3 min read

Why “Idea” People Are Risky and What to Do About It

What to watch out for when hiring the person with "all the ideas."
Why “Idea” People Are Risky and What to Do About It

Talk is cheap. Execution is the ultimate measure of value.

Every business needs execution to accompany its ideas. The same is true for its people. At least in small to medium-sized businesses where people routinely need to wear multiple hats.

While ideas get most of the fanfare, they don’t really matter unless steps are taken to make them work in your business. And in a small business, it’s often necessary to show early signs of success before real investment can follow.

Resources are precious and in short supply. The best people won’t let that stop them from taking strides towards a better future. Creativity and curiosity will help find a way to test the best ideas.


Signs to watch out for when hiring that person with “all the ideas” for your small business

Not every “idea person” is a good fit for your small business. In fact, most will be a terrible fit. How can you tell?

1. No follow-through when given authority to take action

I’ve personally met many people that have great ideas (and hired a few by mistake) that talk a big game but, when given the green light, failed to make any progress. They couldn’t execute.

I wouldn’t give up on them immediately though. In some rare situations, pairing them with a person that can execute (like a scrappy project manager) can produce the results you need. But that only works if and when you have the resources and capacity to spare.

2. Insistence on needing a “team” to implement the idea

I’ve also seen this one play out more times than I’d like to admit. You find a great candidate, with great ideas, and they seem to be the answer to all your concerns. Yet when it comes time to start, they make no progress.

As it turns out, they’ve spent their career at a big company and didn’t fully realize that much of their success was actually a team effort. They were great at leading, not doing. This can be a critical disconnect for your small business and its severely limited resources.

3. Preference for creative thought over rolling up their sleeves

The armchair quarterback. They love to wax poetic about what could be done yet when asked to get the ball rolling, they show no interest.

The act of calling out gaps and offering solutions is their sweet spot. This may fly in the world of McKinsey consulting or within a big company, but for your small business, it could be a killer.

Ideas must be paired with action. You need results… just like your clients.


What you should look for in the person with “all the ideas” to help improve your odds of success

While nowhere near a definitive list, here are several characteristics to look for in an “idea person” that would work well in a small business.

  1. Someone that rose through the ranks — while not a hard-and-fast rule of thumb, it’s often helpful when the person has done the work that will be changed as part of that big idea.
  2. Someone comfortable alone or in a team — when your idea person has spent their career at a big company, they may not even realize that they relied on a team to achieve their success. Working alone may not be a realistic option for them given your current resources.
  3. Someone that can explain “how to start” — in your small business, you need people that can kickstart that next great idea. If you don’t know where to begin, that idea is just about worthless.
  4. Someone that can speak at multiple levels — wearing multiple hats on a daily basis is a fact of life in small businesses. A person that can only talk high-level isn’t going to make much progress with a technical person. This is a highly coveted skillset so cherish it when you discover it.
  5. Someone that can achieve much with little — funds are limited and resources are tight in small businesses. If you want that idea to see the light of day, your “idea person” needs to be frugal and creative to show proof before spending time or money can be justified.

For what it’s worth

There is no magic bullet here. Just a few rules of thumb that work most of the time. What I advocate for here is doing as much as you can early on to discover which type of person you have found. Their personality should be easy to see given enough time and conversation. And you’ll thank your lucky stars when you discover they are more sizzle than steak before hiring them.


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