Big Ideas Are Not Enough

The devil may be in the details, but so is success. Everyone seems to be searching for those one or two large ideas that distinguish success, but more likely it is the thousands of little things that make the ultimate difference. It’s like asking what the difference is between a skyscraper and a shack is without looking at the thousands of tons of bricks and steel that distinguish them.

Look at someone like Steve Pavlina. He’s earning over six figures in revenue from a single website and he isn’t even selling anything. Many people have aspired to replicate Steve’s success but only move towards a middle ground, mild success but nothing spectacular. Then many of these people step back and scratch their heads at why they are doing a similar job but are at least an order of magnitude less successful.

The key to Steve or anyone’s success isn’t one, two or even a dozen critical ideas. It is thousands of little ideas that come together to produce a result. Success is a skill not a concept. Each idea on its own contributes little to the whole, but combined they create huge results.

Intangible Excellence

While I was immersed in the independent game developing scene a few years ago, the major factor that seemed to separate professional, successful products and dismal amateurish ones was the level of polish. Polish could never be pinned down to one specific enhancement, but just a general feeling of quality.

Successful people have a polished strategy for execution. Trying to replicate it you generally get the main points, but miss the details. Writing an article, all the critical points of execution may be similar but it lacks the feeling of intangible excellence. Your brain can’t process specifically why your execution is worse than another persons, but you can literally feel the difference.

This holistic sense of excellence extends beyond a product or a skill. It has to do with your entire life. Happy, fulfilled people have a polished execution strategy for living. How they wake up each morning, how they eat breakfast and even how they think have subtle differences that add up to a huge difference in quality.

When you are drawing or painting, one of the most satisfying moments is when your figure comes to life. When your image starts it seems rough and totally alien to the concept you are trying to visualize. But as you continue to add details and refine the picture, it slowly begins to look real. Depth, color and shadow make it hard to believe that with just a few strokes of the paintbrush or clicks of your mouse created what you are starting at.

The most bizarre factor in this process is that your mind cannot really comprehend what specific details make the image real. It doesn’t consciously process that the little extra shadow you added there or the contrasting colors here make it beautiful, it just feels the difference. This is because of synergy, the ability for small things to be meaningless on their own but are more than the sum of their parts.

Exponential Synergy

One of the most important concepts for personal finance is that of compound interest. As you make an initial investment, the interest earned by that investment feeds the next round of interest. This creates exponential growth, far beyond what most people appreciate. If your forefathers invested ten dollars, two hundred years ago at a fifteen percent interest rate, compounded annually, take a guess at how much that would be worth today?

Over 13 trillion dollars.

Success in most areas works in a similar vein. Comparing a struggling entrepreneur to someone like Bill Gates, what is the difference? Probably not a whole lot. Bill Gates might have been just a little bit more capitalistic, a little more hard working, a little more organized or a little more skilled. But compounded over all the opportunities available and time invested, and like the original ten dollar investment, the results aren’t nearly the same.

You can use exponential synergy to your advantage by consciously improving all the critical factors that go into success. If you’re running a business, improve your organizational and time management skills by 10%. If you’re writing an article, improve the wording of the title just a little bit. Start investing 10% of your money. On there own these details mean little, but over time, combined with improvements in other factors they can create exponential results.

Exponential results have a tipping point. Leading up to the tip, incremental improvements offer little visible improvement. After a particular threshold, the pace of success is dramatic. This may lead you to believe that the one idea near the tip, that was the crucial piece for success. In reality, however, that one idea was only the last ripple added into the oncoming tidal wave.

Breaking Down Key Areas

A strategy I like to employ to enable the effects of exponential synergy is to break down all the critical areas for success in any endeavor. For this blog that would mean writing quality, networking, comment maintenance, idea quality, headings or search engine optimizations.

Once you’ve broken down crucial factors for success, you can decide which single factor would benefit the most from improvement. If I suspect that increasing the ability of my headings to catch reader interest would be most crucial, I’ll invest in this area. If increasing heading quality becomes less effective, I’ll try investing in another area. Over time this strategy of incremental improvements leads to exponential results.

The amateur will combat frustration as he claws for the big ideas that make the distinction between his results and the ones he seeks. A professional will understand that there are no big ideas – that even the big ideas are just little ones, disguising themselves as profound. He knows that continuing to integrate little ideas and eventually the threshold will be reached where frustration turns into abundance. Fold a paper once and you’ll barely see the thickness, fifty times and it will span between the earth and the sun.

The true ingredients of success are often hidden from a shallow observation. Flawless execution cannot be replicated through just one big idea or technique. Trying to figure out why a skyscraper is taller than a shack without looking at all the bricks and steel is foolhardy. Excellence is a skill, not a concept. Not something to be studied but something to be practiced.

  • Dan

    I enjoyed this post because it’s something we all need to realize.

    Good Post,


  • Laura

    “Exponential results have a tipping point. Leading up to the tip, incremental improvements offer little visible improvement. After a particular threshold, the pace of success is dramatic.”

    You give some very insightful and accessible advice. It is very easy to have a dream and become overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task of realising it. The simple advice, of persevering one tiny step at a time, is definitely something we need to focus on.

    Thanks for a great blog!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Laura.

  • Evan Carmichael

    Great post Scott! I came across your blog this afternoon and was very interested. I manage the blog for YoungEntrepreneur and wrote a post today mentioning your blog: You Need More Than An Idea.

    Keep up the great work!