Your Idea Is Brilliant, Your Idea Is Worthless

While I was at a family wedding a few weeks ago, one of my aunts asked me, “So, what’s the hardest part about designing a game? It must be coming up with the ideas, right?”

I laughed. “I have plenty of ideas–hundreds of them. I think most game designers do. The challenge is executing those ideas.”

Ever since I started Stonemaier Games–and with increasing frequency–people have come to me with their ideas. Most of them are board-game ideas; others are ideas for Kickstarter projects in a variety of categories.

The sentiment is almost always the same: A person has an idea, and they’re looking for help to make that idea a reality. Many of them want a partner–they’ll be in charge of the idea, and I’ll execute it.

Their intentions are well-meaning. They place a high value on their idea, and they want to put it in good hands.

I get that. I’ve been there. But it’s not that simple. Not even close.


Your Idea Is Brilliant

Ideas are important. Your idea is important. It may even be brilliant.

Take, for example, pretty much any science-fiction novel, movie, or television show. It’s probably full of interesting ideas, and those ideas might inspire actual science or technology someday.

When you have the freedom to generate ideas without the pressure to execute, you can think of some incredible things.

So, no matter what anyone tells you, don’t stop generating ideas. Daydream about them. Share them with other people. Write them down (I use Trello).

Your idea is brilliant. But…

Your Idea Is Worthless

I hate to break it to you, but your idea–any idea, really–is worthless. An idea only has value when it is executed, and it only has a lot of value when it’s executed well.

Say you have an idea for a board game. It’s a great idea. You have a friend who has a terrible idea for a game. You know this because they wrote a terrible rulebook and pieced together a terrible prototype. You played it, and it was terrible.

Your friend’s terrible prototype is worth 100x more than your great idea.

Why? Because your friend actually did something with their idea. They created something. It may be terrible, but at least it exists. They’re now informed about how to proceed based on something real, something tangible.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to turn an idea into reality. It then takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to turn that reality into something functional, much less something great.

So if you’re offering someone your idea in exchange for them to execute it, you’re basically asking them to do 99.99% of the work. That’s not a partnership.

Imagine if your spouse told you, “I have an idea for a delicious 10-course meal. You should spend the next few days researching each dish, buying the ingredients, testing different versions, preparing the final meal, and serving it plate by plate at a dinner party. We’ll split the credit 50/50.”

There is no such thing as a million-dollar idea. All ideas are worth $0. Your idea might be fun to talk about, but until you execute it, it has no value.

How to Make an Idea a Reality

Here are two specific things you can do right now with your brilliant idea:

  1. Share it: Share your idea today with at least 5 people, ideally on a public forum. You might be afraid of someone stealing your idea. Don’t be. Remember, ideas are an abundant commodity–it’s time that is scarce. If you share your idea, you’ll get immediate feedback. You might learn that your idea already exists–that’s probably the best case scenario, because instead of you spending a ton of time, effort, and money on creating it, you can just go buy it right now.
  2. Make a little bit: Take at least one creative step towards making your idea into something real. Don’t try to make the whole thing today–that’s too daunting. Instead, just make a little bit. Write the first paragraph of the novel. Sketch out the layout of the card. Call the jet fuel factory to get some pricing for your Iron Man suit. I think you will be surprised by what happens after you stop thinking about your idea and start making it.

One of the best things about bringing your own idea to life–not just despite all the work, but thanks to all the work–is that it feels GREAT. You just took something that doesn’t exist (a figment of your imagination) and made it a reality. It’s incredibly satisfying. (Thanks to Falko in the comments for pointing this out.)

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I’m curious to hear your thoughts about this topic in the comments.

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