why won’t anyone hire me as their visionary?

I’m having a hectic week, with preparing for a move, so some posts this week will be reprints from years ago. This is one of my favorite posts from November 2010.

A reader writes:

I am very talented in my creativity and thinking ability. I have a lot of ideas I would like to pass around a marketing firm or ideally to direct companies. I have no idea where to start. I also have started a small business and it’s profitable within the first year, but it is not what I want to do. I would rather be somewhat of a consultant or an ideas man. I truly believe I have great potential in this area, but I am in my final year of college and I do not know where to start or even where to look. I have applied to many positions on Craigslist, Monster, and various other job sites, but I feel as if no one is understanding what I am capable of.

I know if a company or a few people were to see my vision they will agree that they are multimillion dollar ideas. So again, how do I go about finding a position and how do I tell them my ideas without having them run off with them?



I’m pausing because I’m contemplating how to say this.

It is very, very unlikely that someone is going to hire you right out of school to be their ideas man. Not impossible, but highly unlikely. And it’s definitely not going to happen from Craigslist or Monster. There are very few entry-level jobs for “ideas guy.” Hell, there are very few senior level jobs for “ideas guy.”

Generally getting that kind of work requires getting more experience first — experience in how to implement and execute and make things happen.

It also requires highly unusual talent. And while it’s possible that your ideas are great, there’s also a very good chance that your ideas are kind of terrible. Or that they’re mediocre, or that there’s some reason they wouldn’t work, or that they’ve been thought of and rejected in favor of something else. It is very, very hard to judge this accurately yourself.

I can tell you this though, even though it’s making me wince to have to say it:  In my experience, people who really have this kind of exceptional talent are talented enough that they’re finding a pathway to make it happen. It’s fairly rare that they’re looking to Craigslist and Monster to make it happen for them. And because of that, I’d put money on you needing more seasoning time, and on the likelihood that you’re coming across as naive to these companies.

{ 451 comments… read them below }

    1. Owl*

      I love how he literally says those things back to back. I have a lot of ideas I would like to pass around a marketing firm or ideally to direct companies. I have no idea where to start.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          Anyone ash or a Greek Chorus?
          Mighty Aphrodite.
          https // www dot youtube dot com/watch?v=JKRPNpSrojA
          Greek choruses start at these points.

    2. AMT*

      This should be a PSA for new grads. If you don’t know where to look for these awesome positions, you probably don’t know your industry well enough to qualify for them. Qualified people are not only knowledgeable about their industry, but also proactive enough to find out who to talk to when there isn’t a clear apply-online-and-then-show-up-to-the-interview format.

      1. seejay*

        One of my exs once said:

        “never, ever, ever start a business coming directly out of college unless a) you’re doing independent consulting with you and a buddy, or b) you’re a megalomaniac that wants to spread your disease of incompetence to others”

        New grads seem to think they can take on the world, then they get into the real world and realize it’s absolutely nothing like school ever was. I wound up in one heck of a rude awakening, that’s for sure.

        1. Callie*

          I am in education. Last year one of my fresh college grads told me he wanted to be an “educational change agent” and asked me for advice on where to start. My advice was “get a teaching job and classroom experience before you go around trying to change things.” He didn’t like it.

          1. Humble Schoolmarm*

            I think that part of the problem is the “inspirational teacher movie” trope. The teachers are always young and new to the school and fighting against the mean, experienced teachers who don’t care the way the newbies do. The reality, as you said Callie, is that most of the coolest and most practical educational change is coming from people with 10-15 years classroom experience.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Also, people think they know everything about teaching by virtue of having been a student.

            2. Rhodoferax*

              I tried to become a teacher once. When I actually got to teach, I imagined I’d be the cool, fun, easy-going teacher that everybody likes, but then it turns out the angry teachers are that way because that’s how you get stuff done.

          2. Fishcakes*

            A guy I am related to markets himself as a “life coach.” Other than his life coach gig (no clients…), he has only ever had one job, which he was fired from after a few months.

            1. Alexa*

              I worked with someone who is now calling herself a life coach. She, too, was fired because she was terrible at her job and no one wanted to work with her because we couldn’t trust her to do basic things (like filing alphabetically) correctly. She was also divorced 4x by the time she was 40….

              1. Kelly*

                I lol’ed for real … right here at my desk … followed by an eye roll to top it off.

                Are people like this for real? I’ve had an employee who couldn’t file alphabetically or otherwise (just finally found a document regarding “antifreeze” filed under “liquid” true story) … but at least that lady didn’t think she could advise anyone else on how to be successful.

                OMG, too funny!

            2. BF50*

              Ha! I had a “friend” who tried to make it as a life coach right out of college. This was also the girl who literally moved from her parents house into her new husband’s house within 3 months of graduation. She had never lived alone. I doubt, to this day, that she has ever paid her own bills or balanced a checkbook.

              Generally, one should have some basic life skills before becoming a life coach.

            3. Not Australian*

              My ex-sister was also, briefly, a life coach. One of her more outstanding strategies was to give her business a name *which had already been registered by a much bigger life-coaching company*. It took them a while to hear about her, because she was a minnow with hardly any clients; when they did, they shut her down overnight.

        2. PM Jesper Berg*

          “never, ever, ever start a business coming directly out of college ”

          I mean, damn Facebook, Google, Netscape, Apple, etc. We’d be so much better off without them.

            1. Roguey*

              Not only that, but generally started by people with very large bank accounts already, who could afford to not be profitable for a few years before they took off.

              1. Candi*

                AND the people involved either had business sense or were willing to listen to people who did. That is the thing lacking in way too many awesome product change the world wannabe startups.

        3. Mary*

          We have a big agenda in promoting entrepreneurship in UK universities, and it’s really frustrating. There absolutely are a small number of graduates who are ready to start businesses straight away, and a larger number who are training and getting qualified in fields where going freelance is the norm, and supporting them is great. But there’s this idea that if our graduates can’t find jobs, they can just go off and start their own business (often accompanied by the overly positive happy-clappy “working for yourself is living the dream!” rhetoric, which is so unhelpful). Going and working for another organisation for 2-10 years to get some experience and knowledge and then setting up on your own is so much more realistic a career path for most.

    3. strawberries and raspberries*

      It’s comments like this that make me wish we were allowed to embed animated gifs in the comments.

    4. Mockingjay*

      When I read this post in the archives, all I could think was that he could work for NASA as an Ideas Man.

      See Harry Stamper’s incredulous response to Truman in Armageddon:

      “And this is the best that you – that the-the government, the U.S. government, can come up with? I mean, you- you’re NASA for cryin’ out loud, you put a man on the moon, you’re geniuses! You-you’re the guys that think this sh*t up! I’m sure you got a team of men sitting around somewhere right now just thinking sh*t up and somebody backing them up! You’re telling me you don’t have a backup plan, that these eight boy scouts right here, that is the world’s hope, that’s what you’re telling me?”

      Ideas Man could save the world. But then what would Bruce Willis do?

    5. Trillian*

      People say to writers all the time, “I have a great idea for a novel …” What they often don’t realize is that a writer can have five ideas for novels *before lunchtime.* It’s not the idea, it’s the selection and then the execution.

      1. Gruntled Worker*

        Exactly! ‘Great ideas’ = 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, rinse & repeat ad nauseam

        We need more ‘inspirational!’ films about people who spend twenty or thirty years failing slooowly upwards until their dogged determination (and willingness to put up with boredom) finally pays off.

        We don’t need more revolutionary visionaries. We need more incremental gains grunt workers.

  1. Grits McGee*

    Oh, this was such a good one! Sososo looking forward to reading the discussion and comments with the current, bigger AAM community!

    1. paul*

      I saw this in the archives one night and was kind of bummed that it happened back when the website was small.

    2. Southern Ladybug*

      This is one I will always remember. Should be a good discussion today. I would love an update from this writer.

  2. Snark*

    I always just kind of wanted to pat this LW on the hand and go, “Oh, my sweet summer child.”

    1. Lucky*

      He’s the textbook definition of “sweet summer child.” I wonder where he is now. Maybe trying to get his ridiculous-idea-that-no-one-needs start up off the ground, like the hot dog identification app from the recent season of Silicon Valley.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        These are honestly a dime a dozen on the internet, mostly in the form of “I have a great startup idea but absolutely none of the skills involved in executing it! I need coders, sales people, and finance people to join my up and coming startup that is going to be the next Uber/Instagram/Snapchat. You have to sign a huge NDA and non-compete agreement before I tell you what my idea is because it’s so amazing and I don’t want to get screwed like the Winklevoss twins, and I can’t pay you but you’ll get rich off your embarrassingly small equity stake when we go public!”

        1. Kelly L.*

          Authors get this too. “I have a great idea for a book! Here’s the plan–I’ll tell you the idea, and you write the book!”

        2. Svengali*

          “You have to sign a huge NDA and non-compete agreement before I tell you what my idea is because it’s so amazing and I don’t want to get screwed like the Winklevoss twins”

          Just read this again. You don’t have a clue about the startup community, at least not in California. Non-competes are completely illegal here and widely credited for our success in building a startup ecosystem. And yes, people who work in startups accept a below-market salary in exchange for equity, and if the startup flourishes they’ll get rich. They’re comfortable with that risk, and if you’re not, don’t join a startup. No-one is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to join a startup, are they?

          I’d really love to see who called Mark Zuckerberg a “sweet summer child” in 2004.

          1. Mary*

            I think you misread that comment? I didn’t think it was a criticism of start-up culture, but about people who think they can make a start-up happen but have no idea how start-up culture works?

            1. Candi*

              He misread the comment. It was talking about how these people have THE Idea, but no clue about how to go about it, and no idea (heh) about the law or regulations. (Or often diplomacy.)

              Seriously, you have an idea, there’s people who make their living consulting on this stuff. That’s what Google is for.

      2. Natalie*

        Oh man, it’s been 7 years! I hope he’s grown up a bit and either forgot he sent this email or can find it funny at least.

      3. Svengali*

        Where is he now? Not to put a fine point on it, but if he’s played his cards right, he may be your boss.

    2. Edith*

      The idea I thought was groundbreaking when I was LW’s age:
      Just Like My Family– This business idea involved purchasing popular dollhouse sets in pairs, switching out the parent dolls, and reselling them to children of interracial or same-sex couples so they could have a doll family that looked like their family.

      Why my idea was actually crap:
      The problem with the interracial couple sets was obvious to me early on– I could switch out the parents all I wanted, but the children dolls would never be biracial. It took me weeks to pick up on the hilarious and glaringly obvious problem with the same sex couple sets: Buying two sets and switching the dad in one for the mom in the other wouldn’t result in two families with gay parents so much as it would result in two families where the parents were identical twins. I figured the market share of children of incestuous same-sex couples probably wasn’t that big and never implemented my great idea.

      The moral of the story: 99.7% chance LW’s million-dollar ideas are total crap and he just hasn’t realized it yet.

