Where technology meets anthropology, conservation and development
Random header image... Refresh for more!

Ideas vs. execution: A personal history

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea” -
Hindu Siddharta, Founder of Buddhism (563-483 B.C)

Like most people I’ve never been short of ideas. Short of good ones, perhaps, but never plain old ideas. As we all know, though, ideas alone are never enough. It’s also about execution, taking ideas and putting them into action. Like the majority of people, the majority of mine have remained just that – ideas – and sifting through some old note pads recently brought home how many I’d had over the past few years and done nothing with.

On the plus side it turns out many of my ideas weren’t mine alone, and most have since become reality for other people, i.e. those who did take that extra step and put them into action. This post is largely testament to what I didn’t do, and what others did.

Idea #1: Incubation Centre
Date: March 2008
Status: Not executed

There always seemed to be some new Centre or other going up during my two years at Stanford, and I wondered how great it would be to have one dedicated to appropriate technologies, and I briefly blogged about it in March 2008. Of course, Stanford wouldn’t have been the best place for this given the cost, so the idea slowly evolved from my crude mock-up (above) to something a little more eco-friendly based in rural Cambridgeshire. I’d still love to pursue this idea, but given the growing number of innovation hubs appearing around the world, maybe the chance has gone.

Idea #2: Mobile Sensing
Date: June 2005
Status: Not executed

On 8th June 2005, the idea for a Mobile Environmental Monitoring Device was born. MEMD would:

“… gather environmental information as people move through their landscapes. Indicators such as temperature, air quality, CO2 levels and air pressure would be recorded along with a fix on each location. For the first time individuals will be able to monitor their own exposure to local, relevant environmental hazards”

Manufacturers such as Nokia began pushing their own concepts a couple of years later, and today mobile sensing with mobile devices is nothing new. I originally blogged about MEMD – another idea whose time has passed – in more detail here.

Idea #3: SMS Competition
Date: September 2007
Status: Executed

This is one idea which was executed, in September 2007 to be precise. Its purpose was to encourage NGOs to think about how they might apply text messaging to their social change work, and the prize for coming up with something innovative was a laptop, phones, modems and cash – everything they’d need to put their idea into practice, in fact. We have been planning to run an adapted version again, but with so many mobile and ICT4D competitions around these days, we’re hesitant. NGOs have more important work to do than spend all their time trying to win things. More on nGOmobile here.

Idea #4: Mobile Payments
Date: September 2003
Status: Not executed

On 1st September, 2003 – during a field trip to South Africa and Mozambique – I put together a diagram showing how someone might pay for a newspaper using their mobile phone. Mobile payments are nothing new today, but back then very little was happening. If I’d ever wanted to be rich, this might have been the idea I should have stuck with, not that I’d ever have been able to make it happen. Further details on a blog post here.

Idea #5: Messaging Hub
Date
: October 2005
Status
: Executed

FrontlineSMS is one thing I did develop and stick with, although it was touch and go on more than one occasion. A seed of an idea during a series of trips to Kruger National Park in 2003/2004, FrontlineSMS became the first text messaging hub aimed at grassroots non-profits when it was released in October 2005. For the full story, check out this article - “And Then Came The Nigerian Elections” – from the Spring/Fall 2007 edition of the Stanford Journal of African Studies [PDF].

So, what lessons could I draw from what’s happened with my ‘Top Five Ideas’? Well, FrontlineSMS has been a fascinating journey, and sticking with that has clearly been the right thing to do. If I’d have tried to see out all of my ideas then I may well have let it slip, and ended up doing a lot of things fairly well rather than one thing very well. As my near-eight years in mobile have taught me – over and above anything else - focus is key. Swami Vivekananda, an Indian spiritual leader, sums this up better than I ever could. Take note:

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success, that is way great spiritual giants are produced”.

