Ideas are Worthless — Here is What You Can Do About It

I was talking to a film production company last week when something came up in the conversation that I have run into a lot lately—how worthless ideas are.

An idea, worthless? That might sound like heresy, especially to people who pride themselves in coming up with creative ideas. “The power of ideas” is, after all, a common trope. It has been ingrained in many of us to revere ideas. But, the reality is that ideas are indeed pretty worthless.

Everything starts with an idea, but everybody has them. You probably have good ideas every day. Some of them are even great. Probably one of them would make you a million dollars if properly executed. But that is the critical part. Everyone has great ideas—most people do not execute. As I explain in Starting Right, being able to execute ideas is a critical first step in your journey to being a successful creative. Fortunately, it has never been easier to create than it is today and it is only getting easier.

But, the value (and the work) is still in the execution of the idea. You are not going to be able to bring an idea to someone, get them to execute it, and then split the money 50/50. They are doing all the work. Just having the idea is a minuscule part of the effort.

I want to take this line of thinking a bit further because the ease with which we can create today leads to another problem. Because it is so easy, everyone is doing it. Just because you can get an idea to a “first level” of execution is no guarantee that it will go any further. Film production illustrates this very well.

During the discussion with the film company, I was told that one of the producers is going to do four films in 2017. He put out a call for scripts and received 240 submissions. That was not 240 ideas for films that he was sent, that was 240 full-fledged scripts ready to go into production. So, having an idea for a film is nothing. Having a script completely written and ready to go into production is next to nothing.

Moreover, in a situation like that, there are easily a hundred reasons why your script would not be the one chosen for production that have nothing to do with the quality of the script. That can be a tough reality to face because it is always tempting to say, “Yes, but my script will be really good.” It absolutely may be. There are also a hundred reasons why that may not be the deciding factor.

I experienced this first hand from the publisher’s perspective with RAINN Studios. People will tell me they have a great idea for a board game and wonder if I would be interested in producing it. I was not prepared for this when it started happening because I had not thought about being a game publisher when I started. (Back then it was all about game design. Starting a publishing company was an unanticipated side effect.) But it did make me realize how little value an idea has.

For one reason, I have lots of ideas. In fact, I have more of them than I will ever be able to execute. Executing someone else’s idea can only happen by putting one of mine on hold. Second, an idea for a game is a long way from being anything that can be put into production. It can and will undergo so many changes while it is being developed. There are also many reasons why an idea might not actually be able to be executed. Therefore, I realized that someone would have to bring me a completely finished, playable, and play-tested prototype before I would even consider publishing it. Even then there are still many reasons why I might not publish it, even if it were a fantastic game.

It is really interesting to see things from both perspectives. That is an advantage that running RAINN Studios has given me. I have worn the hats of both designer and publisher. Having done that, I advocate learning how to execute your creative projects yourself. If you want it done, learn to do it and make it happen.

By the way, this is another reason why you should not be afraid to talk to other creatives about your ideas. I’ve advocated being open about your projects before. Your idea is in less danger of being stolen than you think, just because it has so little value.

Know people who would be interested? Please share. 🙂
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