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Ideas Are Worthless. Execution Is Priceless.

Some time ago I offered a program that I created to the people who receive my newsletter. A lot of people signed up. Some sent me notes explaining why they couldn’t sign up at that time. But I found one email in particular to be most interesting. The person that wrote the email explained that he wouldn’t be paying for the program because it would be just another program full of excellent, actionable ideas and information that he would fail to use.

This past week I spoke to a group of sales people at an event sponsored by ThinkSales magazine in Johannesburg. South Africa. At the end of the event one sales manager asked me an excellent question. He said that all of the ideas were great, but he wanted to know how to get his team to execute on the ideas.

Ideas are worthless. The value is in the execution.

In the first little vignette above, the person resisting my offer was right to decline the offer. He wasn’t going to use the program I was selling, so regardless of its cost, it is worth nothing to him. In his email he acknowledged having bought programs containing valuable information without ever acting on them. I don’t know why he couldn’t bring himself to act, but he knew the ideas, regardless of the value they might produce, were worthless in his hands.

In the second little vignette, the sales manager gets it. The ideas by themselves aren’t enough. The workbook I provided this group was all about the actions necessary to bring the ideas to life, to make them valuable. In the right hands, the ideas are worth millions in sales. In the wrong hands, they’re worthless. This sales manager wanted help executing with his team. Why? Because that would increase the value of the ideas exponentially. It made the ideas more valuable.

Have you ever paid for ideas only to fail to execute on them? Have you ever attended a training or a seminar and been overwhelmed with concrete, actionable ideas and insights only to go back to business as usual the following day?

Each week you come across countless ideas that would improve your results, improve your relationships, and improve the quality of your life. You’re surrounded by them. If you ever feel that you’re not, just walk into any book store. For $25 and 6 hours of your time you can fill a legal pad with executable ideas.

So why don’t you execute? Because it’s difficult. Because it means you have to change. Because it takes energy. Because it takes commitment. Because you aren’t good at new things until you have some experience. Because you may fail. These are all reasons, but they’re not good reasons.

Play with these questions.


Start with just one idea, just one improvement. Then decide what actions you need to take to execute on that one idea. Got the big idea? Okay, then grab your calendar. Choose three blocks of time this week to work on the execution of that one idea—and only that one idea.

Write the action plan for implementing that idea. Identify the goal. What will change? How will improve what you’re doing? You need a big “why.” You need a compelling reason to execute to motivate you and keep you on course.

Identify the resources you need? Whose help do you need? Who is going to resist your plans? What else do you need?

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  • melissapaulik

    I think one of the challenges our society has is that they expect an immediate return. Anytime your big idea involves development of a skill or assimilation of a new process, chances are good the return won’t be immediate. While it’s wise to ask, “What’s the best use of my time?” you need to measure value based on both immediate and long-term benefits.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      You’re spot on. This is why so many change initiatives fail.

      Thanks, Melissa!

  • Paul Dandurand

    Great article. Another thought in addition to Melissa’s good point on longer term value as a motivator, how about getting at least one or two other people involved with the planning and execution of the idea? I ask if the collaborative group will add a positive peer pressure to keep the ball rolling. I have found that we tend to drop new initiatives more often if we are working alone or in a silo.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      I don’t think much gets done at all with out consensus and unit cohesion, Paul.

  • Alex Tena-Aréstegui

    Very interesting post, Thanlk you Tony

  • Mike Kunkle

    As the old saw goes, “a well-implemented plan C beats a poorly-implemented plan A, every time.” Completely agree. But for me, it’s still a stretch to say that ideas are worthless, other than blog-title pull. There are ideas that are so poorly-conceived, that no amount of execution is going to save them. Conversely, there are ideas that are so right or timely, that they survive multiple poor execution attempts. It’s true that eventually someone comes a long and executes it right – so I’m not downplaying the value of execution. I’m just not willing to downplay the distinct value of the ideas. Going back to my opening line… make the execution equal, and the better idea (the plan A) wins. No idea has value unless someone does something with it, but there is a latent value and difference between the quality of ideas. It’s an interplay. If I were running a company today, I’d focus my teams on developing both capabilities – innovation and execution.