Making Ideas Happen: The Dreamer, the Doer, and the Incrementalist

making ideas happenMaking Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality (Amazon) is a must for anyone who feels their genius is insufficiently recognized and needs to start focusing on action, not ideas.

In my In Pursuit of Awesome talk, one of the points was – “Ideas are Cheap. Execution is expensive.” This book is all about the execution.  The continual grind required to make stuff happen is hard, and there are strategies and tips on how to do it. Some seem obvious, but are easily forgotten. For example, ending meetings with concrete action steps, and the importance of delegating.

There was definitely stuff that I knew here – but probably it bore repeating, and it was stuff that I had learned the hard way. There is some really interesting and important stuff about criticism, and consensus that I will try and use moving forward.

My favorite bit (p112) on The Dreamers, the Doers, and the Incrementalists.

We all have someone in our lives who is a perpetual dreamer – someone with real talent who never seems to get his or her act together.

As entrepreneurs, Dreamers often jump from one new business idea to another. Even with an existing business, they are always imagining something new… The Dreamers in the not-for-profit world are idealists – and they are likely to become engaged in new projects at the expense of completing current ones. Similarly, Dreamer artists are always starting new projects, often considering massive undertakings with long-term grandiose vision.

Dreamers are fun to be around, but they struggle to stay focused. In their idea frenzy, they are liable to forget to return phone calls, complete current projects, or even pay the rent. While Dreamers are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are less likely to follow through. Some of the most successful Dreamers we have met attribute their success to a partnership with a Doer.

Doers don’t imagine as much because they are obsessively focused on the logistics of execution. Doers get frustrated when, while brain-storming, there is no consideration for implementation. Doers often love new ideas, but their tendency is to immerse themselves in the next steps needed to truly actualize an idea. While Dreamers will quickly fall in love with an idea, Doers will start with doubt and then chip away at an idea until they love it (or, often, discount it). As Doers break an idea down, they become action-oriented organizers and valuable stewards. An idea can only become a reality once it is broken down into organized, actionable elements. If a brilliant and sexy idea seems intangible or unrealistic, Doers will become skeptical and appropriately deterred.

Then there are the Incrementalists – those with the ability to play the role of both Dreamer and Doer. Incrementalists shift between distinct phases of dreaming and doing. When imagination runs amok in the Dreamer phase, the Incrementalist begings to feel impatient. The deveoping sense of impatience brings on the Doer phase, and the idea at hand is pushed into execution. And when the time comes to pull back and dream again, the return is a welcome relief from being buried in the managerial mind-set. Thus, an Incrementalist is able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.

You might be thinking that becoming an Incrementalist is the Holy Grail for making ideas happen. The transformative capacity of the Incrementalist appears attractive until you consider the inherent limitations. With the ability to rapidly develop and then execute ideas, the Incrementalist finds him- or herself leading multiple projects (and, in many cases, multiple businesses) simultaniously.

Incrementalists have the tendency to conceive and execute too many ideas simply because they can. This rare capability can lead to an overwhelming set of responsibilities to maintain multiple projects at the expense of ever making one particular project  an extraordinary success. In my research, I came across many Incrementalists who were known within their communities for their many projects but never on a global scale. The Incrementalist’s brands, products, and ideas are seldom sufficiently pushed to their full potential.

While a Doer and a Dreamer are best paired with each other, Incrementalists can thrive when they are paired with either one. Incrementalists are the “O” blood type of the world of collaboration – the universal donor. After talking to many Incrementalists about their most successful projects, I found that they just need to be pushed one way or the other. A Doer will push the Incrementalists into more of a Dreamer mode when necessary, while a Dreamer brings out the Incrementalist’s impatience and organizational Doer-like tendencies.

And so there is no ideal category. The Doers, Dreamers, and Incrementalists all have their own strengths and limitations. However, once you consider which type you might be, you can leverage the forces around you – potential partnerships, organizational tools, and other resources – that can make all the difference.

I’m not sure, but having looked at the downsides of being an Incrementalist, they seem familiar… maybe that’s me. How about you? Are you a Dreamer, a Doer, or an Incrementalist?

4 thoughts on “Making Ideas Happen: The Dreamer, the Doer, and the Incrementalist

  1. I’m an incrementalist, through and through. Urgghhh. I was on a leadership course awhile back and we had our work personality types tested and I came out in extremes an innovator and a finisher (exactly equal). And I totally agree with the above – one would think that being an incrementalist is the ideal position, but it isn’t, it’s just another position. I constantly have this feeling that my creative ideas are not getting the time they deserve to see them through and the projects I need to finish are not getting the creative energy they deserve.

    The real kicker of being an incrementalist is that people expect you to be both creative and to finish things, and that at any point the unexpected happens, so you don’t have the time you thought you did (which is very common in all our lives), you are inevitably letting someone down in not meeting creative or deadline expectations (as you have to usually sacrifice one for the other in times of crunch). I’m in release mode – so that might explain why I am venting. Thanks for post.

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