Scenario: You're a young person joining the workforce. Naturally, you're buzzing with ideas.
Let's say you have an idea — not just any idea, a 10x idea — and you approach your team with the idea. Being part of a wholly supportive team, everyone is willing to hear your idea. No one wants to discourage ideas, after all. It's an idea-driven economy.
So, you pitch your 10x idea on the company Slack.
You get some +1s, 7 💯s, 8 🤔s, 5 👍s and some comments supporting the idea, trying to build on top of it.
Days and weeks pass by. The idea is now forgotten. Nothing ever came out of it. And you can't stop wondering why.
What's the difference between an idea that gets executed and an idea that simply makes people nod their heads, but nothing ever comes out of them?
Like I've written before, amateurs think in solutions, professionals think in tradeoffs.
You see, ideas are only good if they don't violate constraints.
Stated in a different way, good ideas must be plausible without you needing the effort equivalent of a miracle. And it is not always very obvious where the line between what's doable and what will require extraordinary effort, is.
For all practical purposes, if your idea violates any constraints, it's as good as wishing a miracle to happen.
What are these constraints I talk about?
Well, they could be anything, depending on your context.
If you work at an early-stage startup and pitch an idea, but you can't execute it yourself and would need your company to hire a team of 5 to get it done, it's a bad idea.
If the idea you pitch has a timeline of two weeks while something needs to be shipped within two days, it's a bad idea.
If the idea you pitch involves hiring Anil Kapoor and running ads in the IPL, but your marketing budget is ₹50,000, it's a bad idea.If the idea you pitch needs buy-in from 6 different stakeholders and you're a few weeks away from launch, it's a bad idea.
If the idea you pitch is just an idea to you and you have no idea about how you will execute that idea, it is, by default, a bad idea.
Ideas don't exist in a vacuum.
They are not absolutely “good” or “bad.” They are good or bad judged relative to the current fitness landscape, or the context being considered.
But, let me not sound like I'm saying that it is bad to have 10x ideas that don't necessarily jam well with the current context. The upshot is that, often, the context changes over time. The company does better, attracting additional resources and talent.
An idea that is not good right now, but is potentially good in the not-too-distant future, is one that it's a good idea, and you can plant it as a seed. It only needs to be one where it benefits from at least some tailwinds. You need to have the winds at your back for your ideas to take root. And identifying a direction with the wind at your back is often one of the primary hidden constraints.
If there is a cultural tailwind — for example — but participating in that tailwind is currently expensive and violates your constraints, your idea has future potential.
There can be many such tailwinds: cultural, behavioural, technological, political or regulatory, etc.
A good idea that gets executed often manifests as solving a problem for which there is clear and concrete short-term need, that still lines up with the direction you’re trying to do, and that doesn't violate any constraints.
Your manager might nod her head, but if she senses a constraint being violated, your idea most probably will not see the light of day.
Generally, the younger the startup, the stricter the constraints (unless not obscenely funded by venture capital!)
This is also why the common advice for working at startups goes like, “If you have an idea, make sure you can execute on it yourself without involving too many people or demanding too many resources.”
But the upside is that constraints foster creativity.
Blindly throwing money at problems only leads to dullness and short-termism. Selling 100 rupee notes for 90 rupees was never a good business model. And in the current landscape, it has stopped being a good idea as well.
So, the next time you're wondering why your idea didn't reify itself into something real, think about what hidden constraint/s other stakeholders in your company had that they were unwilling to break out of or trade-offs that they simply weren't willing to make.