      1. Anonymous because embarrassing*

        LOL, when I was like 8 my mom had another baby and was using cloth diapers. I was grossed out by the way that you had to rinse the poop out in the toilet and how they all got poop stained. I came up with an “invention” wherein you would use a “diaper liner” that was essentially a piece of plastic wrap with lots of tiny holes in it so the urine would go through and be absorbed by the diaper but the poop wouldn’t, and then you could just grab the liner and throw the whole thing away, and the diaper underneath would be poop-free. I was convinced that this idea was genius and I was going to change the world, and I was looking down on all the generations of women who had used cloth diapers and not come up with this before, thinking how much smarter I was than they. It wasn’t until an embarrassingly long time later that I realized (1) baby poop is often quite runny and would probably go through the little holes too, and (2) babies can’t sit around with PLASTIC on their behinds all day because skin needs to breathe and diaper rash is a thing.

        So yeah, my career as an “ideas guy” ended early.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Neither of those are bad ideas! And both kind of exist now.

            This is why it’s the implementation more than the idea.

            1. Candi*

              Right. Sometimes the ideas someone has as a kid just need work, and likely the advancement of technology.

              Back when I was a teen, I’d read about both cloning and the shortage of donated organs for the ill. After reading how they could take just a piece of a liver, or just a cell sample of the Isles of Langerhans* and transplant them as long as the pancreas itself was healthy, I realized that if they could figure out how to clone JUST an organ from a healthy donor’s tissue, it could at least help with the shortage a bit. (A sci-fi short story** contributed to the mix.) :P

              Well, it took a while, but 3-D organic printing is here, and completely leapfrogged and went beyond my nascent idea. They’re just working the bugs out. I think it’s awesome.

              * insulin production
              ** “A Sleeping Humpty Dumpty Beauty”, Anne McCaffrey

        1. nnn*

          Can anyone explain to my non-parent self: if babies can’t sit around with plastic on their behinds all day, what are disposable diapers made of? I always assumed plastic, but I haven’t touched one since I was wearing them myself.

          1. Indoor Cat*

            They’re different synthetic materials, depending on the brand, but usually plant-based so they’re biodegradable. Only the exterior of the diaper is a plastic (PLA). There are two “middle” sections of a diaper–the part the touches a baby’s skin, and the part in the middle that either has hydrogel or crystals, which are both absorbent and odor neutralizing. So, popular materials to use for the pad that touches skin include cotton, hemp, bamboo, and “pulp” (mix of different materials spun into thread).

            Different diaper brands have their own hydrogel formulas, none of which are harmful to babies. But, every once in awhile hippie parents freak out that hydrogel is made of “chemicals!” and there’s some backlash that demands Pampers change their formula *for no reason*, and re-brand, while smug cloth-diaper-using parents get to up their holier-than-thou points for never letting “chemicals” near their precious babies.

            Er, but, yeah, basically, if you’re more familiar with menstrual pads or tampons, the materials are mostly the same stuff.

        2. The Other Katie*

          Maybe too early: for modern cloth diapers, you can buy flushable liners :) They’re not plastic and they don’t solve all the runny problems, but they do an 80% job.

      2. Svengali*

        The problem with your idea wasn’t the market size of interracial or gay families. The LGBTQ community is huge and known for its spending power. The problem is that there was no moat (Mattel can do the same thing tomorrow and scale instantly).

        1. Edith*

          I think you misread my post. The problem wasn’t the market size of children with gay parents. The problem was the market size of children whose parents were not only gay, but also identical twins. Like Jaime and Cersei, but identical instead of fraternal.

        2. DG*

          Well… yes and no. Mattel needs to weigh up the benefits of selling to the LGBTQ community against the risk of alienating the RBP (Rich Bigoted Parents) community. To date, they have come down on the side of “it’s not worth risking our existing market share to do this”. I guarantee that there are Mattel executives contemplating this question on a regular basis. And there are signs that they’re dipping their toe in the water – one of the flagship characters in their Ever After High doll line is kind of sort of softly implied to be a lesbian. (Also, lots of people think that Earring Magic Ken wasn’t a “mistake” at all.)

          Whereas a new startup doll company that aims for the LGBTQ market from Day 1 won’t have that risk – they don’t have any existing market share that could be damaged. It’s not a terrible idea. (But buying the dolls at retail prices, and then expecting to make a profit? That’s a terrible idea.)

    3. Svengali*

      OP, there is nothing wrong with being an “ideas guy” (it just means you’re a strong N, rather than an S, on the MBTI), and I think there are a lot of good options out there for you.

      1. Strategy consulting. C-level executives often strongly value an outside take on business problems they’re facing, and they’ll pay very, very well for it. It’s true that you’ll do a lot of grunt work as an analyst at a strategy consultancy, but you’ll still get exposure to cutting-edge management theories and eventually may be asked for your opinion. (Pro tip: go work in an emerging market office of one of the strat firms. Whether this is fair or not, your view may be valued more highly because you’re from the US.)

      Note that these companies are often picky about the schools they hire from, so if you’re not from (say) a top-20 university, you’ll have to do more legwork to get hired. But it’s not impossible.

      2. Related to the above: an internal consulting unit at a corporation, or business development or an internal M&A team. In the latter, you’ll get to evaluate potential acquisition targets. Yes, this will start off at a granular level, but you’ll still be working with how ideas pan out in practice.

      3. Economics consultancies, like Charles River associates, or political risk consultancies. Similar to strategy firms, but probably even more ideas-oriented.

      4. Think tanks. There’s tremendous ideas potential here, even for junior employees. Most, not all, of these jobs are in DC. Pay isn’t usually great. The problems you’ll be working on are public policy issues, not private sector issues. (One exception: some companies, like McKinsey or Deloitte, have set up independent think tanks that take a somewhat hybrid approach and look at public policy problems through the lens of business.)

      5. Government economic development or investment promotion agencies. People here think about big-picture incentives to get companies to locate facilities in a particular state, region, or country. (In the case of foreign governments, they may or may not have a presence in the US.)

      6. International development work. If you’re eager to go live in an emerging market country, you can often get hired on USAID-sponsored projects where a junior employee can get a lot of responsibility early on. Some of these projects are granular (“how to I improve rice yields in Eastern Fredonia?”), but others involve giving big-picture advice (“how to we promote entrepreneurship in Fredonia”)?

      7. Political campaigns. Junior people can get amazing responsibility very, very quickly in political campaigns *if* they’re talented. Again, pay ain’t great, but you can sometimes parlay this into better paying jobs in other fields in a few years, especially PR/communications.

      8. Policy advisor to an officeholder, such as a a congressional representative or senator. You’ll probably start out answering phones or constituent mail, but you can get promoted relatively quickly (particularly if you come back after getting an advanced degree.) Done right, this is an intellectual feast. Top professors all over the country will be beating down your door to share their thoughts. Call one of them, and your call will be returned in a few hours. Downside (again) is very low pay, which is why people willing to take these jobs are often newly-minted grads, but it opens doors for the future. Campaigns are also an entree into this area.

      9. Related to the above: run for office yourself. Lots of young people run for office, especially at the local level. And a winning campaign is ultimately about identifying winning ideas.

      10. Entrepreneurship. I’m a bit hesitant to recommend this if you’ve started your own company and didn’t like it, and it also depends on your tolerance for risk, but coming out to Silicon Valley, or somewhere like Seattle or Austin or Boston, and working at a start-up is a great way to build responsibility early on, especially if you’re one of the founders.

      At the risk of stepping on an anthill, some of the commentariat on this blog is risk-averse and will pooh-pooh this option with all its might. Ignore them. Posters on this blog doesn’t like startups. They’re jealous (“sweet summer child”) when a young person makes it big right off, rather than “paying his dues”, and that’s a thing in the start-up world.

      Now, be aware that by some statistics 90% of startups fail. Still, in places like Silicon Valley, that’s usually OK, and instead of being held against you will be thought of as great business experience. (Attitudes like this are a big reason why some regions do well at fostering entrepreneurship and others don’t.)

      Avoid very conservative industries like insurance, accounting, law, etc. Those are process-oriented industries, not ideas industries (with the exception of appellate litigators). And avoid family businesses at all cost. Speaking generally, folks at family businesses are in there because of birth, not because of their ideas. And the ones who like ideas often resent informal pressure to go into the family business.

      11. Academia, which is the quintessential ideas factory. If you’re interested in business, go for a doctorate in business administration. I’d skip the master’s stage, whether at business schools or elsewhere. Academia is about the PhD. Also, avoid law. Legal academia is big on ideas, but practicing lawyers aren’t, and they often dismiss legal academics. And even law schools increasingly look askance at people with only a JD, and not a PhD as well. You might also find some non-faculty positions at universities of interest, but in general, you’ll want to be tenure-track faculty, which means a PhD. Be aware that there is a surplus of PhD students that get stuck in postdocs or adjunct positions.

      Three final pieces of advice.

      First, you won’t be finding jobs like this on Monster or Craigslist. You need to be aggressive about networking and reaching out to companies. Don’t be afraid to reach out to senior people, and ignore what Alison may say on this point. I landed a great first, ideas-oriented, job by reaching out directly.

      Second, almost all of these paths involve relocating — to DC in the case of the public policy options, or to Silicon Valley or a related region in the case of entrepreneurship. (Strategy consultancies may have more options, but you still need to be in a major commercial center.) DC has had some success in the entrepreneurship space, too, so that might be a good place for you to start.

      As I noted above, if you’re into the private sector, going to an emerging market may help. The former Soviet Union in the 1990s was a place for young people to get disproportionate responsibility early on (not so much now). I’ve also seen (again, fairly or not) young expats in Dubai get asked for advice because, well, they’re expats.

      Third, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of a book called THE IDEAS INDUSTRY by Daniel Drezner. He gives you a great overview of just that, albeit from a public policy, and not a private sector, standpoint.

      The naysayers around here are right that there’ll be some grunt work in an job. But there are great options out there for ideas people, even newly-minted ones. It takes a lot of legwork, but it’s definitely doable.

      1. Candi*

        The commetariat aren’t biased against start-ups and other forms of small business. They’re against -often after painful experience- of the poor culture and bad management that is far too often a hallmark of these types of companies.

        Check out the comments on just about any post or open thread where the subject comes up. Abuse, financial physical, mental, and emotional; poor money management, resulting in vendors and employees not getting paid; “like a family” culture, in practice meaning criticizing the company/owner/fellow workers is Wrong and Treasonous. Toxic environments, harassment, sexual and otherwise. Poor business sense in all its facets. Allowing lazy workers to suck up resources instead of canning them, and dumping the work on the hard workers. Nepotism, even if the person contributes nothing. Impossible demands, unreasonable polices -when there are any. Temper tantrums by owners, managers, and staff.

        Notice I didn’t include bullying -because all of these can be part of bullying. Bullying has many, many facets, which is what makes it so hard to develop policies and law corraling it. (It needs to be addressed, though. Really.)

        I worked for two small businesses years ago, a dollar store and a daycare, owned in succession by the same woman. My boss was lovely, and usually my coworkers were too. But for a long time my boss did not know how to manage people. She was great at money and goods, but not at handling people who did not do what they were supposed to do, or took advantage. It was in the later days of her running the daycare that she was finally able to put her foot down and draw that line.

    4. CoveredInBees*

      Yes! Before I got to the part of him being in college, it was eye-rolling. After that, it was more like, “Awwww, honey child, no. No one needs the ideas of someone with no experience who doesn’t want to actually do anything.”

  3. paul*

    Oh. My. God.

    This reminds me of so many well meaning community volunteers that think they have a magic bullet to solve the problem of the moment but lack any and all practical experience.

    For every Zapo’s (or whatever that online shoe store is) there’s probably thousands of total failures. Get some seasoning before you try to revolutionize an industry.

