Idea and execution can’t be separated

2 minute read

Munari Scimmietta Zizì

If you really think about it, there is no other way. Whether this mess in internal in our brains, or external in our environment, we can only select things that are possible, invention is merely when the possible is new. Real invention, out of nowhere, not selecting from the possible, is impossible, by definition.
— David Galbraith (2013) There is no Such Thing as Invention

This is a long, long, long time discussion in the business world about innovation: is the idea the important part, or the execution? David does a great job in detailing the dialogue between the parts even if he then sides on the “ideas don’t exist” side.

Mike a few days ago linked me this story:

There is an old joke about cadets in a tank warfare training program with three sessions, on mobility, communications and firepower.
The first instructor, an engine expert, concludes his session with the declaration, “a tank that can shoot and communicate, but not move, is useless”.
The next instructor, a radio expert, concludes his session with a similar line, “a tank that can shoot and move, but not communicate, is useless”.
The last instructor, a gunnery expert, finishes his session with the line, “a tank that can move and communicate, but not shoot, is basically a 50-ton portable radio”.

Point is:

  • The idea without execution is nothing
  • The execution without the idea is nothing (actually, it’s usually quite a net loss)

The two cannot exist one without the other. I agree that as David’s article we can even say that it’s just a combination of what exists in the context, or adjacent possible as Stuart Kauffman refers to. But that combination is usually exactly what we refer to as “idea”.

From a psychological standpoint, that “idea” is actually coming from the intuition of the person. Is a component of the person fantasy that is actually able to see beyond and combine to create something new. That combination is the creative process, the idea.

And that’s not easy. I mean, everyone can do it, but there are people that even think they can’t do it. If that association was so obvious, everyone should have it, right? Still even if many people have similar ideas at the same time, it’s not like everyone has them. That’s the idea.


Alan Turing and Claude Shannon shared the same cafeteria (even if they were not allowed to talk about their secret work), and Silicon Valley pioneers comprise a relatively small group of people who quite often, personally knew each other before they were successful. This is neither incredible co-incidence nor voodoo attraction between geniuses but a product of special environments.

And there again, when we talk about context and creativity, the concept of Proximity comes out again. Physical proximity again in this case, where people are actually bumping in each other – the same cafeteria – and they trigger an higher level of sharing, innovation, and creativity.


Hat tip to Lawrence for the link.