The Undermining Myth Of The “Idea Guy”

The idea that only visionaries can innovate is destructive–creating change is not above you, and having a lousy idea is not beneath you.

The Undermining Myth Of The “Idea Guy”

Out there in the collective startup imagination lives the Idea Guy, the Visionary whose prognostication prowess will vault his or her ventures into entrepreneurial myth.


Over at PandoDaily, Brant Cooper and Patrick Vlaskovits skewer such Delphic flimflammery:

You have fallen victim to the Myth of the Visionary, the mistaken idea that visionary entrepreneurs–revered talents like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford–are able to envision a future, based on some supposed unique idea, upon which they must simply execute to create a disruptive product.

The myth is poisonous

The ideal is toxic, the authors observe, in that it leaves entrepreneurs either inflated or deflated.

  • The inflated proclaim their visions and are blinded by it: unwilling to talk to customers, incurious of feedback, and bent on building the product themselves.
  • The deflated are undone at the outset: Not holding a Big Idea in their heads, they “view themselves as non-visionary,” thinking they can’t possibly make a great product.

An idea does not a visionary make

Rather than being committed to a specific idea, Cooper and Vlaskovits say, the visionary is committed to “relentless change,” the painful process of propelling the idea forward.

That guy named Steve Jobs knows the difference–just look at his lost tapes. At first, Jobs didn’t want to open up the App Store to third-party developers for fear of “polluting” Apple’s pristine first-party ecosystem–that is until his close advisors urged him otherwise, as the authors note.

Refusing to be held captive by (his own) bad ideas, he altered his vision to capture the best of both worlds, retaining control of iPhone apps with a strict app approval process while allowing third party apps to flourish.

The lesson, then, is this: Being that the future hasn’t happened yet, no idea is too complete to change or too incomplete to start on.

“Pursue the change,” Cooper and Vlaskovits conclude, “not the idea itself.”


About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.