    1. Snark*

      This reminds me of…..a lot of incredibly topical modern American issues, actually, and that’s as close to that as I’ll swerve. There’s this weird strain in our culture that encourages the uninformed to regard their own ignorance as a virtue when it comes to approaching complex problems.

      1. Infinity Anon*

        There is sometimes an advantage to getting an outsiders perspective who is not burdened by the preconceptions and assumptions that the company has been working with without necessarily being consciously aware that that is what they are doing. That is why there are consulting firms. However, those firms are experts with a lot of practical experience.

        1. CoveredInBees*

          This is huge in the non-profit world. A funder heard about a trend in the for-profit world and waives it at long-standing, complex social issues like some sort of magic wand. Also the idea of running a non-profit providing a social good the way you run a for-profit providing a consumer good…no good. But it doesn’t stop philanthropists whose only experience is in finance from trying.

      2. Snarkus Aurelius*

        This is why I hated the movie Dave. I’ve worked in politics and government for a long time, and no, a small town CPA cannot balance the federal budget in one afternoon.

        The federal government can’t get to a budget lickety split because the process is intentionally complicated to prevent unilateral decisions. Not because no one ever thought of that solution before.

        1. Bookworm*

          > Not because no one ever thought of that solution before.

          So true. It always amazes me, that a number of people who recognize that their jobs are complex and layered and don’t have easy or obvious solutions – but are unable to apply that knowledge to other people’s work.

          As a general rule, if I see a problem and an immediate, obvious solution comes to me right away: someone else has already thought of it, and there’s a reason why it’s not happening.

          1. Any Moose*

            Love this rule. Too bad our new e.d. doesn’t follow it. He suggests things we’ve tried but because he’s here, somehow they are hoing to work this time. Sigh.

        2. Sal*

          But…it is so charming!

          /biased because I literally say “Thanks for doing this, Helen” to my husband several times a week. I love “Dave.”

          1. Puffyshirt*

            I love “Dave”, too! And if Charles Grodin can balance the budget, well… enough said. lol!!

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Me too! It has to be regarded as almost a fantasy movie, but in that spirit I love it.

        3. Lln*

          I love this. Growing up, we were friends with a Quiverfull family that had like nine kids, and the SAHM was somehow able to keep everyone clothed and more or less fed on a single salary; I remember my mom being like “[matriarch] should be president! She’ll fix the budget crisis, she can squeeze a penny till it screams!” And I remember thinking, even at age twelve or whatever, “that makes absolutely zero sense, it’s not the same skillset at all…” But to a lot of people I guess it holds water.

        4. Candi*

          It drive me bananas when someone says, “Let’s raise taxes! Then we’ll have all the money we need for social programs! That’ll solve all the problems of the homeless/insert here, AND that NPOs/other group pay such low wages!”

          It’s waaayyyy more complicated then that. Federal government salaries, that the people on the ground in these cities are often more in tune to SpecificCommunity’s exact needs, that NPOs and all DO get government money, and that Congress doesn’t wrangle over chunks of the bill every year for fun.

          Government economics are complicate.

      3. Sleeping or maybe dead*

        Rest assured that US is not the only one doing that. Everyone gets a shot trying to revolutionize the wheel.
        Specially in political and societal issues. Because history, psychology, anthropology and the like are not ~real~ sciences, so every lay men gets to have strong opinions in topics they are completely uninformed and uneducated about, and have that opinion trump centuries of peer reviewed hard work…

          1. Snark*

            Sorry, “real” was supposed to be in quotes – I don’t myself think anthropology, history et al are not real sciences!

          2. CoveredInBees*

            Or even a veterinarian (people refusing to give their dogs vaccines in fear of autism) or doctor in the world of WebMD and every random bozo’s “health blog”.

        1. Kate 2*

          Economics! There is a certain strand of economist, particularly in the U.S., who insists that certain things that have been done before, sometimes many times, will work *this* time. Try looking at history friends!

          1. Geoffrey B*

            And another strand of economist who insists that certain things are impossible even though many non-US countries are happily doing them…

      4. I_am_RADAR*

        Much in the same way the falsehood is perpetuated that each and every one of us is such a beautiful and unique snowflake that we are worthy of great praise simply because we breathe air, and not for any real accomplishment or hard work. Annnnd … then we hit the “real world” and find out – NOPE!

      5. Indoor Cat*

        I agree. And it aggravates me when successful people reinforce this, I dunno, maverick narrative. Like, there is a writer whose work I really do love, and he did some work that was groundbreaking in the medium he’s best known for about thirty years ago. Frequently, people ask him how he came up with such a different idea, and while he emphasizes the practice required by any art form, he also says a lot of stuff like, “Well, I didn’t know very much about [the medium], so I didn’t know what ‘couldn’t’ be done.” Or “I never went to [college / art school] so I never learned that there was a right or wrong way to do things like this.”

        And it is so frustrating! Because there are definitely a million and one artists and writers who think they’re the next cool maverick and don’t want their unique genius tainted by the influence of, like formal education and artistic training, and time and again those people lose to the people who actually did seek out formal training. But the mavericks almost never get that; instead, they wonder why nobody is giving their genius a chance to flourish.

    2. Not The Droid You Are Looking For*

      You mean the, “well if everyone donated a dollar” or “why not just call up Bill Gates” people :/

      1. Not Yet Looking*

        The “if everyone donated a dollar” thing works. It’s why they outlawed pyramid schemes. :P

        1. Greg M.*

          Greetings, friends. Do you wish to look as happy as me? Well, you’ve got the power inside you right now. So, use it, and send one dollar to Happy Dude, 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield. Don’t delay, eternal happiness is just a dollar away.

    3. AMT*

      I’m similarly troubled by the Zuckerbergian ethos of “ignore all conventions and risk everything for your brilliant revolutionary ideas.” At the outset, you really have no way of knowing whether you’re J.K. Rowling or the terrible author selling books out of her van at the county fair. Even if your ideas are genuinely brilliant, brilliant people fail catastrophically all the time. It’s like that saying about how if you ask a lottery winner how to make millions, they’ll tell you to buy a bunch of lottery tickets.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Even Zuck had to back off the “break everything” dogma because all the code the fb programmers rammed through production didn’t work or didn’t work correctly when it went public. And why? Because “break everything” meant nothing got tested beforehand.

        I’m not a code person, but even I know there’s a *reason* behind production processes.

      2. Bagpuss*

        Or even the writer who is as good as, or better than JK at writing but didn’t happen to get the break

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I had a friend who decided he was going to be the next JK Rowling. He quit a lucrative job to focus on writing his Great Canadian-American Novel…. which turned out to be a very small, heavily flawed diamond in a giant manure mountain. Cool core idea — but English was his second language, he refused to let anyone edit his work or even design a better cover for him, and what he ended up publishing was an appalling and generally unreadable mess. In the process he narrowly escaped foreclosure, mostly thanks to a very generous bailout from his parents, lost all his friends, and turned into a brief and very unfortunate Internet sensation.

        Ideas just plain old are not enough.

        1. AMT*

          I, too, aspire to one day write a novel that is so bad that I lose all of my friends. That sounds like it would actually take a certain level of skill.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Like, did he blatantly write all his friends into the novel as (unflattering) characters? Did he refuse to talk about anything other than his novel and how it was the greatest work ever committed to the page and was going to make him rich and famous? Did his friends all get so exasperated watching him wreck his life that they bailed? Because not too many people would ditch a friend for the sole reason of “he wrote a novel I didn’t like.” (I hope!)

            1. Lln*

              I’m guessing at least some of them tried to gently steer him back towards sanity at some point in the process, seeing that it was likely to end disastrously for him, and he either outright cut them off or became so hostile over it that they had to back away.

              Yeah. I’ve known a few of these people…

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              All of the above, actually! He tried to “compliment” us by writing us into his book, mostly as shallow stereotypes; many of us offered to help him with editing or cover art or other skills, and he declined with some very pointed insults about how our skills weren’t enough to meet his vision; he cadged favors and then attempted to “repay” us in copies of his book.

              Oh, and he also stopped cleaning his cats’ litter box so he, his home, and all his things developed a strong miasma of Eau de Feline, so hanging out with him became horribly unpleasant even before he opened his mouth.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          *headdesks repeatedly*

          Oh. Oh my God. I am a (published but very obscure and unsuccessful) writer and… this absolutely boggles my mind. How is it even possible for someone to think this is a good idea? How?

      4. Kate 2*

        Like artists who know full well that Monet and Cezanne and so on did terribly in life, but were only recognized for their greatness years after death, but insist that because their work is so awesome (is it really?) someone is sure to recognize that and they will become rich and famous?

      5. Gazebo Slayer*

        Oh yes, this. And the same people who think this behavior is a good idea think it’s ALL YOUR FAULT if you’re not wildly successful, because *anyone* can be if you just follow your dreeeeeams. *gag*

        The “ignore all conventions and risk everything” advice is also terrible because there are some situations where recklessly pursuing your “brilliant” ideas will harm others. And a lot of these “idea man” types are wealthy and insulated from negative consequences, so they blithely go on letting other people deal with the problems they cause.

        1. Agatha31*

          Someone (spoiler: they’re wealthy :p) put a sign up in our workplace that says “what would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” It never fails to annoy me when I pass by it.

      6. Candi*

        “the terrible author selling books out of her van at the county fair”

        In this day and age!?! I’d be shocked they’d paid for the binding when ebooks are a thing. D2D, Smashwords… heck, sell it off your own website! A domain has to be cheaper then paying for those hard copies, even if you went to one of the newer businesses or shops that charges a flat fee per job of X size, instead of asking a percentage of sales.

    4. Svengali*

      “For every Zapo’s (or whatever that online shoe store is) there’s probably thousands of total failures.”

      Absolutely no doubt about it. Most startups fail. HOWEVER, in regions like Silicon Valley and Boston that have a startup culture, failure is still regarded as legitimate business experience. It’s almost a badge of honor. So people at a failed startup are often in a position to join a better startup, or an incumbent corporation at a more senior level than they would have by working their way up the ranks.

  4. Not Today Satan*

    I’m an “ideas” person, and I’ve found that data analysis has provided an opportunity for me to do this. I am able to investigate and say “X Y and Z show that doing things B way would be more effective,” or whatever. And when the data/theories are compelling enough I’m able to get my ideas in front of the head honchos.

    This obv requires advanced Excel and database skills though. If you find something concrete that you excel at, you’ll be able to be an “ideas guy” in at least some way.

    1. Jesca*

      I, too, have found this an amazing outlet for my skills and interest. I work as a quality analyst right now, and I get to design, improve, and implement new ways of data analysis. Its greatly rewording to me as many people I have found don’t understand the the hows to get the information they need.

      But along with the excel and database skills, you really do have to have a fundamental understanding of logic and have actual experience developing processes/procedures in order to do this. And that of course takes a few years of experience understanding and working within processes that were established and successful. I have always had this skill of understanding what data was saying, but I have not always had the skills to understand what the hows and why to determine what data needed to be captured and why. This, and a whole slew of other practical experience (like understanding that you need to know the whole process and any overlapping ones when pulling any kind of data for analysis) that only comes with experience doing the grunt stuff!

