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The Idea vs. Execution Debate: Why Ideas Are Everything

This story appears in the November 2014 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »
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"Ideas, my dear, are a dime a dozen. Execution is not. Execution is the thing—it is rare and it is revered. The idea is not. There are many ideas and far fewer successful executions.” 

So sayeth the wise and bloviating, some would call seasoned CEO, speaking in a half-baked English accent one morning over salty eggs and exceedingly strong conference coffee. 

First things first: Do not call me “dear” or “kiddo” or anything other than my name—especially over salty eggs. It makes me cranky.

And yet, this man annoyed me more with his perceptions about ideas. Those kept me up longer than the shitty coffee. Ideas vs. execution. Is that really a debate? We’ve always believed new ways of thinking will change the world. What is this thought that ideas are trite? What about disruptive thinking, new ways of seeing? We hold these ideals dear.

This brief conversation had its roots firmly anchored in the topic of M&A—when to sell, when to buy and who the management team should be. Beyond the obvious talk of the role of lawyers and brokers, the discussion rubbed me the wrong way. The thinking that new ideas are simply distractions that cost money and can possibly be setbacks gave me a stomach ache. And it did so because I disagree. I would submit: New ideas are not only important, they are golden.

Around our tiny entrepreneurial bullpen, we celebrate ideas. We embrace them. Not only the ideas for new businesses and startups and the wacky ways the human brain imagines, but the ideas that will take your company in a new direction: product lines, marketing—whatever. New ideas are what make the world of business much more than business. They keep things dynamic, fluid and interesting. They make for great stories. They create legacies and lay the foundation for the next generation.

The Renaissance is flush with such lessons. Leonardo da Vinci was an inventor, a writer, a mathematician, an architect, a painter, a sculptor—the list goes on and on. He was persecuted for his new ways of thinking and seeing. He was one of the first great experimenters (and, quite possibly, one of the earliest entrepreneurs). He never stopped thinking, exploring and challenging conventional wisdom. At the time, some of his work was considered perverse and unnatural, but he kept conceiving, and he kept documenting his ideas. He broke down barriers.

Your new ideas and new approaches are what make you part of a new cultural and economic renaissance. That’s why we are happy to give you our Ideas issue. We hope it inspires you.

Edition: November 2016

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