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I hate the word "idea"

Photos by Bernd Jaufmann/newscamp

This post is based on a presentation I gave at Newscamp in Augsburg on 21st April. It is powered by the ideas of Risto Sarvas and Mathias Calonius.

You read it right. I really do. I think they're overvalued and allow us to let ourselves off easy. Once we can say we've had an idea, we feel we’ve accomplished something when in fact we haven’t. We’ve merely had an idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen, we run into them and we snatch them from thin air.

An idea is just the beginning. It’s what follows that really matters.

“Ideas won’t keep. Something must be done about them.”- Alfred North Whitehead, mathematician

I have some ideas for what to do about ideas.

Let’s blow them apart!

The world around us is changing, markets and customers are changing. People’s habits and routines are changing and it’s happening fast. Are you changing?

  • From technology-driven to customer-driven?
  • From functional silos to effective teams that get things done?
  • From never-ending meetings to actually doing things?
  • From legacy technology to creating something new?
  • From internal politics to pursuing new business?
  • From useless reporting to a focus on results?
  • From endless planning in your offices to meeting actual customers?

Is your organisation in a state where it can do something about them? More importantly, can you successfully implement and exploit your ideas in a rapidly changing business environment?

Once you’re out there in the world, interacting and making a difference, you’ll notice that ideas get better when you spread them around, try them out, blow them apart… It’s important to fail fast and fail often. You’ll succeed sooner.

The best way to do this is through dialogue with your partners, customers, their customers, the public, etc.

It’s really quite simple: talk to people.

Let’s execute them!

Ideas are cheap. It’s the execution that creates value.

The best ideas start small. The old way was to come up with a big idea, committee it, massage it and design it to within an inch of its life and then put it out as a compromise geared towards achieving maximum penetration. Look at all these people, all with their own ideas, attitudes and agendas, standing between your idea and the money you want to make off it:

The thing to do is start small and scale up. It allows us to test things, look for better approaches, iterate… It allows us to look for better ideas and ditch old ones. And make some money here and there all the while:


The problem as a whole gets smaller as we try our ideas out on various aspects of it. Both problems and solutions are more manageable in smaller pieces. In addition to chipping away at a problem as when we try out ideas and iterate, we are also becoming smarter. So eventually, the problem is smaller and we are “bigger”.

Along the way, we bump our heads on new ideas and, if we’re really lucky, new problems.

Let’s deprive them of love!

Most ideas in service development have to do with finding solutions to problems. You have to keep in mind that we’re in the business of loving problems, not solutions. Deprive your ideas of your love and you’ll have an easier time knowing when to ditch them. You’ll remember to keep your eye on the ball, i.e. the problem.

There you have it. A few of the things you could do about ideas to make sure they actually lead to something worthwhile. They may sound mean and even cruel, but remember: ideas are nothing. It’s what you do with them.


  • Portrait of Helmut Scherer
    Helmut Scherer
    Managing Director, Germany