    2. Kalamet*

      In my field, there’s this vague idea of “thought leader” that is similar to this. It refers to someone who analyzes industry trends and processes, and applies the data to change or introduce new processes. You can do this on a team level, a company level, or even an industry level.

      However, in this case “thought leader” is not a job title, or something you get explicitly paid to do at most levels. It’s something you develop over the course of a career. The key that OP seems to be missing is that being an “ideas man” often requires extensive on-the-ground experience in something – whether that field is marketing, computing, what have you. I’m sure there are exceptions of course, but we shouldn’t base career decisions off of exceptions. Most people in my industry that I’d refer to as “ideas” oriented either a) started their own consulting companies or b) spend a lot of time getting their ideas out to the community through blogging, talks, etc. Pretty much all of them spent years in industry doing the jobs they now generate ideas for.

      Basically, you need to be able to explain *why* your ideas are groundbreaking, rather than assuming that others will see its merit.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      That also requires work. LW seems to want to sprinkle his concepts around and let everyone else fill in the details and develop the ideas. Because he has thoughts and opinions.

        1. SL #2*

          Not necessarily; lots of people don’t send in updates after their initial letters, even if Alison asks (which she may not have). I hope he’s doing well, though, whatever that may mean to him. If he’s going to make mistakes, might as well make them then, while he’s still a student or a recent grad and has some leeway, rather than later on in his career where people are much less forgiving.

          1. Jesca*

            That’s my point. He recognized it and is embarrassed for ever writing it. I wouldn’t have updated either… Its neither bad nor good. It just is what it is.

        2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Also, folks were (and are now) being pretty unkind about and to him. I wouldn’t write back if I got the comments this post got/is getting.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            Agree! He’s just young and doesn’t know how the business world operates yet – and why would he, before he starts? It’s kind of unfair that everyone punches down on new people who have been told to “follow their dreams and reach for the sky” all their lives when they … try to do that. Also, he’s saying what everyone thinks – it would be way more fun to come up with new ideas than be a drone in an office all day. I kind of hope he made it :D

            1. Optimistic Prime*

              Yeah! And I mean, at the very worst, he probably just realized he needed some more seasoning time to grow. Or maybe he found a startup to work for!

            2. Gazebo Slayer*

              Eh, the kind of arrogant young men who think they’re “visionary” and superior to all you drones are spoiled jerks. They also cause soooo many problems – whether it’s horribly mismanaged businesses if they do end up in charge, or the lashing out they tend to do if no one acknowledges their specialness.

          2. Badmin*

            Agreed – there’s a fair level of snark on this one. Good for him for believing he has something special, just unfortunately you generally have to start at the bottom.

    1. Manders*

      I do wonder! Creating a small business while still in college is actually pretty impressive. I think this guy’s doing all right.

      This piece first came out around the same time that I was freshly out of school, struggling to find a career path, and wishing I could be the “ideas guy.” I remember reading it and sympathizing with the OP even though I knew what he was asking for wasn’t realistic. After spending some time as an admin, I really started to understand how to get from point A to point Z on a project, and then I ended up in a field of marketing where I do get to come up with and test lots of ideas. Most of my work is still about executing those ideas but I have a lot of freedom to try new things. It’s likely that OP ended up following a similar path.

      1. Svengali*

        Curious why you assume this. He could well be a principal at a consulting firm, or a chief of staff on Capitol Hill, or an M&A lead at Lyft, etc. Fortune favors the bold. What did *you* do that was ambitious?

        1. MerciMe*

          Well, for one, I got a good paying job that positions me as an “idea person,” about 20 years in my career. Of course, that involves not just coming up with ideas, but doing the research to support and reality-check my ideas, developing the younger staff we hope will be our next generation of idea people, organizing my ideas in ways that are easily understood, pitching them to the organization, getting everyone trained and notified, conducting rollout and implementation….. Yeah, they’re team activities, but at the end of the day their success still goes directly to everyone else’s read on how “good” my ideas were, so I need to stay in and on top of things if I want to keep proving my value.

          I did run into a self-described “idea guy” early in my career. We had an hour long conversation and then he used the “idea guy” shtick to send me off with all the work. He had a reputation for not adding much value anyway, so after I mentioned it to my manager in the course of my assignment updates (“So what is Fred doing on this project?” “Oh, uh, he told me he sees himself as an idea guy and wants me to take the lead on the actual work.”) we found ways to reduce our involvement with his team on the basis that they weren’t adding value.

          And that’s what people are reacting to, really. When someone “just” wants to be an idea guy, it means they’re looking for the credit and rewards but they want everyone else to do the hard work to make it happen. It’s nonsense and trying to do things that way is a quick path to failure, because the people doing your grunt work aren’t stupid and they won’t keep you around if you aren’t pulling your weight.

  5. Junior Dev*

    Bookmarking to come back to when I ask my boss for a raise in a few months, because I need to borrow some of this guy’s confidence.

    (Seriously why is it that I feel uncomfortable asserting myself on technical topics where I know more than anyone in the room but this guy is convinced he’s God’s gift to business?)

          1. Snark*

            Given that it keeps finding new and glorious expressions, I think there’s no end to what one could know about that subject.

          2. oranges & lemons*

            There is a great This American Life episode where one of them is interviewed (the “In Defense of Ignorance episode”) and he admits that he himself is pretty disturbed by the knowledge that he doesn’t know when he’s exhibiting the Dunning-Kreuger effect. It’s actually kind of scary when you think about it–as he says in the episode, when you think you know something, it’s either because you actually know it, or because you know nothing about it.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Between now and then, if you’re not, I would suggest making a note of specific achievements and actions in a document as they happen. Also any praise you get along the way, that’s work-related.

      I find this very useful. This is not a document for anyone else – just for you to look at and remember what you’ve done, before going into that discussion. It may give you points to talk about, and hopefully also confidence. (Our review process also does goal-setting, so it also helps me tally against my last set of goals and be ready to speak to how I partially or wholly met them, or in some cases how things changed so that the goal was no longer appropriate/relevant.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        I sometimes say to people who work under or with me: “This was a notable achievement–you need to put that in the document you’re keeping about what makes you good at your job.”

        It’s good for your confidence, too!

        1. Shark Whisperer*

          Absolutely! In my department, we are supposed to “journal” all year long about things we have achieved and how we are working towards our goals and encouraged to send our manager our journal before our performance review. It is actually incredibly useful. I say “journal that!” to my staff every time they achieve something. I am usually bad with keeping up with my own journal, but I am incredibly grateful for my staff’s journals because it makes performance reviews so easy.

          1. LizB*

            My organization has a form to fill out before our monthly 1 on 1s that asks us t0 list our achievements and how they relate to the objectives we’ll be rated on in our annual review. It’s super nice to have 12 months of notes on all the cool stuff I’ve done when it comes time to write my self-eval.

        2. Turquoise Cow*

          That’s a really good idea. Probably makes it easier when you get to performance review time and you’re reviewing goals you forgot you set, never mind how you did at them.

        3. JustaTech*

          I have a “Yay me” folder in my email for every time (not often) I get an email from a higher-up complementing me on my work.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I just interviewed for a different but also very similar position with someone who is already my boss and it felt really weird because they already know everything I’ve done. But I went through my past reviews and self-assessments and wrote down a list of my biggest accomplishments and by the end I was like “you know what, I’m pretty awesome!”

    2. Overeducated*

      This reminds me of when I was volunteering a bit with a new organization another grad student started. She got the university’s “business entrepreneurship incubator” or whatever to “donate” a student worker/trainee for a number of hours, thinking he’d be able to help with the actual nuts and bolts work of writing the business plan (she was very well organized and good at getting support in the areas where we had less expertise).

      It turned out to be a male college sophomore who came into this meeting of five or six late 20 and 30 something PhD students, almost all female, and when the founder said “here is the help we could use from you with our business plan,” he said, “uh, my real strength is in figuring out where other people’s strengths can go, like delegating what other people can do that’s more hands on. I’m more of an advisor.” We were all like “….seriously? You just want to manage our tiny volunteer workforce? We’re…already doing that ourselves.” Ah, to have the confidence of a 20 year old man.

      1. Snark*

        ““uh, my real strength is in figuring out where other people’s strengths can go, like delegating what other people can do that’s more hands on. I’m more of an advisor.”

        *merry laughter*

        *more merry laughter*

        *chuckling and wiping of eyes*

      2. Overeducated*

        Ps I have since graduated and moved on, as have most most of the original volunteers, but the founder is still running the organization several years later and figured out how to generate revenue to support the nonprofit operations. So I don’t think that proves we just didn’t know enough about business compared to that guy.

      3. Blue Anne*

        This image just made my morning, thank you!

        Mediocre White Man is my career role model, by the way. If I’m concerned that I’m not qualified enough for that position, or worried about asking for a raise, or about the optics of leaving on time when my work is done even though I’m the first to leave for the day… what would MWM do? Exercise his supreme oblivious confidence…

        1. Anon4*

          If I started a thread discussing “Mediocre Black Woman”, just how well would that go down? I though we avoided race & gender stereotypes here.

          1. Jadelyn*

            Well gosh, it’s almost like words have meanings, and you can’t just swap out multiple key words in a phrase and have it mean exactly the same thing or receive exactly the same reception!

            People are discussing an actual phenomenon they’ve personally experienced, of people like the OP who have unbelievable buckets of confidence despite not having done much to be confident in. And, people who’ve experienced this almost uniformly experience it coming from white men, so “Mediocre White Man” makes good shorthand when talking about the phenomenon. I’m sorry it makes you uncomfortable, but this is A Thing That Happens to many of us so we talk about it sometimes. That’s not the same as race and gender stereotyping – it’s discussing actual lived experience.

            And frankly, if you’re a white man who doesn’t act like Mediocre White Man, this isn’t about you, so why are you getting upset?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think it’s quite that though, or we’d have people saying it’s fine to discuss (insert offensive racial stereotype here) because that’s their lived experience, and I wouldn’t be okay with that.

              I’d say it’s more similar to the long-standing rule that you can punch up (power-wise) but not down (to those without as much power).

          2. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend*

            Stereotypes about a group of people with institutional power (white men) are inherently different than harmful stereotypes about those who do not have institutional power (black women).

            1. Brogrammer*

              It’s not even really a stereotype about white men. It’s just pointing out that white men can often succeed despite being mediocre because of confidence + the invisible advantages that come with being a white man.

              1. AMT*

                Yep, it’s more that people will recognize your incompetence more readily if you’re non-white/non-male, whereas if you look like Jack Donaghy, it’s easy to convince people that you know what you’re doing because you remind them of the stereotypical business guy from movies and Dockers ads.

        2. AMT*

          This is funny to me because I’ve used a version of this with my wife: “What would [name of her boss, who has somehow stayed employed and has an enormous amount of confidence in his abilities despite not knowing how to do 90% of his job] do?” He has the hubris of a high performer and the skills of an intern. He’s a great example of how to project confidence when you’re not even sure you’re in the right building.

          1. Former Employee*

            “He has the hubris of a high performer and the skills of an intern.”

            One of the best lines.

  6. TallTeapot*

    I work as an advisor with college students and this letter brings so much joy to me. Alison does such a nice job of gently bursting his hubris balloon. Oh grasshopper, you have so much you need to learn…

    1. AisforA*

      Right?! I teach a Professional Seminar class to college students, and have worked with so many new grads who are just like this guy. I take great joy in the little moments when they realize they’re just not “special”. Maybe I’m just a jerk.

