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Ideas are the Only Currency in the New Economy

Success is Not Only About Hard Work and Persistence, Quality Counts Too.

September 15th, 2010 · No Comments · Ideas

Big Ideas: Finding the right idea can be more important than the popular notion that taking any action is better than nothing towards your goals.

Meetings, discussion and brainstorming are a key component of selecting great ideas.

Personal development and success writers talk about the importance of action and just getting down to work. Most will agree that action towards a mediocre idea is far better than no action while waiting for the perfect concept to come your way. While this logic is likely true for time intensive activities like exercise, learning a musical instrument or mastering a foreign language, quantity of effort may not be the primary determinate of success.

Ramit Sethi of has a great guest post from MIT post-doctoral associate Cal Newport. Newport counters the popular idea that “you need to just get started” with the fact that in some situations finding the great idea first is more productive than working towards a mediocre idea.

While many people now consider corporate meetings a waste of time, Newport states:

discussion and brainstorming are a core component of our research process. It’s understood that only the best ideas can survive the submission process of top conferences like SIGCOMM, therefore a huge effort is invested in identifying the best possible projects before getting started. As seen on my calendar above, it’s not unusual to dedicate 6 or more hours a week in formal brainstorming meetings, with at least another 6 – 12 spent exploring on your own time.

Notice that MIT’s idea-centric process (e.g., finding the right ideas is key) contrasts with the progress-centric process (e.g., getting started is key) that dominates popular discussion on getting things done.

For example:

  • Proponents of the progress-centric process says “getting started” is the most important step. To paraphrase a commentator on a past article I wrote on this subject: “You will fail at 100% of the opportunities you never try!”
  • Proponents of the idea-centric process, by contrast, note that the vast majority of ideas are mediocre. If you jump at every concept that seems viable, you’ll probably end up accomplishing little of consequence.

Newport concludes with;

when you’re talking about lasting accomplishment – the type you’ll be remembered for — it’s hard to avoid the reality that great ideas require a great investment of time to uncover. The sooner you make peace with this mindset — even if it means waiting longer before quitting your job to become an entrepreneur or diving into your brilliant book idea — the sooner you can start making important things happen.

Cal Newport’s  original guest post on has many more important points that I didn’t summarize here. It is definitely worth a read.

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