An idea is just as good as its execution

(and people are only as good as they are able to execute)

Sometimes you have something that seems like a great idea, but when you see it implemented it sucks. Turns out that, when put in practice, the idea was not that good after all. Other times, the idea looks good (and probably it is) but the way it’s implemented doesn’t accomplish what was expected (“Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”). A good idea can’t survive bad execution, while a reasonable idea, if well executed, can become a very good thing!

As an example, we can think about many products which are similar to existing ones except they were very much better executed; or have a much better design; or a much better user experience; or were better marketed, presented to the public and “packaged” in a way or time when it made sense.

On the other hand, you have great ideas who don’t become great business successes. Either because there’s not a perfect market fit or because they are not appealing enough. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been on both sides and tasted the proverbial sour taste of unsuccess with what looked like remarkable ideas.

People, their potential, and their skills

This thought came back to me again recently, when a good friend of mine achieved a formidable goal in his professional life. He delivered big time! With it, I began thinking about people, their potential, and their skills. As we talked, we discussed the success of the operation he was involved in. We talked about how good it was for him, for the people he works with and for his organisation. And the parallel between people and ideas in terms of implementation became obvious.

With people, the aforementioned aphorism is also true. Someone’s potential is there to be harvested, but it has to mature, develop, be worked on, find the right opportunity, learn more and keep on doing – the idea isn’t real until it’s put into practice, right? As with ideas, there’s a lot of work (and it has to be the right work) involved in becoming a better person and a better professional.

According to several studies, many times the people who are successful and happy are not those you think “that have it all”. To be successful it’s not necessary to be extraordinarily smart. Many times, if you think back at your school days, those who were “set for success” are not the ones who get there at the end of the day. As Gary Kasparov put it, “aptitude to play chess is just aptitude to play chess. Nothing else.”

“If you have a high level of intelligence as predicted by IQ test scores, you have great capacity or potential. But if it’s not used in ways that fulfill you psychologically, it’s not likely that you will become a total success.”

Having three kids in school age the reasons for personal happiness and success are something I think a lot. What makes some people succeed and be happy, even if sometimes it seems they’re bound for it while they are young? Why, so many times, the bright young kids who excel in school are not that successful when they grow up? Is it school and our educational system? Is it something that happens in their family context? Is there something we can do, as parents, to foster our kids’ abilities to be successful?

What is success?

Let me be clear on one thing: I’m not only talking about economic success. That might be one part. But it is not the whole story. I’m talking about making sure that one’s economics are enough to sustain the lifestyle that makes that person happy. As one friend of mine puts it: “It’s not being rich today. It’s not being poor tomorrow [considering the lifestyle that one wants / likes to have]”.

Although I said this is not only about financial success, many successful people were also accomplished economically. It’s interesting to understand what they thought were the factors that led them to their success. Some studies from self-reporting successful people had them listing these top 10 factors:

  1. Being honest with all people
  2. Being well disciplined
  3. Getting along with people
  4. Having a supportive spouse
  5. Working harder than most people
  6. Loving my career/business
  7. Having strong leadership qualities
  8. Having a very competitive spirit/personality
  9. Being very well organized
  10. Having an ability to sell my ideas/products

It’s suggestive to notice that most of these qualities are learnt during your education but are not school subjects. And it’s also interesting that you don’t find any reference to the grades or the level of knowledge they learned on their educational path. On this particular aspect it is relevant that factors of that kind were considered much less important. For instance, “attending a top-rated college” was only the 23rd factor by these successful people’s classification and “Graduating near / at top of my class” was the 30th.

Obviously, this does not mean these are not important factors, or that whatever you learn in school or which school you attend is irrelevant. It only gives us a view on some other factors which are also important (for this survey sample at least).

Thinking about this I realized that people sometimes live by the expectations they create instead of fulfilling their potential. I know so many people who never moved beyond their potential. Who never really executed it. I could not avoid the idea of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation and considering that it might play a larger role than what our society considers most of the time.

But that was not the case with my friend I talked about in the beginning of this post. He delivered. Congratulations! Well-deserved success.

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Pedro Veloso

I'm a serial entrepreneur and a (quasi-serial) father. I'm particularly fond of technology, solving problems and team culture, and my life lies at the intersection of those interests.