One of my favorite quotations is "Ideas are commodity. Execution of them is not" by Michael Dell. It's a frontal assault on the falsehood that big ideas alone make the world go 'round. Everyone has ideas. Literally, everyone. Putting those ideas into practice is what matters.

In terms of startup businesses, Eric Ries offers a comical perspective in his book "The Lean Startup" published in 2012. He challenges readers to try to get someone, such as a competitor, to steal one of your bright ideas. Chances are they won't even call you back. They are loaded with ideas and are struggling to decide which ones to pursue. The constraint is with practical execution. According to US copyright law, one cannot copyright ideas or concepts, and rightfully so.

I once worked with an engineer at a large US Government customer who I considered to be both a thought leader and a conman. His ideas were modern, well-explained, and expertly sold to top management. This guy could sell salt to a slug. If he were not so unscrupulous, he'd make a great account manager. Anyway, he never successfully deployed anything, but arrayed his "fall guys" like dominoes to take the heat when the efforts inevitably failed. By that time, he was already peddling a new fad. Those at the bottom (us) saw through the charade but executives praised his brilliant ideas. So much for that.

What matters is the daily grind, the nitty gritty work that it takes to build a business. Paraphrasing Ries again, it isn't the theoretical whiteboard session or occasional late-night mental breakthrough. It's the core business functions, such as sales, marketing, product development, accounting, customer service, and countless more. Above all, it is testing hypotheses for correctness and taking appropriate action thereafter. This is unexciting, time consuming, and difficult. That's why the weak managers from my former job shied away from it and heralded half-baked pipe dreams instead.

Everything has to start with an idea, but the keyword is start. Don't pat yourself on the back until you build something off it. Ask yourself, "Does what I built deliver real-life value to anyone?" For an idea, the answer is always no. For a solution, the answer is maybe, and if you've done your homework, it should always be yes.

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