There is no Big Idea

There is nothing original under the sun. Everything that we see around us is a remix, a remake, a reinterpretation, or a parody of something that has been done before. Not only is every great scientific advance a giant standing on the shoulders of giants, but following in the footsteps of the giants that came before her.

This is not to say that ideas don’t matter. Ideas do matter, and they matter a great deal. There is a constant discussion in the startup community about what ideas are worth. Some believe that ideas are worthless, that the value in a startup lies in execution. Others believe that ideas do have significant value.

Oftentimes when people have what they think is a groundbreaking idea, they keep it hidden away from view. They believe that if someone else knows about this idea, they’ll take it for themselves. I myself am guilty of hiding away my ideas for fear of someone else’s execution.

But as Guy Kawasaki says, if you have a good idea, 5 people are already pursuing it. If it’s a great idea, 10 people are. This can take the wind out of the sails of anyone who thinks of themselves as an “idea person.” But why should it?

Just because someone else has the idea and is already executing it doesn’t mean that it is a bad idea. No one would argue that Calculus was a “bad” idea or a worthless innovation, despite the fact that it was discovered by two different men at the same time.

As a new student of the Lean Startup methodology, I’ve come to realize that there is no big idea. By that I mean that there is no idea that sits alone in your mind that changes the world. Look at some of the most successful internet companies of our day: Google and Facebook.

Google was not the first search engine, it simply improved the ranking of pages. And it wasn’t its search that made it a giant (arguably), it was it’s ingenious advertising model.

Facebook wasn’t the first social website, it simply improved the format, and dedicated resources to expanding features that users loved (photos, etc). In fact, Facebook’s biggest competitive advantage may have been the market that it targeted and cornered (college students).

Any idea that changes the world has to progress beyond the stage of simply idea. It has to become something. It has to flow out into the world and interact with it. An idea merges with its medium to become a work of art. While the business greats might be compared to Michelangelo in that they can see the business in the market, just as he could see the sculpture in the marble, if it does not actually happen, if it isn’t actually executed, it’s nothing. 

Like Jason Cohen says, your idea sucks, now go do it anyway. Because there is no big idea, just execution that changes the world.