  7. DecorativeCacti*

    I think this is how the whole Silicon Valley boom (bust?) happened.

    1) Move to California, 2) get comfortable with phrases like “revolutionize” and “disrupt”, 3) ???, 4) profit.

    1. Snark*

      It’s really common tech industry thinking. We’re not just setting up an app to let people hail rides, we’re changing the friggin’ world, dude!

      1. Bookworm*

        I think it was The Atlantic that had an article a while back (probably among others) pointing out that while SV loves to talk about ‘disrupting an industry’, that’s not bearing out in practice. Big businesses are generally just buying the tech these startups create and absorbing it.

        I think Warby Parker was considered an exception? Like a genuine disruption to an industry? Which is funny, because it’s not even especially tech related.

        Also, my friend who’s an econ nerd keeps pointing out that people who use the word ‘disruption’ often don’t know what it actually means from an economic sense, and will use it to describe any new company.

        1. Jesca*

          Haha you should point those people to ACDC Econ videos on youtube. That may help them understand.

          1. theangryguppy*

            I am disappointed to learn that these are not music videos of econ topics set to AC/DC songs.

            ^There’s a great idea! Someone should pay me millions of dollars for thinking that up!

            1. Jesca*

              Hahaha haha I’m so amused you actually looked!

              You should comment on one of his videos. I almost guarantee he will make some! I could never actually figure out why he called it ACDC econ, but that guy is a nut! Definitely helped me get through econ classes as an adult returning student though.

      2. Tobias Funke*

        Literally my dad did this on an informal basis by hanging out at the large hospital near him and picking up fares when we were really poor.

      3. Optimistic Prime*

        This is why the television show Silicon Valley cracks me up, because it’s SO TRUE.

    2. CityMouse*

      I do love those vague consulting websites where you have no clue what they do. It is just full of six sigma buzzwords and vague statements.

    3. all aboard the anon train*

      One of my brothers worked in start-up tech in San Francisco for awhile and the way he described it was, “convenience apps for middle and upper class white guys who think everyone else’s life is like theirs”. Aka, they’re building things they think everyone needs because they need them, and then are shocked when it fails because their test groups say it’s an interesting idea but don’t see the need for it in their own lives.

      It’s my train of thought on a lot of those food box subscriptions. They’re waaaaay more expensive than grocery shopping and they’re for a select socioeconomic group, and they’re marketed as “saving time for people with busy lives” but I honestly don’t believe there are that many people in the world who are too busy to spend half an hour each week at the grocery store.

      1. Snark*

        …which is why those services are having a devil of a time keeping customers, particularly when a lot of grocery stores have started to offer pickup service.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Yes – you can pay out the wazoo for a food box service, which is delivered to you so yeah that’s convenient. Or you can pay normal grocery store prices for a whole week’s worth of food and just swing by the grocery store for 5 minutes and they’ll bring it out to your car. Slightly less convenient, although still far more convenient than traditional grocery shopping, but much more cost-efficient, especially if you’re not the type of person who likes experimenting with fancy meals like most of those boxes give you.

          1. Snark*

            Or you like experimenting with fancy meals and don’t need a box or a recipe . They’re kind of shooting for a weird demographic: affluent, no time, adventurous enough as a cook to want to make fairly eclectic meals, not adventurous enough a cook to wing it and cook without a recipe.

            1. Temperance*

              I’m totally in that group. I like cooking, I suck at meal planning, and I have more disposable income than free time.

              1. Al Lo*

                That’s exactly why I get the meal prep boxes. It’s the middle ground, budget-wise, between grocery shopping and takeout/eating out. Yes, I know it’s cheaper to do my own grocery shopping. Yes, I can cook. But I suck at meal planning, and that makes me more likely to eat out or order takeout, which costs more than groceries, so am I really coming out ahead?

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        There may not be many people who are too busy, technically, but there are a lot of people who are busy and would rather spend their limited free time doing almost anything else. I would have loved to subscribe to one in my pre-food-allergy days, but I couldn’t afford it.

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Well, that’s the thing. They’re catering to people of a socioeconomic status who are too busy and can afford it, not to people who might be busy but can’t afford it.

          I do think they’re a good idea in theory, but in execution I don’t think they work as well as they could. If I wanted, I can get delivery from my grocery store for nothing more than a delivery fee of $5 (or free if over a certain amount), and the food is the same price as the store, whereas the boxes either have an upcharge for delivery or cost three times what I would purchase for a meal or two.

          1. Bookworm*

            Oh, you’re discussing like Blue Apron-type product. I thought you were just referring to food delivery in general.

            Yeah, they would need to work on their model for it to be useful to me.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              Oh, sorry. I should have made that clearer.

              Food delivery in general is super useful, but something like Blue Apron is only for people who can afford it. Their three meal plan is what I spend on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and three snacks for a whole week. They’re marketing $60/three meals as a convenience, but it’s an expensive convenience.

              1. Bookworm*

                Yeah. It also requires a subscription, so you can’t just justify it as an occasional splurge.

              2. Optimistic Prime*

                Even for people who can afford it, it doesn’t make much sense…me and my husband had it for a while, but for $60 I can buy 5-6 meals plus snacks for the week. Especially because I can plan for the staples I already have in my cabinets. Blue Apron assumes that you have nothing.

                Also, I’m not even that strong an environmentalist or anything, but it creates an INCREDIBLE amount of waste. There are so many little plastic bags!

                1. all aboard the anon train*

                  Their website says that for a 2 person plan there are 3 recipes with 2 servings that come out to $10/meal and $60/box, but I’ve heard from people who’ve tried it that some of the recipes don’t make 2 servings.

                  I think it’d be more cost effective if it was just $10 per recipe, not $10/serving.

                2. Natalie*

                  That’s how they advertise it, because it that sounds cheap, but the minimum weekly order is 3 2-person meals, thus $60.

                  It’s also worth noting that, according to many people I know who have subscribed, the portions are not generous.

                3. JustaTech*

                  I did Hello Fresh for a week and my husband and I were like “that’s a serving?!” It came with nutritional information, so we could see how many calories we were getting but it didn’t feel filling.
                  Also, I need leftovers for lunch!

              3. SarahTheEntwife*

                Yeah, I tried it because I got a gift certificate, and it was amusing for a couple weeks. But the selection is very limited, the recipes are needlessly complicated (they always seem to put one special thing like roasted half lemon garnishes that doesn’t significantly improve the dish but takes 10 extra minutes because it’s Fancy), and they make it annoying to cancel. What I actually need help with is the time/energy/executive-functioning of meal planning, and there are free apps that will do that for me and where I can pick food I actually like.

                1. Marillenbaum*

                  My ex used the service, and I genuinely never understood it. It’s absurdly expensive (even in DC, where groceries can run a little more expensive), and how is it better than getting regular groceries delivered? (Also, how do you make it to 34 and not know how to make a shopping list? Jesus!)

              4. SystemsLady*

                In certain areas of the country, that’s actually a pretty good deal for the type of food they send out.

                Which I guess points right back to what you were saying in a way.

              5. F M*

                Y’know, I keep thinking that I want the Duolingo version of Blue Apron.

                Because I don’t want to pay that much on a regular basis for meals I have to cook myself… But I would love to be able to buy sets of meals on a regular basis that gave me exactly the ingredients I needed (no second-guessing what the recipe card means and which version is the one meant while staring at a giant shelf of variations at the grocery store!) and no more (no buying a whole jar of a spice I’ve never used before for to try in a single recipe!) while giving me careful, detailed, step-by-step instructions.

                I want to learn how to cook better, and I want to try out more types of foods and techniques, and I just don’t have the mental energy (or kitchen space) to research the options, figure out what the challenge rating is for each given recipe, pick one that’s actually reliable and doesn’t assume prior knowledge, then go out and buy a ton of new ingredients I’ve never seen before in the quantities grocery stores sell them. But I’d totally pay $20 a meal once in a while to follow a system that would ship me exactly what I need and work me up the difficulty ladder while teaching me what types of foods/techniques/ingredients I like enough to try it again on my own.

                1. oranges & lemons*

                  That’s interesting, because I’m vaguely considering starting something like the recipe half of what you’re suggesting here–not food delivery, just series of recipes and cooking tutorials that are graduated in difficulty and designed to teach new skills. The idea was to approach teaching cooking more like any other skill rather than assuming a nebulous amount of base knowledge on the user’s part. I wonder if gamifying it would make it more user-friendly–must ponder.

                2. Agatha31*

                  I find blogs and Youtube videos REALLY helpful for this. There are some bloggers out there who go into a really good amount of detail, take pictures, and are super responsive to comments (and generally have an audience that is the same – sort of like AAM!), so if you have questions, you can comment and get the answers. Pioneer Woman’s baking site, for instance, I absolutely adore. She loves experimenting, her husband likes plainer fare, and her kids sorta fall into the middle, so there’s a ton of variety to work with.

                  I also really enjoy the Joy of Baking youtube channel. The Joy of Baking cookbook is a really really really really (REALLY) popular suggestion for people who are just starting out cooking, but the youtube channel is fantastic for *seeing* the process, and getting details that really help with understanding. There’s a good variety of simple and more complex, but even in the ones that look harder, she goes into a TON of detail – detailing and explaining, discussing different names of, and substitutions you can use for both ingredients and tools. Methods are explained and reasons given for methods used, and they talk about how the ingredients affect each other, and … well, really, it’s just lovely how VERY little is taken for granted during the videos. Sometimes when I’m eating dinner I’ll pull up a random video that looks good to see if it’s something that will work for my space and skill level. And when I’m ready to try something, I sit down and watch the whole video once to get a general idea of the overall process, then grab the ingredients and instructions and try it myself, going back to the video if need be. Also (MIRACULOUSLY for youtube) the user comments are even helpful on their channel!!

                  As far as not wanting to buy a ton of ingredients, have you anywhere within reach where you can buy products in bulk? I live near a Bulk Barn and I ADORE it. I mean before when I thought ‘bulk’ I would think of Costco where people with huge families or businesses buy billion-pound-bags-of-everything. But this works just as well if I only need, say, a handful of an ingredient. I can pick up both common and more unusual ingredients in small (and generally very affordably priced) quantities, so that if I end up not liking a recipe, I’m not stuck with 6 or 7 spice jars full of ingredients I may never use again! A lot of our grocery stores also have bulk aisles these days, not as big a variety as BB, but they do still carry many common baking ingredients, including herbs, spices, various flowers and grains and sugars and etc etc.

                  I think we’re in a similar situation, so hopefully some of that is helpful. I live in a very small condo with very little counter space and no storage space whatsoever, by myself, and unfortunately I am of the generation whose parents somehow kind of didn’t pick up the skills their parents had for making everything themselves, so my cooking skills when I hit adulthood were nil and stayed that way for a depressingly long time. But stuff like PW and JoB have allowed me to pull off some pretty awesome recipes – some of which I’ve brought into work or fed friends for dinner and got rave reviews for – which at my skill level, is a super awesome confidence booster! :)

                3. CMart*

                  Just an idea for the future re: buying a jar of a spice just to use once–

                  I’ve taken to doing themed weeks around interesting ingredients. So I might do a fresh ginger week where I do a Thai curry soup, some stir frys, a spice cake dessert, some ginger-inspired cocktails for the weekend, some ginger tea, a cilantro/ginger crusted fish dish, etc…

                  Which might mean that next week is Cilantro Week which could then lead into Chipotle Week, which leads into cinnamon week and so on…

            2. Duckles*

              I was just talking about this! I am their prime demographic (well, ish, I don’t love cooking)– I can afford it but don’t have time. But, these don’t save time! They take crazy long! I would hazard that most people who can afford it also don’t want to or can’t spend an hour cooking a night, and people with more free time can’t afford it. I do have my groceries delivered to save time. I truly don’t know who would use this.

