Leading Ideas: Find the Courage to Act

"In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty." — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) from the essay Self Reliance

Works of genius don't come from great ideas. They come from guts. It's true, you need a great idea in the first place - but that's only 1% of the equation. The other 99% is action. Everyone has great ideas. Very few people have the courage to bet on them. It stings to see our own rejected thoughts in another's work of genius because we realize that they had the courage to act...where we did not.

Consider This:

When I work with clients, I keep a running a log of the ideas they talk about wanting to pursue. The first time I hear them talk about an idea I jot it down. The second time, I put a checkmark next to it. The third time, if there's been no action, I highlight it and make a request. I ask them nicely to never bring it up to me again unless they intend to do something about it. This request usually has a powerful impact. If forces them to confront their level of commitment. And it forces them to get off the fence and make a choice.

Try This:

1. Think of an idea you like to talk about pursuing, but haven't done much with yet.
2. Count the number of times you've spoken about it in the last year.
3. Keep a log of how many times you talk about it in the next 2 months.
4. Sooner rather than later, give yourself an ultimatum - "I'm going to do something or stop talking about it."
5. Whatever you do, don't keep talking about it without a commitment to action - it's futile...and exhausting.

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10 Comments

  • phil

    We have already many answers here in this blog - there is no answer to this question. Everyone has their own fears and inspirations - and some dont. Have faith, thats the problem...

  • arvind banta

    Very Aptly said..Management is only 1% strategy & 99% execution.What is required for an idea to go from germ in the head to a viable and workable solution is willingness to rough it out,roll up your sleeves & to dirty your hand.Thereafter,Commitment & perserverance are more imp than brilliance.Not making a choice is also a choice.There is no destiny.You make your own fate.Pick an Agenda … the right thing to do, what NOT to do and FOCUS. The agenda creates everything.

  • Richard McNeill

    You have a spectrum between action on a dream and fear of failure. Both are powerful, and few of us are at either extreme. You can encourage the one, but you must also address the other.

    As a transcendentalist, Emerson rose above the fear.

  • peter

    Courage is a concept of convenience - like leadership and choice.

    They seem the shortest explanation for the most complex phenomena. It avoids any real inquiry as to what else might be going on which is better/healthier explanation for what is happening.

    To say genius is about courage doesn't help me understand the nature of genius - it just helps me to avoid really difficult questions.

    And whilst we're quoting here something from Swift:

    "When a man of true genius appears in the world, you may know him by the infallible sign, that all the dunces are in conspiracy against him "

    Should this be the measure of action?

  • Sheryl Spanier

    Excellent way to assess commitment. I also recommended that my clients put a due date on a desire/idea/wish and to actually place this in their task list or scheduler. If they forward the item more than 5 times, I ask them two questions:
    1. What would happen if they actually accomplished the goal or executed the idea?
    2. What gets in the way?

    Often these questions lead to an investigation of a hidden agenda, secondary gain or larger underlying issues.

  • Brian Allen

    Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative and creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
    German playwright, poet, novelist and dramatist. 1749-1832

  • Max Leibman

    Doug: Great post! I suppose it's down to Edison's "1% inspiration." Somewhere else today I quoted Hal Urban: "A goal is a dream with a deadline." Everybody has great dreams, but few people are willing to put themselves out there and do something on a day that isn't "Someday..."

    Peter: Hilarious and well put.

  • ron

    Ah, were it that easy! The risk/reward life of an entrapaneur requires not only a good idea, but the ability to convince others of your vision. Purse strings don't open on just ideas. They open when the idea is backed by a solid business plan and reasonable expectation of success. And, of course a patenable idea is even better.....

  • John Rowe

    The old adage of doing the 'most important now' and 'do it now' must be folloed and each day at least 6 things should be prioritized to accomplish and get those done for the company by your people... or there must be some other action--- like letting them go or finding another position for them.

  • peter

    Does the same apply to actions ? If a client does something mindlessly over and over again do you tell them to stop doing that until they can talk about it once.