One lesson from Facebook and 'The Social Network': Ideas are worthless

Tomorrow’s opening of ‘The Social Network,’ David Fincher’s film about Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook, provides me a hook to make another point about digital entrepreneurship.

If you’re interested in a review of the film, I direct you to Twitterer extraordinaire Roger Ebert’s review. (He quite likes it.) And if you want a detailed look at Zuckerberg, minus screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s creative filter, check out Jose Antonio Vargas’s profile in the New Yorker.

I want to focus on one element of Zuckerberg’s story, one that reportedly fuels some of the drama within Fincher’s film: the accusation that Zuckerberg stole the idea for Facebook from other Harvard students.

Hear me on this: In business, ideas are worthless.

That’s right. Worthless. It’s the execution of ideas which gives them value.

Got a great idea for a new website? Know a sure way to improve community news? Have a tool in your mind that could revolutionize the Web?

Great. But, really, you’ve got nothing.

Until you do something to make your idea reality, your ideas are of no worth to anyone, save for your personal entertainment. Hey, it’s fun to daydream about all that wonderful stuff you could do (and buy!) on that future day when your idea is implemented and becomes a hit. But only fools live in daydreams.

In the real world, reward goes to those who implement ideas.

So dream all you want. But never, ever stop with the dream. Apply the skills of an entrepreneur to test that dream – to determine whether it is feasible. Research the market, gather data and explore how you’d make your dream reality.

If you can’t see how your dream could become real after all that work, let it go. Dream up another idea, then test it.

But if you think your idea feasible, then respect it – and yourself – enough to implement it.

Waiting for someone to write you a big check shouldn’t be your first step, either. Hoping for cash to fall from the sky isn’t an execution plan. Learn how to boot-strap your idea to reality. If it’s a viable idea, and you’ve shown that it can draw an audience – the money to scale up will find you eventually.

For the past two years, we’ve helped present the KDMC News Entrepreneur Boot Camp at USC, and I’m pleased to let you know that we’re planning another camp for 2011. Keep reading OJR and for details when we will open applications.

Your idea can become reality. But only if you develop the will – and the skills – necessary to make it so.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at