              1. Oryx*

                You have to REALLY LIKE cooking to enjoy those services. I got a free trial of one and I hated it. The recipes were far too complicated and there were no leftovers which meant I’d still need to do shopping so I’d have food for lunch.

                1. Snark*

                  And if you REALLY LIKE cooking, you probably have your own techniques and preferences and style, and the idea of cooking from a box and off a recipe sounds insanely limiting.

              2. krysb*

                As much as I hate grocery shopping, it doesn’t help me, because I hate cooking just as much. If I’m going to spend that much money, I want my food brought to me ready-to-eat.

                1. SusanIvanova*

                  I like cooking but I hate cleaning, and cooking for one makes just as much a mess as cooking for four, except you don’t have three friends to help with the cleanup.

          2. Svengali*

            “They’re catering to people of a socioeconomic status who are too busy and can afford it, not to people who might be busy but can’t afford it… Food delivery in general is super useful, but something like Blue Apron is only for people who can afford it.”

            …which is completely legitimate. There’s demand for a product, the startup has segmented the market, and has developed a product and strategy to meet that demand.

            So what if it’s high-end demand? Do you say that it’s illegitimate for airlines to offer a first-class cabin, because not everyone can afford it? Maybe car manufacturers should make only Yugos, and not BMWs?

            And another thing. If there a mass market out there that’s being ignored, instead of complaining, found a company and address it. That’s what leaders do. And yes, such markets exist. There’s a great book called BOTTOM OF THE PYRAMID that talks about how to build businesses by focusing on customers on frontier markets that make less than $2 per day. There’s the whole microfinance industry. I know several great Silicon Valley companies that are working on products like clean water for the developing world.

            And last of all: there’s a software company was founded by one of those eeeeevil, self-entitled college dropouts. He even had a drunk driving arrest. Somehow he developed it into one of the world’s most valuable companies that (shockingly) sold software to privileged people who could afford it. And he used his wealth to build a foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, that has done more to address poverty and disease in the developing world than probably all of USAID’s programs put together.

            You say you care about the bottom of the pyramid. You really want to explain to me how the bottom of the pyramid is better off without the Gates Foundation?

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              You missed the entire point of my comments which is that I have issue with these tech companies who pat themselves on the back for saying they’re helping everyone when they’re only helping people like them. If they want to market at one demographic, that’s their prerogative, but it’s ridiculous for some of them to say “everyone” can use their product when that’s not the case or when they’re shocked that not everyone finds a use for it because they can’t afford it.

              You’re putting a lot of words into my mouth with some of your assumptions. Where did I say anything against people like Bill Gates or college drop-outs that became successful? But you seem to have a chip on your shoulder about people bringing up legitimate criticisms about start-ups and the tech world, so it’s no wonder that you’re cherry-picking some of these comments in this thread.

        2. Bookworm*

          Yeah, also I live in a crowded metropolitan area, so swinging by the grocery store on the way home is definitely longer than 30 minutes.

          If I can’t swing by on Sunday AM, when it’s manageable, I’ll often get a delivery to spare myself having to spend a stressful hour navigating my shopping cart between bickering children.

      3. Parfait*

        I’m one of those people! I enjoy cooking, but I hate meal planning, shopping for the ingredients, and throwing away wilted produce because I only needed 2 scallions and they come in bundles of 8, or whatever. For me, having a week’s worth of just exactly enough of each ingredient delivered to me is worth paying some extra for.

        I’m not exactly too busy, but those are tasks I’m happy to pay someone else to do for me.

        1. Natalie*

          Yeah, until the refrigerator can grow legs and trundle down to the grocery store itself, it doesn’t need the damn internet.

      4. Optimistic Prime*

        YES! I tried out Blue Apron for a few weeks. At first it sounds great, but then you realize that none of the food is prepared in any way – it’s not even cut up or anything like that. And I already live in a high-tech area with three different grocery delivery services – I get my groceries delivered every week anyway. So the question became why should I pay $240 a month for Blue Apron when I could buy more groceries for less money and also get them delivered right to my door and do the same amount of work prepping the food? The only thing Blue Apron removed is meal planning and new recipes, but recipes are free online and cheap in cookbooks. And BA actually took me more time to prepare because they will have one dish that requires a lot of peeling and chopping and mashing, whereas I plan out my meals every week based on what I have to do that week and don’t put anything time-intensive on a week that I have a lot to do.

        A bunch of analysis has shown that those box subscription plans lose 50% of their customers by the second week and about 90% within 3 months.

        Dude, this is my major disillusionment with tech. All of the new hot startups that people are raving about are simply apps that add unnecessary conveniences of life to upper-middle-class people who don’t need them, rather than putting technology and expertise where it can actually make a difference. There are so many social or even economic problems that we can solve, but instead someone makes a food box subscription, and then 20 other people copy them and try to be the BEST food box subscription.

        1. SystemsLady*

          It works for me, but I live in a high COL military suburban area that has too few grocery stores (= awful lines and traffic). We just got grocery delivery, but add in the fees to the high COL and it becomes comparable to Blue Apron. Seriously.

          We can eat homemade cheaper, but I guess that’s why we also do it sparingly.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          Seriously! I live in DC, and I get my groceries delivered (because the cost of delivery is still less than the cost of me buying stuff I don’t need when loose in the grocery store on my own), but meal planning is not a particularly onerous task (admittedly, I only have to take my own needs into account, but still)–it takes about 30 minutes to plan, and maybe another 30 to place the order. That’s less time than I spend cleaning my apartment each week–admittedly, a task I enjoy even less.

      5. Will "scifantasy" Frank*

        “convenience apps for middle and upper class white guys who think everyone else’s life is like theirs”

        Very much this. I’m reminded of something I read a few years ago in the ongoing debate about gentrification; one person pointed out that the upheavals in San Francisco were pushing out services used by the less affluent, such as laundromats. The response was that “wash.io and the like have removed the need for laundromats.”

        The idea that not everybody would be able to use expensive app-based laundry services didn’t seem to cross the responder’s mind.

        (See: https://mic.com/articles/123311/silicon-valley-white-male-privilege-class-war)

        1. all aboard the anon train*

          Exactly. Apps like Rinse might pick up and drop off my laundry, but they charge $12 for ONE DRESS and my local drycleaner’s does it for $5. And I could put a load in the laundromat for $6 for one wash/dry cycle. They charge $8 to hang-dry one pair of pants.

          The convenience is only there for people who can afford to pay it, and I’m willing to be that’s not the majority of people. Only a certain social class. They’re only looking to “change the world” for people exactly like them, which makes me roll my eyes whenever the tech industry pats itself on the back for whatever new life-changing conveniences they created.

          1. Snark*

            This is why the lack of diversity in the tech world actually results in worse outcomes and missed opportunities. When your team is full of lazy 22 year old bros who can schmooze with VC firms and don’t like to cook or do laundry, crap in crap out.

          2. JustaTech*

            A friend in SF characterized most of the current SF startups as “mom replacement”. Laundry, food, cleaning, etc. They’re all directed at people working at *other* startups who haven’t got the time or experience to do these things themselves.

        2. Svengali*

          “The idea that not everybody would be able to use expensive app-based laundry services didn’t seem to cross the responder’s mind.”

          Pretty much no successful business is pitched at “everyone.” That’s the fallacy in your argument. These startups may have identified a niche among upper middle-class people. So what?

          About 25% of the world’s population makes less than $2/day and can’t afford an Uber ride. Do you say that ride-sharing services shouldn’t exist? Maybe Nordstroms should be forced out of business, because not everyone can afford to shop there and there’s always Wal-Mart?

          And again: if you sense a business opportunity at the bottom of the pyramid, there is NOTHING stopping you from pursuing it. There are business strategies for this niche, and yes, VCs that fund companies in this space.

          This point that you and others in this thread are belaboring is 100% fallacious, and to talk turkey, the real reason the commentariat is making it is that they’re jealous of startups and the fact that people like OP can thrive at startups.

          1. sstabeler*

            The problem is that the person who mentioned the app-based laundry service said it made laundromat’s unnecessary. There’s no inherent problem with a startup finding a niche, and filling said niche. For example, budget airlines made a profit by identifying that people didn’t necessarily want the full service that non-budget airlines offer.While I don’t necessarily like some budget airlines, I acknowledge they fill a legitimate need. However, the app-based laundry companies pitch themselves as competitors to laundromats, etc while offering LESS value for money. THAT is the problem.

      6. Havarti*

        Juicero. A $400 juicer where you need a subscription to their DRM-protected bags of juice. It has made for some excellent reading.

          1. Svengali*

            “Peak Silicon Valley”? So invest your money elsewhere. Me, I’m betting on Silicon Valley.

        1. JustaTech*

          A $400 juicer with juice packet subscription where you don’t actually need the machine to squeeze the juice pouches, you can do it yourself with your hands.
          Oh, and every single piece in the machine was custom. They reinvented the wheel, the spoke, the axel and the horse.

    4. Svengali*

      This blog hates startups. The reason is simple. The commentariat is jealous that people in Silicon Valley don’t bother much with due-paying and can, if they play their cards right, succeed brilliantly at it. Jealousy is a very powerful emotion.

      Did it escape your attention that Silicon Valley is one of the wealthiest regions in the world and led the US out of the Great Recession?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I am pretty sure that very few people here are jealous of start-ups. Most people here are turned off by the management practices that are common at them.

        1. Agatha31*

          Or sometimes turned off by people who turn oddly hostile and insulting when they stumble across a general discussion where it’s suggested that maybe there’s room for improvement and/or diversity in an industry.

  8. starsaphire*

    I keep hoping someday we’ll get an update to this one. The “yeah, that was me, ha ha, but I grew up and I got better, here’s what I’m doing now” sort of thing.

    There’s hope for everyone. :)

    1. Hannah*

      I’m totally rooting for OP to come forward as the kid genius CEO of some crazy, successful tech start-up!

  9. Mazzy*

    There are no “idea” people IME there are “idea + connections” people. You propose ideas and then say “I know someone who….” or “I can work out a deal with….”. And be prepared to implement your ideas. Few jobs let you propose ideas without taking ownership of execution. I would focus on any operations role in a small growing company and spend most of my time doing the work that exists and focus on my entrepreneur stuff part of the time. If that stuff is making money your boss will let you hire someone else to do the day to day stuff. Spoken from experience. Good luck!

    1. Mazzy*

      Oh I have to qualify my comment. Most management is much more receptive to ideas from folks who have sold something. Do you have any sales or account management experience? If not get it. Management is more receptive to my ideas in fact ver receptive because they know I got a huge dose of realism when I had to sell and present to clients. They believe my experience leads me to only propose realistically implementable ideas. I’d actually do a role like that before sidestepping into operations

    2. Mr. Rogers*

      I second the “idea + connections” thing. My aunt has always had one of those “consultant but also we don’t really know what she does, just that it involves a lot of money and flying to international conferences” jobs, and it’s largely (I’m sure) because while she’s full of ideas, she also knows how to connect EVERYONE. She has a huge web of connections and can recall them in a second, and is always looking for talented young people to launch into careers who she can then draw on later. It’s far more than just sitting around with “multi million dollar ideas” with no idea of the company’s style or needs!

