Why Your Ideas Are In The Way Of Your Success

Contrary to popular belief, the key to success are not great ideas. Far from it. Ideas actually might be in the way of your success. Here’s why and how to remove them. 

A few years ago, I met with our team of instructors to talk about increasing participants in our professional coaching program. This meant marketing: how we offer it, where we hold it, and how we communicate about it. What I heard were ideas – not about implementation but about new training exercises and programs.

Some had ideas for new ways we could lead the training program. I asked, “Will this new way of leading the exercise increase the results for participants?”

“No, but it would be fun to do something different,” the instructor replied.

“It is different for every new participant. And if it’s already working, I want to put our energy into implementing rather than continually changing our program,” I responded.

Next there were ideas about new programs we could create. All were good ideas, and we’ve since created a few of them. The trouble was, working on these ideas at that time would distract us from further implementing the ready-to-go program we already had.

After yet more ideas were voiced, a bit frustrated, I announced in one of my less sensitive moments: “Enough with the new ideas! Write them down. Keep them. But I’m banning new ideas for the next six months. Our task right now is not to revise, tweak, or create new programs but to execute on the program we already have.”

We did, and that training program took off.

Why We Love Our Ideas

Everyone has ideas. And we usually think our ideas are winners. Here are a few reasons we love ideas:

  • Ideas are safe. I have coached many leaders who have great ideas. We shaped ideas into plans, but some leaders weren’t willing to move forward. Implementation was too risky. As long as they stayed ideas there was no risk.
  • Ideas are beautiful. There’s purity in a good idea. Ideas move from angelic purity to human imperfection as they meet the harsh realities of the world. Implementation is always messy.
  • Ideas are motivating. Compared to the limitations we feel implementing, ideas have no limitations. So much could be possible. Ideas are exciting and motivating.
  • Ideas are illusions of success. When the going gets tough, it’s much more fulfilling to work with ideas. Ideas deceive us by presenting themselves as something of intrinsic value. What makes an idea valuable is it’s successful implementation.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen. People who implement them are priceless,” Mary Kay Ash said, and I agree.

What To Do With Your Great Ideas

It’s easy for leaders to be distracted by ideas. Here are five steps to take your great ideas and put them into action.

At some point you must choose which ideas to implement. We don’t like to choose. Saying “no” to ideas while implementing others is difficult. Instead we try to hedge our bets by keeping several ideas on the table. We don’t fully commit to working on any one idea. We dabble.

This is a mistake.

Mark Cuban said, “Companies fail for lack of brains and effort.” Implementation takes hard, focused, long work. Most people won’t do the work. It’s as simple as that.

  1. Choose which idea to implement. Which idea has the best chance of success? I define this as the idea that will be best received by your audience and you can implement relatively soon. To answer this question you must know who your audience is and what they value.
  2. Plan & implement immediately. Don’t fall into the another idea trap – trying to perfect your plan. I like how Gen. George S. Patton put it, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Commit, implement wholeheartedly, and do it now.
  3. Let go of your idea. As soon as you begin to implement your idea, it changes. It quickly moves from your brilliant idea to something you hardly recognize. Other people get their hands on it. Reality touches it. Recognize your emotional attachment to your ideas and let it go. Like a teenager, our ideas need to become independent of us if they are to mature.
  4. Improve based on results. As you implement, learn from your results. When you face obstacles, you will be tempted to abandon implementation and move to another idea. Don’t. It’s better to keep implementing, then improve and get it back out there again.
  5. Be discerning and keep implementing. You must learn to discern when to push harder, when to slightly repackage your offering to better appeal to your audience, and when you are hearing your own boredom or weariness. Do the hard work of producing real-world results with your idea.

I’m not mentioning when to quit, because that’s usually not the problem I encounter with leaders. The challenge most leaders face is to narrow their ideas, choose one, and implement it.

Don’t let your ideas get in the way of your success, implement them. Or at least one of them.

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    Keith is President of Creative Results Management. He helps busy leaders multiply their impact. Keith is the author of several books including The COACH Model for Christian Leaders.

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    5 thoughts on “Why Your Ideas Are In The Way Of Your Success

    1. I think the “idea trap” is especially a challenge for those of us who have “Ideation” as a Strengthsfinders strength. It is easy to love idea generation more than the actual implementation, partly because we are wired that way. It is easy to get bored with an idea that is being implemented and move to another one too quickly and limit our impact and fruitfulness.

    2. Enjoyed your article and it hit home, but not in a you might not expect.

      My biggest personal issue (one of many..lol) is that I have had too many “good ideas” that often conflict with other issues I try to resolve, such as new careers involving relocation to new state as one example. Changing careers is risky enough but have found that trying to implement those changes without adequate research to formulate a “good plan” can lead to disaster. I have done this giving up a lucrative career and trying to turn my skills into a business without enough knowledge of entrepreurship (actual word?). Ideas are great but alone can be disastrous without planning and research before trying to implement…should be common sense (?)