My name is Kevin and I used to be an idea killer. For almost a decade, my job was to detonate concepts for new small businesses before they reached the launch pad. Yes, to stop potentially great ideas before they got to market. Now, that wasn’t the title on my business card, but if it were, it would’ve been accurate.
Officially, I was a feasibility consultant: clients brought me ideas for new small and medium-sized ventures. My job, in turn, was to prepare a fancy, high-minded report analyzing whether the new business would fail or succeed.
For $10,000 a pop, I exhaustively analyzed dozens of business ideas over the years: ideas for recreational centers, brainstorms for boutique furniture businesses, plans for a shop purveying fine crystal. Some ideas could have potentially never made it; some could have become global brands. The truth is, when I dashed these entrepreneurs’ dreams, I didn’t know, to be honest.
Here’s how I would kill your idea: Say you ask me to evaluate your new venture. We sit down at a nice coffee shop together here in Ireland, just steps from the Atlantic Ocean, and you pitch. Maybe you’d pitch a game changing, industry busting, and ruckus-causing whopper of a startup. You tell me about your proposed revenue streams and about all the reasons why your startup will succeed. It’s distinctive, creative culture and plan for employee engagement and focus on the connection economy. Then I would go away and find enough reasons why this venture couldn’t possibly succeed. Not intentionally, of course, but unfortunately that was the normal outcome in most contexts.
The list of why-you-shouldn’t was endless. A few weeks later I would share my insights. After sipping my latte, looking out over the peaceful sea through the window behind you with a sparkle in my eyes, I would turn to you and render my verdict: “Your business will fail.”
But after years of finally killing ideas, I finally saw the light. I realized that having a bent towards “doing”—an ethos of exceptional execution, if you will–was the only way to push past idea killers like me and build companies, products and services that are exceptional. So, as penance for all the ideas I’ve killed over the years, I’m focused on helping audiences push past the idea killers in their own life.
In my latest book, DO! The Pursuit of Xceptional Execution, I interviewed entrepreneurs from around the world who lead some of the world’s most compelling brands and companies, ranging from one to 3,000 employees, and a range of turnovers from $100,000 to $130 million. I call them the Xceptionalists. They hail from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Bologna, Italy; from Des Moines, Iowa to Galway, Ireland. They run app companies, consultancies, clinics and sprawling technology corporations. Ironically, to each of the game changing businesses highlighted with my idea killer hat on, I would’ve issued a prognosis: failure.
Here are some strategies to deal with an idea killer?
1. Let your fear fuel you.
The number one thing that stops people from setting up a business world wide in every country is fear of failure according to the Global entrepreneurial monitor. No doubt fear stops entrepreneurs from growing and developing their business also. The good news is that fear is learned so you can unlearn it. How do you deal with fear? Many of the Xceptionalists appeared to have a common approach towards dealing with fear: Most honored it and saw fear as their teacher. Without it you could become complacent, they claimed. After reflecting on the source of their fears, they took action. It may have been to mitigate the risk or prepare even better but in all cases decisive action was taken that moved them closer to their goal.
2. Find an ordinary idea.
After years of naysaying, I’ve learned some very important lessons. The most important being: it’s not about the idea. It’s not about the business plan or the compelling vision to kickstart the process. It’s all a little less complicated than that. And it’s not about an occasional success or failure, it’s about the entrepreneur behind those successes and failures. It’s about the Xceptional execution of that ordinary idea. No need to levitate or wait for that elusive idea – oftentimes your game changing idea is just a solution to a problem that has been annoying you for a while. Ask Ben Milne CEO of Dwolla, one of the most disruptive technologies on the planet whose idea came from his frustration from paying too much credit card fees in a previous company or Peldi from Balsamiq whose wired frame mockup was the solution to a nagging problem he had in a previous company – they have gone from zero to 150,000 sales and 6m in sales in four years and so on.
And there’s more you don’t even need any previous experience in your industry of choice! Consider this: 40% of Inc. 500 founders that were interviewed in Amar Bhide’s book had no past experience of working in the industry they went on to dominate.
3. Do something to make that ordinary idea real.
Many of you reading this right now have at least one idea that you need to get out of your head and into the real world. In fact, you’ve been thinking about it so long that you know all the reasons why it won’t work.
The antidote for too much knowledge is execution. Why? Execution helps to work through fear and build confidence. Knowledge will always give you enough reasons not to act. Execution is taking the next step in spite of that knowledge. Xceptional execution is taking that next step.
If you want to make the most of your life, and do work that matters, if you want to put a ding in the universe, I challenge you to take the next step. Make that cold call. Send that email. Write that first blog post. Finish the proposal. In a word: Do.