35 comments

1 Murat Mutlu { 09.03.10 at 11:58 am }

Ideas vs. execution: A personal history: “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an … http://bit.ly/dixsbJ

2 Lisa Richardson { 09.03.10 at 11:58 am }

Ideas vs. execution: A personal history: “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an … http://bit.ly/dixsbJ

3 Lewis Parker { 09.03.10 at 11:58 am }

Ideas vs. execution: A personal history: “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an … http://bit.ly/dixsbJ

4 Ken Banks { 09.03.10 at 12:00 pm }

Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mobile #ict4d #m4d #innovation

5 Mission MANNA { 09.03.10 at 12:06 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mobile #ict4d #m4d #innovation

6 THE IDEA AGENCY { 09.03.10 at 12:07 pm }

Haiti Union: RT @kiwanja: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mhttp://bit.ly/bhmjMY

7 diaby mohamed { 09.03.10 at 12:20 pm }

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea” (via @kiwanja) http://is.gd/eT4oc

8 changefeed { 09.03.10 at 12:40 pm }

->@kiwanja: Ideas vs. execution: A personal history http://bit.ly/9H8ET4

9 Rebecca Rhodes { 09.03.10 at 2:39 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mobile #ict4d #m4d #innovation

10 Ken Banks { 09.03.10 at 3:15 pm }

Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mobile #ict4d #m4d #innovation

11 Sean McDonald { 09.03.10 at 3:40 pm }

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration (via Jim McDonald) RT @kiwanja: "Ideas vs. execution: a personal history" http://is.gd/eT4oc

12 Erik Hersman { 09.03.10 at 4:53 pm }

Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

13 romyilano { 09.03.10 at 4:55 pm }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

14 romyilano { 09.03.10 at 4:55 pm }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

15 Ivo Mortani (Movere) { 09.03.10 at 4:56 pm }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

16 Ivo Mortani (Movere) { 09.03.10 at 4:56 pm }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

17 Paul Jones { 09.03.10 at 4:59 pm }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

18 Paul Jones { 09.03.10 at 4:59 pm }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

19 Nauiokas Park { 09.03.10 at 4:59 pm }

@kiwanja: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mobile #ict4d #m4d #innovation”> must read

20 Sarah George { 09.03.10 at 5:40 pm }

Thnx @kiwanja for this post: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history" http://is.gd/eT4oc

21 G. Kofi Annan { 09.04.10 at 5:44 am }

RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

22 Kachwanya { 09.04.10 at 5:49 am }

RT @whiteafrican Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

23 Pamela Collett { 09.04.10 at 8:07 am }

RT @worthydocs: Thnx @kiwanja for this post: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history" http://is.gd/eT4oc

24 Emeka Okoye { 09.04.10 at 11:52 am }

Ideas vs. execution: A personal history @myen http://bit.ly/bnTRex

25 Nnamdi Okoro { 09.04.10 at 1:17 pm }

RT @gkofiannan: RT @whiteafrican: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc (via @kiwanja)

26 Aleksei { 09.04.10 at 7:39 pm }

RT @kiwanja: Why focus is important. "Ideas vs. execution: A personal history". http://is.gd/eT4oc #mobile #ict4d #m4d #innovation

27 Oleg { 09.05.10 at 12:35 am }

RT @kiwanja: http://is.gd/eT4oc "Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life"

28 Agorye Pius { 09.05.10 at 11:45 am }

An idea without action is like faith without work!

29 Josef Scarantino { 09.07.10 at 9:10 pm }

Ideas vs. execution: A personal history http://ow.ly/2AIOY // Excellent post via @kiwanja

30 iPayStation { 09.07.10 at 9:41 pm }

RT @jscarantino: Ideas vs. execution: A personal history http://ow.ly/2AIOY // Excellent post via @kiwanja

31 Mariam Cook { 09.13.10 at 1:41 pm }

Reading: Ideas vs. execution: A personal history http://bit.ly/9H8ET4 (by @kiwanja)

32 ThinkTank Consulting { 09.20.10 at 9:04 am }

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea” http://ht.ly/2GzNo v/ @kiwanja

33 IrishDebate { 09.20.10 at 9:06 am }

RT @ThinkTank_: “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea” http://ht.ly/2GzNo v/ @kiwanja

34 Ken Banks { 07.03.12 at 11:02 am }

@yvontas Couldn't agree more. Reminds me of my "Ideas vs. execution" post from a couple of years ago. http://t.co/PQTgbRPp

35 Good idea, bad idea or no idea? | Build it Kenny, and they will come... { 07.25.12 at 9:23 pm }

[...] that what it’s really all about is execution. While that’s true to an extent (I’ve only put a few of my ideas over the years into practice) good ideas certainly aren’t cheap. It’s just that sometimes – most of the time, in fact [...]

Leave a Comment