Is Your Greatest Idea Still on a Napkin?


“The greatest ideas are still left on napkins,” said a friend over lunch. These words stuck with me like some ugly unwelcome platitude. The more I tried to ignore them, the more they nagged at me. My ultimate fear is to go to my grave with my greatest idea still left on a napkin. What holds us back from pursuing our dreams? Here’s where I have landed on pursuing new business or ministry ideas.

Is Your Greatest Idea still on a Napkin

I don’t like risk, but I’m willing to take calculated ones. For someone who has started several business over the years,  (about 5 to date), I still struggle with the idea of something not working out. The fear of failure is real when you put a lot on the line for your dream.  But I also know that in order for an idea to flourish and become a reality, I have to step out of my comfort zone and make it happen.

Before I start a new venture, I always have an inner conversation that goes like this: “How much money and time am I willing to invest in this idea?   If it fails, what’s my worst case scenario? Can I live with that?” No one starts a business, a partnership, a church or ministry with the idea that it will fail.   Entrepreneurs are, by  nature, optimists but even the most positive person should account for the unknowns he or she cannot control. Sometimes your failed business has nothing to do with you or your performance. Recently a good friend found out his business partner had stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars from their business, putting it in financial jeopardy. We shouldn’t plan  for our best friend to steal from us, but we all should have an exit strategy in case he does.

I will not sacrifice my friends on the altar of money. No all of my ventures have performed the way I envisioned them. Some of them were partnerships with good friends. No, not the kind who would steal money from me, but real friends. Years ago I settled the money question by watching how a friend did it poorly. I will not lose a life-long friendship over money. If I’m not willing to lose the money over the relationship, I do not go forward with it.   I’m thankful I’ve settled that question.  Life is too short. Relationships matter more than money. Trust me on this one.

There’s more I want to talk about this, but I’ll leave it for another post.

It’s your turn. What are you doing with your greatest idea?

  • “The greatest ideas are still left on napkins.” That's a cutting statement for those of us who find ideas rather easy to come by. I see opportunities everywhere. I have many napkins but have learned over the years that the idea itself is worthless. It's the execution of the idea that matters. "Ideas without execution are merely hallucinations," I've heard it said.

    For me it's been learning to prioritize ideas and tackle them strategically based on the season of my life and the collective of what is going on in the world. Some ideas are given today but they need to simmer a while before they are ready to pursue. Other ideas are NOW and need to be moved on quick in order to capitalize.

    Risk isn't so much the issue for me although no one likes to fail. I realize that the good fruit often is out at the end of the branch where there's a greater chance of falling. Resources are more of my issue. Finding the RIGHT partners and backing to give certain projects the chance they really need to grow.

    • Lot's of great wisdom here, Daniel. I agree, the key to a dream is execution, but even the best system needs a compelling vision. I can't agree more about finding the right partners. Sometimes your good friends should be just that, friends, and not business partners. Thanks for commenting.

    • Sally Epps

      The right partners can make or break you. I'm still recovering from dealing with the WRONG partner. It's easy to get started and very difficult to break up.

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  • Frank Riddle

    Thank you for this post, Maurilio. I have an idea, a dream but like you, I don't like risks. This post has stirred a lot of thoughts about what I should do next.

  • Mike

    Great post!

  • Most of my ideas are in my head and then shared with others but it seems like they go no where. I do not know if it is the fear of failure, or like you talked about "how much money will this cost" but I think I am really good at writing out my ideas on "napkins" but never executing. Its almost like I treat my idea like I treat napkins, they are as valuable as I make them or use them, but usually I just throw them away.

    Thanks for this post.

  • Too many of my greatest ideas are still in my head!

    Thanks for this post, Maurilio. I feel like this could be one of the posts that pushes me over the edge to act on some of my ideas and take a risk – obviously a calculated one that I consider worth taking.

    One of the problems I face right now is that I'm in a job that doesn't allow the kind of creation (even in my free-time) that could lead to some of the greatest business ideas and / or impact on God's Kingdom. I'm thinking my first step might be to find a job that at least allows some flexibility to earn money outside of the company.

    Thanks for your wisdom!

    • I hope that you'll be able to find an outlet for your dreams, whatever that is. I'm glad you stopped by.

  • Dalene

    Thank you for this post.
    My father had a napkin-idea once & did take a risk to do something about it. Unfortunately, those he trusted burned him & stole it. All his other ideas are still on napkins, safe from getting stolen, but stagnant in the napkin stage. Fear of failure after getting burned is a very strong factor for some. Ideas for inventions I had as a child are just moments away from store shelves, because I watched what happened to my father.

    I think a big problem, other than the fear of failure, is a lack of people of position to trust. Is it all about who you know. After one has an idea, what's the next step when you're on your own?

    • I hated to hear about your father's experience. Unfortunately it happens more often than you know. In my experience, once an idea is born, the next step is to create a business model that will make the idea viable or profitable. That’s part of a business plan serves as the blueprint for the business. Poor execution is where most good ideas eventually die.

  • An encouraging post. Those are some good filters for entrepreneurial types like me. I have started recording my ideas in evernote (I/m transferring my napkin data). As for rolling out innovations or launching new ventures out, I try to measure the portability and scalability to see if it's sustainable. At some point, there will still be risk and we just have to go for it.

    • Sustainability is a key issue in business from both a financial to a scalability point of view. It might be a good product but if you're limited on either price point or volume then you either figure out how to past through those barriers or move on to the next idea. Good thought.

  • I’m starting an online magazine about the creative side of Sunday mornings. 🙂
    And I’ve been dealing with feelings of inadequacy as they pop up from the left and the right.

  • Mark Jeffress

    I’ve had an idea for a business that I think about almost every day. This post has helped me move forward and begin thinking of taking the next step. 

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