Ideas + Action

Tom Simpson
February 19, 2024
2.5 min read
2.5 min read

Combining two powerful sides of creativity

This year, I’m living by this premise:

That the best ideas aren’t the most complex or even the smartest; they’re the ones that are acted on.

Steve Jobs puts it this way, “Ideas without action aren’t ideas.”

It seems that ideas are empty without action. And yet action is fruitless without ideas.

Ideas and action are inextricably linked.

They feed off one another to develop the creative energy required to propel our goals forwards.

So how do we cultivate this creative energy and find the sweet spot between ideas and action?

Flow of ideas

Innovation expert Jeremy Utley suggests volume of ideas is critical. That coming up with many different angles, perspectives and possible solutions leads us beyond the obvious and immediate, into breakthrough territory.

Research from Stanford University suggests that it takes about 2,000 ideas to create a commercially successful new product or service.

Suffice to say, volume of ideas is important.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to come up with 2,000 ideas before taking action. Velocity of ideas is also of value in the ideation process. The goal is not to create a stagnant “idea pond” of 2,000 ideas, but a flow of ideas. Movement matters.

Utley explains, “One way to increase flow is through scrappier experimentation. Another is through ruthless elimination.”

It’s the role of the creative individual to curate, process and cultivate a flow of ideas; good, bad and everything in-between. And then to ruthlessly eliminate and condense the list for implementation, where ideas are then tested.

This is the creative play between divergent thinking and convergent thinking. The free wandering of the mind in exploring new possibilities (divergent), and the focus and persistence required to combine existing elements to come up with a useful answer (convergent).


Robert Greene hits the nail on the head in his book Mastery:

“Your failures also permit you to see the flaws of your ideas, which are only revealed in the execution of them. You learn what your audience really wants, the discrepancy between your ideas and how they affect the public.”

As ideas interact with the world they take shape in ways that are unexpected or unlike how we intended. This creative process transports an invisible idea into the physical world where it becomes subject to all of the forces of life.

Reid Hoffman said, “If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late.”

This is the harsh reality of the early creative process: high-volume and low probability.

If that sounds risky then consider the risk of not experimenting.

Without experimentation, there is no progress, no breakthroughs, no adaptation, evolution or improvement.

And as the world continues to evolve, what was once relevant often fades away.

The risk is to stay safe.

Because “safe” ideas aren’t the ones that move the needle. They’re not the ones that get noticed, make a difference, and spread. And ideas that spread are usually the ones that succeed.

“It’s people who have projects that are never criticised who ultimately fail.” — Seth Godin, Purple Cow

Experimentation is taking the first step.

Even in the face of the grandest ideas, there’s always a humble first step.

The key is to reflect, take notes, and try again.

The intersection

The creative mind lives at the intersection of ideas and experimentation.

This becomes their practice.

The practice of generating ideas and output, where the goal is to reduce the friction between ideation and implementation.

It’s the creative act of bringing something into existence, and as it makes contact with reality it becomes something new.

Success or failure; it provides the necessary feedback to go again.

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