Scott H Young

$10,000 Ideas


The value of books isn’t the paper it’s the ideas inside.  Following this logic, if the ideas you get from a book can help you earn $20,000, then even a steep $10,000 price tag should seem cheap.  Ramit Sethi expresses a similar sentiment in his article, “Stop being a loser and pay money to save money”:

    They see [a book] that costs $10 and fail to realize that they could save $500, or $10,000, with the advice inside. …

I bought Madeleine Albright’s Memo to the President Elect CD: How We Can Restore America’s Reputation and Leadership to try to learn from a true leader. It cost $40, which seems outrageously expensive, but there was one line in there that will probably save me tens of thousands of dollars over a lifetime …

The problem with this reasoning is that the idea alone can’t get you $10,000.  Sethi finishes his example by stating that the idea only has value if he applies it.  Unfortunately, that’s a big if.  Application takes more than 99% of the effort.  And while you can consider thousands of ideas, it takes considerable effort to apply any of them.

Ideas Can Trigger Change, But They Can’t Do the Work

I’ve received emails from people saying that an article I wrote completely changed their behavior.  They started changing new habits, became more productive or made better decisions after reading.  Although it’s nice to read these messages, I fear I’m being given a lot more credit than I deserve.

If you change your habits or become more productive it’s because of the work you put in, not because of an article you read on the internet.  Although the article may have triggered you into action, you’re still the person who put in the effort.

Execution is Everything

Ideas aren’t valueless.  If I believed that I wouldn’t write articles and I wouldn’t spend so much time reading books. Surrounding yourself with great ideas improves your creativity, and gives you more perspectives for solving problems.

But without executing ideas, they’re worthless.  The limiting factor in making a change isn’t the books you read, it’s you.  The effort you apply and thinking you bring to a problem are the most important factor.

I’ve read mediocre books recommended to me by people who say that the same book changed their life.  Did the other person have a secret edition of the book that I didn’t know about?  No.  The difference was between us, not the book. The difference was the amount of effort, not the ideas.

Written Ideas are Just One Layer

A great idea is like the skin around an apple.  Although it helps define the shape and flavor, it provides only a small portion of the substance.  Reading a 400 page book on a topic may give you a broad understanding of an idea, but it will also lack substance.  The only way you get substance is by executing the idea, practicing, failing and tweaking.

One of the first e-books I wrote was an extension of a series of articles I had written about changing habits.  The book contains much of the effable knowledge I have on changing habits.  But without trying the processes for yourself, investing time to master it and fitting my strategies to your own personality, it’s only the skin of a much deeper topic.

An idea can be worth $10,000 only if it’s combined with execution.  And unfortunately, the execution is the hard part.

When I wanted to improve my health, I read quite a few books on fitness an exercise.  Some of them had fantastic ideas I wouldn’t have come up with on my own.  But the hardest part was directing my effort to build the right habits, tweak my approach when I made mistakes and stick to a plan.

When I started this blog, I read every article I could find about internet marketing, professional blogging and running an online business.  While there were great ideas, the hard part was writing every day.

Ideas Start With You

I’ve seen some people claim an author’s ideas are bogus because only 2-5% of people use them to change their life.  The problem with this theory is that it assumes people are robots, and if you insert a cartridge labeled “Great Idea”, they will spring to life and make all the necessary actions.

In my mind, 2-5% isn’t that bad.  Of all the ideas I consider good, I probably only deliberately use 1-2%.  There are just too many great ideas and too little time.  By seeking out great ideas I hope that I’ll be able to unconsciously use the good ones and deliberately apply the best.

While others can write great ideas, only you can execute them.  In order for you to get value from an idea, you need to be the person to act on it.  While a fantastic book can contribute the skin of an excellent strategy, it’s up to you to create the substance of it.

Do $10,000 Ideas Exist?

This imbalance of execution and ideas is one of the reasons I dislike reasoning that says an idea that can save you $10,000 is worth $10,000.  The raw fact is that many ideas can make you thousands or even millions of dollars, but the real risk, pain and effort comes from their execution.

Some ideas are certainly worth $10,000.  But whenever you buy into an idea, realize you’ve only bought part the package.

Why I Write

I really enjoy reading good ideas.  I believe that having creative fodder makes me more effective and it ensures that the substance of my actions has a good structure.  I like writing because I hope other people can get a similar benefit from the ideas I find or mix together.

But I also realize that everything I write is at most a skin.  The people who read are the ones who have to fill in the substance.  They’re the ones who have to decide whether to act on them, put the effort into executing them and enjoy the results.  They are also the ones that deserve credit for their successes.


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4 Responses to “$10,000 Ideas”

  1. Shanel Yang says:

    Great point! So, it’s more correct to say that Sethi’s example was a $40 idea (cost of the book he purchased with the idea in it) but his application of it was worth tens of thousands of dollars because he is the one who was wise enough to put the idea into practice. I like that. That means the credit should be shared between all the self help authors I love and myself for actually following their advice. And, I have saved tens of thousands — $50,000 in one year in fact! (which I wrote about in “How I Paid Off $50,000 of Debt in One Year” at http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/23/how-i-paid-off-50000-of-debt-in-one-year/ ) after being inspired by various frugal spending gurus.

  2. Pinny Cohen says:

    Scott,

    I agree with most of what you are pointing out here…but just remember to add the $10 for the book to the hours it takes to read it…the time has an opportunity cost which is only fair to take into account.

  3. Ruth says:

    I’ve been wondering for a while how one would write an article like this. Because you’re exactly right, there are lots of brilliant ideas out there that people see and then leave alone because they’re too much effort or because they don’t have the time.

    But it’s paradoxical to write about the need not just to read, isn’t it? I think you executed it well.

  4. Vipul says:

    Ideas can trigger change that gets things rolling. Without trigger things not ignite. In your day to day life, one lives with so much INSIDE thinking that does not allow you to take inputs.

    Scott i dont disagree at all to give credit to people like you.

    By the way i keep on wondering how you have so much wisdom at his age to think, analyse and put things very well. Probably to benefit so many others.

Debate is fine, flaming is not. Pretend that this comment form is a discussion taking place in my house. That means I enjoy constructive criticism and polite suggestions. Personal attacks, insults and all-purpose nastiness will be removed especially if it is directed at other readers.

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