There is No Them

Lessons on leadership from the world of game development

Posts Tagged ‘ideas

The ‘Ideas = Value’ Delusion

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“I don’t want to share my idea because it’s going to change the industry, and I don’t want it to get stolen.”

This sentiment echoes something I’ve heard over the years, and yet I was not expecting to run into it while speaking to applicants about joining the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy. I realized I was surprised that anyone seeking to join the DSGA, a program focused on leadership and management development in video games, would still be holding onto this belief.

It’s a belief that has many variations.

  • “I had that idea years ago” in response to a new game, movie, book, etc.
  • “I don’t share my best ideas at work because I don’t want them to belong to my employer.”
  • “I have notebooks full of great ideas.”

It’s the belief that the idea alone is of value, that good ideas are scarce, and that ideas should be owned. This belief is itself a delusion, one that people are better off living without. Any but the most novice who suffer from this delusion cannot be taken seriously by other professionals. And the most novice must be taught why this belief is not an outlook that will benefit them in their career.

Ideas are easy, execution is hard. Execution is what brings value to an idea. 

Recently Warren Spector, the Director of the DSGA, responded to an applicant about this very issue, with a response I thought was particularly well crafted. The response could be paraphrased as “If someone steals your idea and executes it poorly, you can still execute it better later on without too much worry. If someone steals your idea and executes it well, before you do, than they deserve the success for having worked harder to get that idea into the world.”

Many modern work places, never mind just video game development, require a level of creative problem solving on many different levels. Individuals who are committed to the success of the group know that by putting all ideas on the table the group has the best chance of deciding on the very best one, regardless of its source. Those that hold onto the delusion that ideas are themselves valuable, and should be hoarded, are not working in the best interest of the group (which impacts their own success over time). 

Over the past several years I’ve responded to this belief in part by sharing a video by ze frank, a video blogger of some notoriety. Check out an edited (and thus safe for work) version here. Find the explicit version for the full effect, including ze frank singing his song “where the f*** do ideas come from”.

I’ll admit to falling prey to this delusion early on in my career. Then I met James Ernest, who instead of having a filing cabinet of ideas had a bunch of actual board games on the market. James showed me that valuing ideas didn’t lead to results, and that the real value was in being able to execute an idea. Thanks you James, for one of the many important lessons you taught me. 

In a future post I’ll dive into the fallacy that leadership has to have all of the ideas or answers, as well as discuss a model for how successful leaders can direct their people and organizations without falling prey to this fallacy. 


Written by joshuahoward

June 19, 2014 at 2:01 pm

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