Great Ideas Are Dangerous

If my friend David Akers reads this blog, he’ll remember very well our first substantive conversation, at Mom’s Diner on November 29, 2004 (I only remember because I put a note in my contacts). We talked about a wide range of topics, and I remember David’s shock (keep in mind David is an idea guy) when I said “there’s no such thing as a great idea.” When David challenged me, I added this: “There’s no such thing as a great idea. Only a good idea that was actually implemented to create great outcomes.” My premise was and is that labeling something as a great idea is often the kiss of death for the idea – many times assuring that it will not be implemented.

Think about it – all the great ideas that you or someone on your team have come up with that have never been implemented. All the so-called “million dollar ideas” that have never seen the light of day – or someone else did it and you were upset because it had been your great idea (which you never did anything about).

Also think about meetings and the ideas that pop up during those meetings – most often at the end of a meeting. Someone comes up with an idea and everyone says, “that’s a great idea,” but somehow that idea still dies a quiet and uneventful death, sometimes never heard from or about again. Why? Because no one took the time and energy to actionize the idea – to turn a concept into an action plan that can turn the “great idea” into reality.

Personally, I believe that when we label something as a great idea we unconsciously believe that it will become a reality simply because it’s a great idea. Nothing can be further from the truth – ideas are just ideas (neither great nor otherwise) and what matters is which ideas we care enough about to commit to with our time, energy, resources and accountability in order to ensure that they become a reality. As I said to David, there are only good ideas that are actually implemented in order to create great outcomes.

Steve Jobs – a brilliant innovator and idea person – had this to say about “great ideas”:

“One of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left, John Sculley got a very serious disease. And that disease – I’ve seen other people get it, too – it’s the disease of thinking that having a great idea is really 90 percent of the work. And if you just tell people, ‘here’s this great idea,’ then of course they can go off and make it happen. The problem with that is that there’s a tremendous amount of craftsmanship between a having a great idea and having a great product.” Steve Jobs, 1995

Clearly, Steve Jobs had it right – ideas need a lot of work. That’s where we fall down – we’re unable or unwilling to do the work to transform ideas into great impact.

What’s your great idea that’s languishing on the shelf, in your mind or in that always popular idea book? A client of mine recently shared that he keeps a book of ideas – a book that continues to grow because so few of the ideas are being implemented (and thus getting removed from the book). I offered this “radical” suggestion – burn the ideas book. His response was that the book has many great ideas in it; however, if the ideas are that great, they’ll survive the burning. And if they’re such great ideas, why wait – turn those ideas into great outcomes now!

Yes, we can always use more ideas, but what we truly need more of is people, teams, organizations and leaders who are willing to take the personal and professional risks necessary to plan, to commit, to risk, to act, to leap. I mean this literally – great ideas are dangerous because they sound good, the talk is large and the action is small. Too many worthwhile ideas are dying on the vine because of too much talk and not enough walk. Dump the label – great idea – and focus instead on the commitment needed to turn your ideas into action and into impact. Are you ready to leap?


  1. Elizabeth Joy says:

    Thanks for taking the time to write this thoughtful article. Personally, I found it a great idea! my general interest in the subject was aroused when I realized people thought it was “dangerous” to be an idea person. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said the chances of someone taking action are unlikely. What’s even more rare is a person who throws out ideas. According to “statistics” about 1 in 7 are the “idea” people and without them the doers would get stumped. Imagine the amount of doers living without idea people for it to be mentioned that no one is taking action. In my life time only a handful of people used my ideas, unknown to me. it wasn’t until later they came back to prove they made millions.
    The idea person doesn’t generally get paid from this directly, as they are not the doers. but through a million dollar income, the idea is that it would generate enough income for business purposes to come back around. The nice thing about being an idea person is that the great ones can be kept to ourselves!

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