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Ideas Vs. Execution | DAREN SMITH

Ideas Vs. Execution

This is an exerpt from my new book The Craftsman Creative Manifesto. You can preorder your copy using the link at the end of the post.


A family member of mine likes to tell the story of how she came up with the ideas for pull-ups. You know, the diapers that you can pull up and down for toddlers that are training to learn how to use the toilet?

A client of mine used to claim that he came up with the idea of a TV show that is currently on air. Someone else stole it from him and ended up with all the money, fame, fortune, etc.

Here’s the thing: none of that matters.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Thousands of people have told stories about how they “came up with such and such idea.” Yet, you don’t get points for having the idea. You get points for the execution.

A few anecdotes to drive this point home:

Every time a client hired me for a film project, they thought I had a good idea. The idea is what gets you in the room. Yet, what they were investing in was my ability to execute and bring that idea to fruition. You have good ideas, so does everyone else. That’s a given. What matters is your work ethic and your ability to execute.

The flip side is also true. Others in your industry might have way better ideas than you. We all have that movie, that album, that piece of art where we look at it and wish we had thought of it first. The other day I read a tweet from a writer I admire who said when he read the pilot for Breaking Bad he threw it across the room because it was so perfectly well-executed.

What we must remember that those other ideas without execution will never beat your idea with incredible execution.

It’s rare to see people execute on their first idea and have it be a hit. Same goes for their second or third attempts. You need to also be willing to “fail” in the sense that an idea may not work.

That’s ok, and it doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you normal! James Altucher in his writing has often advocated coming up with 10 ideas a day as a habit, a form of mental exercise. Say that the odds of a good idea are 1 out of every 100. The faster you try those other 99 ideas the faster you will get to the one that works.

You also don’t need 100 good ideas every year. Most creatives can only manage a few large creative projects in any 12 month period.

In the first few days of 2019, I saw a wide array of creatives posting their goals for the year, and most had 2 to 4 big projects they wanted to get done.

For me, it’s producing a season of a television show that I’m currently a senior producer on, and in my spare time it’s writing, writing, and more writing. I plan on writing two screenplays, THIS book, and creating an online course that is a companion/expansion to this book.

Are these amazing ideas? No. But my execution is where I can have the most profound effect, so that’s where I place my focus and my discipline.

One thing I urge you to remember and make part of your identity as a Craftsman Creative: You can always outwork others.

Decide now that your work ethic will exceed any advantage in the idea that someone else comes up with.

Execution Dependent

A few years ago, we took an idea or “pitch” for a movie idea to a local production company that was looking for new projects. We felt like the genre, the budget, everything was in alignment with what we knew about their previous films and felt pretty confident going in.

After the pitch, they told us the stuff we didn’t know about their business. In hindsight, this would have been incredibly helpful as we crafted our presentation…

In order of importance, they ranked the following:

  1. Genre
  2. Star/Talent
  3. Visual Effects
  4. Budget
  5. Ease of Production
  6. Story

That sixth one bugged me. I could have stood up and left right then, but the couch we were sitting on was so old and low to the ground that it wouldn’t have been as effective a gesture as I’d pictured in my mind. So, rather, I sat and listened.

They explained that the movie we were trying to make was too execution dependent. I hadn’t heard that term before, at least not in this context. It wasn’t hard to understand what it meant, but it wasn’t something I had ever thought about when making a movie.

We responded that we were perfectly capable of pulling it off, but that we also prioritized telling a good story. They couldn’t have cared less, so we parted ways and the movie never happened.

That moment has stuck with me though. What kind of work do we want to create, to be known for? Stuff that’s easy to mass produce, for the masses to consume and to toss aside because there wasn’t a lot of effort put in to produce it? Or do we want to create the kind of work that has a piece of us in it, that has value, that has meaning, that changes people?

Execution Dependent can often be a derogatory term when you’re talking with the people financing your project. As long as you have control over the creation and the output, I’d wear “execution dependent” as a badge of honor. It means you cared enough to execute it in a way that you’re proud to put your name on it.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is what matters.


If you’re a creative looking to pursue your art, my new book will help you with the foundational principles that will set you up for success. You can get the book at the link below:

Preorder The Craftsman Creative

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