Ideas don’t make you rich

“Ideas don’t make you rich. The correct execution of ideas does.” So says Felix Dennis, poet, owner of Dennis Publishing, and one of the wealthiest self-made entrepreneurs in Britain. I met him several years ago when he gave generously to support a project I helped with at the National Library for the Blind, though he didn’t say this to me when we met. I just read it in his book ‘How to Get Rich’.

I agree with him, totally. In my experience as a business adviser to creative people and businesses, there is certainly no shortage of great ideas. But making them happen is a totally different matter and it needs different skills and attitude. For an idea to make you rich it requires not only creativity (the T-Shirt) but also business acumen (the Suit).

For a start, you cannot ‘own’ an idea in a legal sense, through copyright, patent or any other intellectual property rights. It is only the expression or execution of the idea in a tangible form that can be owned. For example actually writing the novel, not just thinking up the plot, actually designing the invention after thinking up the concept, recording or writing down the tune in your head, etc.

After the idea becomes real in some sense it can then be protected through copyright, patents, design registration or a registered trade mark. That’s necessary but not sufficient. Next comes a whole series of options, challenges and decisions about financing the enterprise, ownership, marketing, possibly manufacturing and distribution, and a lot of other business matters.

I’ve met plenty of people with good ideas, even with these ideas protected through copyright and patents, who have been unable to move things forward into a profitable business.

And I’ve met people who have said of a successful business “I thought of that myself, years before they did!”. Liz Pugh is the co-founder and producer of Walk the Plank, Britain’s only touring theatre ship. She manages another creative enterprise which is very different from Dennis Publishing, but agrees with Felix’s point about execution of ideas being the key. “I often get people coming up to me saying ‘we had the same idea years ago’ and my retort to them is always ‘Where’s your theatre ship, then?!’

The difference between the wealthy creative entrepreneur and the ‘ideas person’ is their ability to (metaphorically) wear a suit as well as a t-shirt, or team up with people who are more experienced and skilled in these matters.

It also requires focus. It’s a frustrating fact that we are capable of thinking up many more good ideas than we will ever have the time to implement. So we need to select from the many ideas the best one or two to concentrate on – and then focus on these at the expense of the rest. Saying No to the distraction of other good ideas is the price we must pay to achieve success.

This blog, website and my book ‘T-Shirts and Suits: A Guide to the Business of Creativity’ all offer ideas, information and help in turning your creative ideas into sustainable income streams.