Idea vs. Execution

steve jobs young

Occasionally (okay, frequently), people share with me their ideas for a new product or business. More times than not, the ideas are  clever.  But then I go all Debbie Downer1 on them and tell them that success rarely hinges on the idea. Execution, I say. It’s all about execution. And luck.

A couple of years ago, I saw this quote from Steve Jobs that he said in 1995 interview  after returning to Apple. 2

“You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left, John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.

“And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make…..Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

“And it’s that process that is the magic.”

Oh, and now, when people tell me about their idea, I suggest they go to and search for all the articles there about product development.

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Debbie Downer is the name of a fictional Saturday Night Live character which debuted in 2004. Portrayed by Rachel Dratch, Debbie would appear at social gatherings and interrupt the conversation to voice negative opinions and pronouncements.
  2. The quotation is from the documentary by Robert X. Cringely, Steve Jobs: The Lost Interview. via: