from them.  I have learnt not to dismiss new ideas but to write them on a list and continually review them to see which are best to activate. My latest idea is to put an on-site blog with a theme of giving information back to expecting 1st time mums on my experience rather than use the blog to promote our brand!

  • Acquirent

    Another inspiring post, Anthony! My favorite part: “The value in an idea is found in the ability to execute and make it meaningful, not in protecting the idea from others.”

  • Nick Bianchi

    Good post, Anthony.  This an important point you make about ideas.  I don’t know how many people I have heard talk about a successful innovation like Facebook, for example, and say “If only *I* had thought about that” as if to THINK of it would have been all they would have needed to do to be successful in creating it.  Big mistake to think that way.