You’ve got a great idea…so what?

Have you ever gone “oh, I had that idea at university”, while reading an article or hearing about an entrepreneur who had become successful after introducing an innovative concept in a particular sector?I’m sure you have; in fact, we all have!

My latest was last year in October. I was catching up with some friends at a local Starbucks in Johannesburg. As we were going through our respective lives of the past 8 months (that’s how long we had not been in touch with each other), I enquired about the whereabouts of common friend whom I had lost track of, only to be informed that they had moved to Cape Town where they launched a Pet hotel and day care business, and were doing exceptionally well. In shock, I uttered “oh wow! Why didn’t I think of that?”. But the truth is, I did; many years ago, during our second year at university. But like many ideas that I had at the time, I never acted it, and now someone else did!

I am sure the above story resonates with many of you. We’ve all had ideas that we genuinely consider brilliant and yet, have failed to implement them. There are several reasons for this seemingly contradictory behaviour; we have listed the main ones below. 


More often than not, we tend to hold ourselves back from executing great ideas because we don’t feel that we have what it takes to see them through, at least not at the moment. In our mind, we draw up a list of all the skills, resources and tools that are required to implement the idea and that we, ‘evidently’ do not possess. Not enough money, insufficient experience, too young to be taken seriously, no knowledge of the industry…and the list goes on. 

That’s not all! To still be able to live with ourselves, as our conscience continuously injects feelings of guilt in us, we promise to implement the idea once we’ve acquired all the necessary skills and resources and when the time is right. Needless to say, the time is never perfectly right.  


I have explained in a previous post that at the deepest level, we can interpret every human behaviour on the basis of two basic motivating factors: Love and fear (and their derivatives). The strength of your passion (or love) will determine how far you go in the pursuit of your goals; and so will the intensity of your fear. This love/fear relationship and how it influences our actions can be illustrated as follows:

Fear >Love = abortion of goal & Fear <Love = Pursuit of goal

Blazing trails means going where nobody has gone before, with no guarantee of success. A dreadful thought for most as it implies stepping way out of one’s comfort zone after all. So the fear of failure pops up immediately: “what if things don’t work out, I’ll be ridiculed or lose everything.” Anyone who has ever had an idea worth pursuing has gone through this thinking process, but what sets successful and unsuccessful people apart is the extent to which one wants it and how much they believe in their idea and their ability to execute it.

Passion/love needs to be stronger than fear at this point, if we are ever going to succeed in this endeavour. This is called courage – the ability to pursue an act in spite of fear. 


Don’t get me wrong, I strongly believe that preparation and planning are critical to the success of any project. However, overdo it and you’ll run the risk of locking yourself into ‘prep mode’ indefinitely and eventually never make it to the implementation phase. Start somewhere and address the challenges as they appear, because any endeavor worth pursuing will necessarily carry a certain level of risk. 

Execution is what turns ideas into projects

Execution is what turns ideas into projects and projects into achievements. Unfortunately, general belief has, over the years, tended to undervalue the former and overvalue the latter. The fact is, brilliant ideas are not what makes people successful, it’s the quality of their execution. 

Jessica Abel, an American cartoonist and author calls it the “idea debt”. The attitude which consists of spending too much time thinking about an idea and less or no time at all implementing it. 

In so doing, you are not just failing to execute an idea, you are putting your dreams on hold indefinitely. In the long run, you will even convince yourself that you did best not to pursue them; that is until the day you come across someone who has, with exceptional success. 

A painful prospect isn’t it? Luckily, there is a simple (but not easy) way around it. Act on your ideas as soon as you have them. Whether it is drawing up the business plan for that Pet hotel and researching sources of funding, or making the call for those private dance lessons, just take the first step and keep putting one foot in front of the other until you get there. As I said, this is simple enough for all to understand what to do, but it requires strong discipline and commitment. You will need to feed your passion for the goal ahead constantly for it to outweigh your fear of failure. Different persons will achieve different levels of success, at different paces too; but the only way for you to completely fail is to give up, so keep at it. Don’t let your idea become one of the billions of unfulfilled dreams which fill the proverbial cemeteries.  

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