Ideas are Free

New ideas are fun! They're an exciting mix of emotions. But ultimately they are free: Anyone can have ideas. And it's likely that any idea you have now or in the future, has already been explored by someone else—if only for a few moments.

Their subjectivity is part of what makes them so exciting. Something that seems obvious to you, might seem like the next unicorn startup to someone else.

You always hear people say "I have a million dollar idea." You almost never hear people say "I have a million dollar execution strategy for an idea."

Part of the reason why this happens is there is no execution involved. The human brain loves to come up with new things and extrapolate out to their perceived completion. In doing so there's inherent complexity missed.

If you've ever taken an idea and attempted to productize it, especially in tech, you've probably realized the idea alone trivializes a lot of difficult strategy and execution.

Since this is the way I think about ideas, I was a little annoyed when I received an intro to someone today that wanted me to sign an NDA before they discussed their idea with me. Ideas should be nurtured, not hidden behind legalese. I love building upon other's ideas, just like I welcome feedback on mine. I certainly expect nothing in return.

I tried to impress on them that taking the idea to the next level would require near flawless execution for a long time, as well as including many people along its development. Further, the idea would change significantly as a product and company grow out of it.

There are plenty of popular examples of business partners suing each other because someone allegedly stole someone else's idea (see The Social Network). But it takes a lot of successful execution to even get to the point where it's worth suing. Most lose interest once they realize how difficult it is to bring something so nascent into being.

When I characterize ideas as "free," I don't mean that they are worthless. Ideas have immense value in the hands of the right team at the right time. Rather, I mean you can't assign an arbitrary monetary value to them because their real value is contingent upon realizing it.

I hope the person isn't too offended when I said their idea is "free" since they obviously thought it was worthy of us being contractually bound before we discussed anything.

Whether or not we talk, if they decide to run with the idea, they will soon learn that most of their effort will switch quickly from ideating to executing.