Today’s business fairytales make it seem like ideas are what’s valuable. But in reality, it’s the execution that matters. Great businesses are built with relentless execution, not “eureka!” moments. You can have the best ideas in the world, and your business can still flop if you don’t execute. Here’s how to achieve success by executing your awesome ideas like a pro.
Derek Sivers is one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the music industry. In 1998, Sivers created CD Baby, which went on to become one of the most popular music distribution sites in the world. (He later sold it for a cool $22 million.)
The CD Baby origin story is the stuff of legends. CD Baby was practically an accident. Sivers created a website to sell his own CD and some of his friends asked if he could sell theirs as well. Just like that, CD Baby was born.
With an idea like his, it’d be easy to think that Sivers is a man who believes in the power of ideas. But he does not.
To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.
But how can the man who started a multi-million dollar business off the cuff believe that ideas are useless? On the surface, it seems hypocritical. Dig deeper and it makes a whole lot of sense.
Here’s Sivers’s basic theory. He uses two scales: one for ideas and one for execution.
To find the actual value of an idea, you have to multiply it by its execution.
For example, a great idea (worth 15 points) with so-so execution ($10,000) would have a value of $15,000. While these are just arbitrary values, this theory can help you reframe the way you think about ideas.
So, what’s the best way to execute your ideas? Here are 10 steps to follow to expertly execute your ideas, turn those ideas into a reality, and achieve success.
Step 1: Prevent idea paralysis
Have you ever found yourself scrolling through your options on Netflix, unable to decide what to watch? Eventually, you get tired and select the show you’ve watched a thousand times or just go to sleep.
You’re not alone.
In the field of decision-making psychology, there’s a phenomenon commonly referred to as “choice overload,” or choice paralysis. People experience choice overload when they have so many options that they become too overwhelmed to actually make a decision. This can cause people to make short-sighted decisions they later regret.
Similarly, we can suffer from idea overload. This can happen when you’re juggling many ideas at once. You have so many ideas that you become overwhelmed and trap yourself in an infinite loop of thinking, effectively preventing yourself from moving forward with any of them.
You can combat idea paralysis by routinely recording and analyzing your ideas. Write down your ideas and then ask yourself, “Does this idea align with my mission and vision for my business?” If it does, try it. If not, scrap it. If you can’t bring yourself to scrap it, refine it.
The bottom line: Don’t be an idea hoarder. Put your ideas to good use.
Step 2: Carefully evaluate negative thoughts
A lot of people will tell you to drown out negative thoughts and comments. This makes some sense—you don’t want to naysay your ideas into oblivion.
But if you’re having negative thoughts, there’s probably a reason why. Don’t immediately discount them. Instead, ask yourself why you’re having these thoughts. This will help you identify possible problem areas.
Step 3: Think about the short-term and the long-term
“Think about the big picture.”
“Focus on the long-term.”
You’ve probably heard these a million times. If you only think in terms of end game, you won’t think about the immediate consequences of your actions. You don’t want to pile up a mountain of debt at the start just because you’re focused on the finish line.
The big picture and long-term are important things to focus on—but it won’t do you any favors to exclude the smaller details and the short-term.
When evaluating an idea, think of how it will benefit your business in the long run, but also ask yourself what’s practical right now. Can you afford to move forward with your idea? Do you have the resources to execute it?
Step 4: Weigh the pros and cons (in a different way)
It’s important to analyze your ideas. One tried-and-true method for idea analyzing is the famous “pros and cons” list. You’re probably already picturing a two-column list in your head—but there’s a different way that yields much better results.
Instead of a standard pros and cons list, try using what’s known as a Descartes Square. Draw a square and separate it into four boxes. One question goes into each quadrant:
It might seem redundant, but you’ll find that the pros of executing and the cons of not executing are usually different. Using a Descartes Square will force you to think about every possibility that accompanies either executing (or not executing) your idea.
Give it a try next time you’re analyzing a business idea.
Step 5: Use SWOT analysis
Finishing your Descartes Square doesn’t mean you’re done analyzing. There are tons of ways to put your idea under the microscope, and you should make use of as many as you can.