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Yes, I think “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is inaccurate, but Who Knows That You Know It is very important.

        It’s not coincidence that the successful consultant in the family is also the extrovert with connections across all sorts of industries.

    3. Hillary*

      One of my professors was the “ideas guy” at a big company – it was his winding down to retirement job while he was still available to his replacement. One of the smartest men I’ve ever met, he taught math for fun and had some amazing stories.

  10. Dawn*

    I used to work with a guy like this- had HUGE ideas, always super frustrated that he wasn’t getting meetings with the CEO to discuss his brilliant ideas! They were brilliant you see, and if he could just explain them to the CEO then this guy would obviously be on the fast track to greatness. However, this guy was a TOTAL slacker in every possible way- didn’t show up to work on time, didn’t complete his work, was eventually fired because he couldn’t even handle his day to day well.

    My manager at the time told me later that he’d sat this guy down and said “Look, Ideas Guys are a dime a dozen, but people who can take their ideas and actually put in the blood sweat and tears needed to bring them to reality are one in a million- which one do you want to be?” That, coupled with the fact that this dude couldn’t even handle his day to day well, really stuck with me! I’ve always tried to err on the side of bringing up ideas only if I’m comfortable handling the execution of them, and so far it’s worked very well in my career.

    1. BRR*

      I was going to comment with something similar. My last manager was an idea person and it sucked working with them because they were awful at implementation. Generating ideas without the ability to actually accomplish something (saying this about my manager, not the LW) seldomly provides value to a business.

      1. Cassandra*

        I have been known to call this “management by mania” after the head honcho at Toxic Ex-Job. We knew the pattern well:

        – Something would happen in the larger world that became HH’s new mania.
        – HH would abruptly announce publicly a Giant Project to Support That Something (without, you know, actually talking to any of us first).
        – HH would slap together (sans real consultation, again) a half-baked, underresourced plan for Project.
        – HH would eventually lose interest, leaving Project to limp on zombielike as best it could (but he would never actually axe it or let anyone else do so, oh no).
        – Something else would happen… and round the circle went.

        Speaking as someone who took over one of the zombie Projects… this wasn’t a good scene for anybody except HH, who got to look all cool and shiny and current because nobody ever called him (just people like me) on failing to deliver.

        1. Liz2*

          OMG when the ipad came out my boss went on for DAYS on how everyone would own one and laptops and email were going to be obsolete and how we should design everything just for that.

          I certainly couldn’t afford one but just nodded and moved on.

          1. an infinite number of monkeys*

            A few years ago I attended a presentation by a social media expert who told us that Facebook and Twitter were on the way out and we should spend our entire marketing budget on Pinterest.

        2. WellRed*

          This reminds of a an online commercial a few years back (can’t remember the advertiser) but they tried to jump on the “woo woo” train.

        3. So Very Anonymous*

          Oh yes, I recognize this pattern. The variant I see is: the Giant Project is A Suite Of Services HH’s Staff Can’t Actually Provide followed by Aggressive Marketing of Said Services Across Entire Large Organization, alongside the half-baked, underresourced plan. And then HH blames his staff for not sharing HH’s “vision” when this doesn’t work.

        4. JustaTech*

          Oh, you’ve met my old boss then? I’d hate to think the world is full of people like this, but experience tells me they’re a dime a dozen.

          OldMadScientist boss: do this terrible experiment based on my hair-brained idea. Us: No, it’s hair-brained.
          OMS: Do it! Us: Fine, and now here is data showing that it is hair brained. OMS: This was a terrible idea! New ideas!
          The only good thing was if you had data OMS would change his mind.

      2. SusanIvanova*

        If you can pair an ideas person with an implementation person, you’ve struck gold. We had a pair like that at one company I worked at, but then new management came in and all they saw was that Adam was bouncing off the walls with ideas while Jamie just plodded away building things, so Jamie got hit in the layoffs. What they didn’t plan on was that Adam knew his style didn’t work solo, so he left too.

      3. SayNad*

        My research supervisor is such a person :- always come out with some absurd ideas and force her students to make it reality, although the idea is truly impossible with the current technology. And oh she never ever partake in implementation, that’s too low class for her. She only come, tell us her totally totally awesome “ideas” and expect us to complete it perfectly in ridiculously short period of time. And have the guts to call us lazy and stupid when we fail to realize her impossible ideas. And she is easily influenced by the newer, already completed devices by the big techs and want to compete with the giant industry all the bloody time, always want to change this and that at a drop of a hat, never fixed with her “idea”. And always shouting at us saying we are just mere students and she is already a seasoned associate prof so don’t try to tell what to do. Yet she can’t even explain her research area at all, I can’t even rely on her input because it is confirmed to be totally wrong. I honestly don’t know how she got her job at a famed research university in my country (asia). Hell I am totally convinced somebody else did her PhD for her, considering us students literally do alll of her jobs, including personal matters like curriculum vitae. And she isn’t good with computer at all, her comp need ONE hour just to boot up, she doesn’t know excel or programming or powerpoint even a little bit etc.; those are not something you would expect from an assoc. prof in electronics engineering.

    2. CityMouse*

      Well and lot of ideas are bad ideas. Someone should be able to do a literature review or a feasability check (depending on industry) to determine whether something has been tried before or whether it even works at all.

    3. Fiennes*

      As a novelist, you can guarantee that at least once or twice a year, someone will approach you and say, “I have a GREAT idea for a book. What if you write it and we split the profits 50/50?” Dude, everyone has an idea for a book. Ideas are easy and, in isolation, worthless. Execution is the hard part.

      1. Snark*

        A friend of mine is an author, fairly high-profile. He has told me this is a basically daily occurrence.

        1. Spooky*

          Her Royal Sharkness, the great literary agent Janet Reid, has addressed this, and it’s gold. Send it your friend’s way the next time that happens: jetreidliterary.blogspot com/2015/09/ i-swear-every-word-of-this-is-true.html (minus the spaces, of course)

      2. Jessica*

        That’s right up there with “What if you design my website for free, and I tell everyone about it? It’s exposure!” How about you pay me $3000 and I just tell everyone you have a business? It’s exposure!

      3. Anon today...and tomorrow*

        My mom has done this. “I have this great idea and think you should write it and when it’s published, I get half the money.” My repsonse: “I’ll thank you for the idea on the dedication page and we call it even?” No other pitches from mom since then.

        1. Candi*

          There’s another problem with “my idea, your work”.

          My son is currently splitting his time between five different stories he eventually wants to get published, likely online. (He has researched this. Thoroughly.) I’m his beta editor for the first drafts. (I know this does not go on a resume!) :P

          One of the stories I had so many ideas and suggestions for he said, “Mom, why don’t we both just write it.” But with this story especially, and to some extent the others, we are constantly discussing things. The back and forth is essential, both for my understanding of the world building going on in each of the stories (which aren’t related), his characterization, why something makes sense or alerting him to why he has to change things (usually continuity errors). He’s also learned to stop comma bombing.

          But if someone wants a ‘you write my idea’, they are going to need to be available if they want their idea to come out the way they want. They will have to put in mental work. They will have to figure out how to make things clear. Otherwise, it’s pointless.

          But try telling these “write my idea!” guys that.

    4. oranges & lemons*

      Yeah, I think most “talents” are like this–it’s rare you can get too far with just talent/good ideas if you’re not willing to put in the work. Maybe the writer of this letter actually does have creative talent–it’s just a bit naive to assume someone is going to pluck you out of a crowd and immediately give you an advisory role. You have to put in the legwork first to show that you can back up your ideas.

    5. Svengali*

      “I used to work with a guy like this- had HUGE ideas, always super frustrated that he wasn’t getting meetings with the CEO to discuss his brilliant ideas!”

      A lot of companies in Silicon Valley have regular sessions where rank-and-file employees can pitch ideas to the CEO. LinkedIn is a great example.

      There are also stories of recruited employees accepting on the condition that they get to have lunch with the CEO once per year, and the companies agreeing to this condition.

  11. CityMouse*

    Oh boy. The is such a vague letter it is so hard to even respond to this. What kind of consulting or visionary ideas is this guy even peddling? Does he even have the background or education on the relevant field? My spouse actually did come up with an idea that saved his company millions of dollars. But it was a specific engineering change that required a specific amount of engineering knowledge, insight into the relevant industry, and a hell of a lot of lab time, research and investment to prove the idea was viable and a hell of a lot of work and expertise to carry through on the idea. That is generally how ideas work. Mind you, this was only a small part of his job for years, he still was doing dozens of other engineering tasks. That is how this kind of thing goes, you don’t just drop ideas and move on, real money saving ideas come from having the right education and experience in the right field, the ability to execute and follow through, which requires knowledge and expertise, and the ability to be valuable apart from that one idea. You can get hired into consulting firm oit of college but you are not going to be the one formulating big picture, you are going basic tasks. Yuou are not going to come out of undergrad with some brilliant insight that no one else has seen in some vague field, it just doesn’t work that way. You might formulate something in undergrad (spouse’s engineering idea had its roots in his senior thesis), but the real talent is in developing that idea, notnjust inching it.

    1. Mazzy*

      I identify with this. All of my huge successes were very niche items that are hard to explain to outsiders. No one even within my companies saw he opportunities I did because the necessary knowledge came from years of too much low level work and making connections betweeen what had seemed like random things over the years.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        I am convinced that a huge part of what we call ‘intelligence’ is the ability to see connections between things, and how something new is similar to something familiar.

        It’s why I cringe from the “you can just look facts up on the internet, who cares about them?” model of education. If you’re going to see connections, you need a bunch of solid, well-understood facts off of which you can build to other things.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          I feel the same way about gut instinct. The reason my “quick and dirty” “ballpark” budgets are so close to the actual figures? Many years of working on budgets!

        2. Candi*

          I’ve been a bookworm for years, reading anything that interests me, including books and whatnot of weird facts and trivia. I make those oddball connections, and often get the ‘wait, where did your brain go just then?’ reaction. Sigh.

          Education, in the widespread rather then the institutional sense, in my belief, is vital to success. That education can help knock down barriers by changing the feared unknown into the understood known is also essential. Ignorance hurts humanity.

    2. bohtie*

      I gather from the end bit that he’s being intentionally vague because he’s afraid we might steal his great ideas. “how do I tell them my ideas without having them run off with them?” is exactly where I lost it, because it reads like a solid 25% of the posts on Clients From Hell: “I need you to work on this project for no pay but I promise it’ll make you tons of money. I can’t tell you what it’s about, though, because I can’t have you stealing it.”

  12. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Being an “idea guy” is more commonly a natural element of someone’s job. Much like filling out expense reports or writing memos or going to conferences, coming up with ideas is something that occurs *within* a job. It’s not a stand alone position.

    Plus the problem with an “idea guy” is that it’s a lot easier to come up with solutions to problems you see from the outside without a worry about budgeting or staff or other organizational priorities. You need a lot of years, experience, and knowledge to even begin suggesting ideas and even then you need to solicit feedback from other people instead of doing it all on your own.