Another way you analyze an idea is by using SWOT analysis. Like the Descartes Square, this four-quadrant approach helps you process and evaluate ideas more clearly. In this popular technique, you list any strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats you can find in your idea.
While it’s typically used to analyze entire business models, you can use a SWOT analysis for your business ideas too.
Step 6: Get feedback on your idea
Maybe you’re having some trouble analyzing your idea alone. Maybe you just want an outside opinion. Either way, it’s smart to get out of your own head and into the heads of your customers.
This is why you need feedback. Getting real-world feedback can let you know if your idea is good or bad.
And getting feedback doesn’t have to mean handing out paper surveys to one thousand strangers (although it can). The key is to test the waters with your new idea, and that can happen on a small level.
One great method is conducting customer interviews. This will give you direct, face-to-face feedback from your target audience. Running ideas by flesh-and-blood customers will help you separate the good from the bad so you can move forward with the ideas your would-be customers respond well to.
If you’re uncomfortable speaking to customers face-to-face, there is such a thing as the internet. Another way to get feedback on your ideas is through online platforms. Sites like UserTesting offer focus groups in your target demographic that will review your ideas, sites, or products. Freelancing sites are also great venues for finding feedback.
Accept all critiques gracefully. Each one is a favor to you and your reviewers deserve your gratitude whether they agree with you or not.
Step 7: Don’t wait for the “perfect moment”
Patience is a virtue—but procrastinating is a vice.
If you want to succeed, you can’t sit around and wait for the stars to align. It won’t happen.
If you’re holding onto an idea, ask yourself what you’re waiting for. You might find that you actually have everything you need to make your idea a reality. Think of it this way: unless you’re waiting for something that is absolutely necessary to execute your idea, just execute it.
Step 8: Consider adopting the lean startup philosophy
The lean startup model, popularized by Eric Ries, is all about moving (and changing) rapidly.
The lean startup model encourages execution by focusing on the creation of a minimum viable product (MVP). According to Ries, an MVP is “that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.” Basically, it’s a product that barely meets your target audience’s needs.
We’ve been programmed to want perfection off the bat, but that’s nearly impossible. A lean startup model is about pushing out products and then improving as you go. That’s why creating an MVP can be extremely valuable.
Going lean isn’t right for every startup, but it’s worth a shot if you want a framework for moving forward. And if that doesn’t work for you, you can always consider starting a side hustle or micro-business.
Step 9: Identify your excuses
Every business owner has his or her fair share of excuses. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it is something you should acknowledge.
Just like waiting for the perfect moment, using excuses to avoid execution can lead to doing nothing.
Tackle one idea at a time. Ask yourself why you haven’t acted on it. Be honest. Write down your reasons. Read them back to yourself. Do any of them sound ridiculous? Are any of your reasons just outs to avoid responsibility? You’ll be surprised at how many of your seemingly valid “reasons” are really just excuses.
If you uncover more excuses than you’d like to admit, you might need to work on your mindset—specifically on a characteristic called “grit.” Grit is a potent mixture of passion and perseverance, and every successful entrepreneur has it. Thankfully, grit can be learned by embracing failure and trying again.
Step 10: Keep seeking improvement
No idea—or product—is ever completely finished. There is always room for improvement, and that’s something you need to accept if you want to get off the ground and start executing.
It’s easy to hold off executing by telling yourself that you’re too busy perfecting. But (see number 9) that’s an excuse. Realize that your idea will need improvement along the way and change it accordingly.
Now Go Forth and Execute
Ideas are a dime a dozen, but a good execution can make millions.
Need proof? Eyewear company Glassic would have never become super successful if they hadn’t executed. They executed fast and made changes as they grew.
When it comes down to it, you have two options. You can stay in Idea Land forever and think about what could be or you could start a business by executing those ideas and create the future you want for yourself.
Take this as the motivation you need to turn your ideas into reality. In the words of Nike: just do it.
Ian is a WealthFit contributor. He is the author of The No B.S. Guide to Freelance Writing and writes about marketing, entrepreneurship, and freelancing. He holds a Bachelor's of Arts in English from Kent State University.