    When I was in the nonprofit sector, I got a lot of solicitations from people like this about our social media presence or lack thereof. I can’t tell you how many salespeople emailed me to criticize our social media presence, outline the capacity for better engagement, and how social media fits into our organizational mission.

    It was so insulting because it implies no one on my end ever thought of it.

    It never once occurred to these salespeople and freelance consultants that the reason why our social media strategy was lacking is because…we didn’t have the money or staff for it during a recession that also caused donations to decrease!

    And that, people, is why “idea guys” get on my last damn nerve.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      It’s amazing how people suddenly forget that kind of thing when they’re on the outside of a situation.

      My favorite response for nonprofit work is “that’s a good point. If you’d like to donate your time/the XX fee to get this up and running, we’d be more than happy to implement this idea!”

      … that tends to shut people up pretty fast.

      (note: I am an overly-involved-volunteer and not staff, so I can be kind of rude sometimes. Haha)

    2. Volunteer Coordinator in NOVA*

      I feel like this is my life with volunteers and luckily, I don’t make enough to chance getting fired because I’ve just started yelling at people about staffing, budgeting and sometimes that justs not how things work! I have to work hard not to cringe when someone starts saying ” You know the way you do this isn’t the most efficient/best use of time or people/ some other way to say that I think you’re not doing your job the way I think you should”. It’s not that I don’t want things to be better but we’re understaffed and don’t have the budget to hire people, invest in certain things and I unfortunately am not in the position to change either of those things.

    3. VonSackvilleEast*

      Amen and hallelujah.

      I’m part of a newly-formed, all-volunteer civic action group. Meetings are filled with lots of Very Committed people who have Big Ideas that will for sure Solve The Problem. As far as I can tell, the Venn diagram of “people with ideas” and “people who sign up for the committees and actually produce work to move things forward” is two adjacent circles.

    4. anonforthis*

      My boss has had SO many self-professed ‘experts’ who want to ‘manage his web presence’ in exchange for free legal services. First, we don’t actually need a web presence. No, really. He’s been in the business for decades and has a ridiculously large pool of clients, lawyers, judges, and other professionals that are all super loyal, and who are always referring new people, and also almost ALL as uninterested in the internet as my boss is. Second, EVERY PERSON who tries to push “free work in exchange for yours!!!” as some kind of super awesome deal we’re getting can’t seem to manage to even send a simple email that isn’t overflowing with bad spelling, formatting, grammar, punctuation, or formatting (seriously dude, if you’re selling yourself as some kind of internet guru I BETTER not see an email full of broken image icons, and URLs that lead to really sketchy sounding back alley website providers – or are completely broken and lead nowhere) – or more frequently, all of the above. They push for responses in a way that makes it REALLY clear what kind of client they’re going to be once we’re working for them – we had one guy recently who both emailed us multiple times a day and called multiple times a day, with “did you see my email? Did you review my email yet? Have you seen my email? Did you look at my email yet?” It’s lucky for them my boss is much nicer than I am, and he gets to dictate our responses. If it was me I’d just send back a scanned copy of their email marked up with red pen, along with an invoice for our time spent suggesting improvements to their own web presence, at least to the point of being barely acceptable.

      We also get a ton of ‘businessmen’ who are going into business for themselves for the first time (talk about ‘sweet summer children’!) who try and tempt us with payment for our legal services in shares of the company for when they totally take off and we get to be rich and famous with them. Shockingly, despite declining every offer, we’ve never actually missed out on any ‘next big thing’.

  13. Not a Real Giraffe*

    I would love to be paid to be someone’s “idea guy” – I bet I could come up with a ton of ideas if I didn’t also have to come up with the strategy for paying for and executing the idea, or the practical implications of the idea itself. Some ideas I came up with right now: Teleportation, Rent-a-Dog, a robot that ties my shoes for me, ….

    1. paul*

      calorie free alcohol and ice cream and cheesecake. Those are my big ideas. Now to find a mere technician to implement my genius.

        1. Coalea*

          I “invented” Instant Messenger when I was 10; however, since I wasn’t able to implement my idea, I wasn’t able to reap its rewards and now I have to work for a living.

        2. olives*

          I invented tablets after reading the His Dark Materials series, where they had a scope made of amber. I was pretty sure I could make a computer tablet with a pine sap glass.

          Unsurprisingly, I’m not famous for this.

        3. College Career Counselor*

          You can have great ideas and lack the technical skills OR, the timing (or audience/market) can be all wrong.

          For example, I came up with the concept for a very popular social media site in 1992 (ie, when Zuckerberg was still in short pants). Didn’t know any computer programmers, however. And even if I had, it’s entirely likely the web architecture (and end-user devices) wouldn’t have been robust enough to support my burgeoning social media empire dreams at that time anyway.

      1. Sleeping or maybe dead*

        As a salty technician, it made me oh so mad when I was applying for entry job positions and we had group assignments like “come up with a product idea and a plan”.
        Interviewers always flocked to the idea guy, who was ambitious and had leadership. I was always the negative Debbie Downer, too focused on details and unable to see the big picture.

        That being said, please tell us when the calorie free ice cream and cheese cake are ready, I will buy it by the bulk.

        1. Not a Real Giraffe*

          I am still the “Debbie Downer,” though I like to think of it more as being a “Practical Polly.” Ideas are great, but I want to understand how it’s going to play out in reality. I’m not asking questions to trash an idea; I just want to ensure it’s been thoroughly thought out.

          1. Teddy Roosevelt*

            “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

            The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

        2. It's Spelled Deborah*

          >Interviewers always flocked to the idea guy, who was
          >ambitious and had leadership. I was always the negative
          >Debbie Downer, too focused on details and unable to see the big picture.

          I mean, maybe the solution was to try to become more like the ideas guy? At least for the duration of the interview? Just sayin’.

    2. Uyulala*

      That robot would be awesome for anyone with dexterity issues, bad flexibility, missing fingers, etc.

    3. Dankar*

      Okay, not gonna lie, Rent-a-Dog is totally a thing. Some apps match bored people who want to play with a dog with owners who need someone to entertain their pup. Other apps let you borrow a dog from a shelter (usually) to use as a hiking buddy or to take some pics for your Tinder profile… What a world, right?

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I like the shelter dog idea :)

        I’ve also read a couple things about different high school track/cross-country teams taking shelter dogs for a run with them at practice.

        Love it!

        1. Dankar*

          I love it, too! I couldn’t participate in any kind of dog rental, though. It would quickly turn into dog ownership. (Which I guess is kind of the point!)

          1. Candi*

            During the height of Pokemon Go, at least one shelter was offering loaner dogs for players. “You’re totally just walking the dog. Not playing the game. Really. Honest.”

            They wound up having to bring in dogs from other shelters because so many were finding homes. :)

      2. Snark*

        We have a border collie who is basically an adorable little black-and-white dynamo, and my wife’s single coworker likes to take her out for runs to use her as a wingdog to meet guys. It’s a perfect win-win. We get a tired dog and she gets cute guys’ numbers.

      3. Not a Real Giraffe*

        Well great, there goes my million dollar idea!

        Uh but seriously, what is the name of this magical app so I can sign up for it ASAP?

        1. Natalie*

          It sounds like this is different than what they were originally talking about, but there’s Rover, where you charge a fee to walk dogs, play with dogs, dog sit for people, etc. It’s pretty popular in my city.

      4. strawberries and raspberries*

        There’s also Dog Vacay, where you can board dogs in your home while their owners are away.

      5. ErinW*

        I have mentally invented this service as well, usually when walking my dog in a rain- or snowstorm. My idea is that parents whose kids are bugging them for a dog borrow the dog for a few days when the task of caring for her is going to be especially hard, and then the kids lose their enthusiasm for the idea. I don’t have to walk my dog in the rain, and the parents get the kid off their back at least until the weather changes. Win-win!

      6. Alex the Alchemist*

        I haven’t seen the app, but at my college the mental health-related student organization (I forget their name) would partner with the local animal shelter to bring dogs to campus that anyone could play with for an afternoon for like $5, and any students/staff who were in the market for a dog could come by the shelter later if there was a dog they fell in love with. It was a great fundraising event.

    4. an infinite number of monkeys*

      My million-dollar idea is the toaster you don’t have to tip over to get your English muffins out.

    5. Lunch Meat*

      My idea was a comprehensive database of all the animal pictures, gifs, and videos on the internet. It would be like Pandora. You could like a certain picture of a cat snuggling a teddy bear, and it would show you more pictures of cats being cute. Or a video of two dogs chasing each other in a circle, and it would show you more videos of dogs being funny.

      Why has no one given me millions of dollars yet??

    6. Agatha31*

      Too bad for you that I just blew your ‘ideas’ out of the water and “idea’d” myself up a teleporting rent-a-robot-dog that ties people’s shoes for them. That’s right, who’s the idea guy now?! Me! That’s who. Also, nobody steal this idea! If you want in, you have to pay me in professional services that involve doing all the ‘legwork’ of inventing and designing and implementing and selling and shipping and maintaining this stuff. I’m the ‘idea guy’. I’ll be over here, thinking up more ideas while you do all the easy bits of the job. You’re welcome!

  14. KHB*

    I confess, I went through a somewhat similar phase, though on a much smaller scale. When I was in college I volunteered at a small low-budget science museum. I came up with all kinds of (what I thought were) great ideas for new exhibits and presentations. I typed them all up and brought them to the people in charge. They said “If you want any of this stuff to get done, you’ve got to do it yourself. We’re all too busy.” I tried a couple of them. They were OK but not as great as I thought.

    Which is all to say: If you’ve really got multimillion-dollar ideas, implement them yourself and become and multimillionaire.

    1. Mr. Rogers*

      This is the kind of scale that reads to me as “good intentioned and ultimately a good learning experience” though. First of all, you already worked there! Second of all, when you were told to do it yourself, you actually tried it! I’m sure you learned a lot about the challenges and requirements of making a good exhibit then. And hey, OK is not bad for some first exhibits.

      It can be hard to make what I think of as “first job mistakes” (like this) but now that I’ve made them I feel way more sympathy when I train a newbie in anything.

    2. AisforA*

      Haha, I’ve had interns like that. I used to work as Rec Director in a nursing home. My interns would come in like, “we can do a huge event and invite everyone under the sun, and prep for months, etc. etc.” or “let’s take our nursing home residents on a cruise of Alaska, and this is how we can do it”. All these ideas are fun to think about, but would require sooooooo much work that is unrealistic for the scope of the company. I would just smile and say, “that sounds great. Let me know how you plan to do that.” That would be the last I would hear of it.

      1. Agatha31*

        What I love about this is it’s a fantastic way to give the ‘idea’ kids like the OP a gentle but firm reality check, but also still leaves the door open for the employees who *do* have the gift of coming up with *and* implementing grand ideas to demonstrate their ability and potential.

  15. Misc*

    Haha, my parents just spent my last visit trying to convince me that I should start a business generating ideas and stuff as a consultancy or something because I am ‘so good at figuring out what [my company] needs and making it happen’ and surely I would have some awesome app ideas that I could just get someone to make and… basically be the ideas consultant. So this was pretty amusing to read the other end of.

    (They don’t have much idea of what I do, just that it’s Magic Internet Stuff and that I have a proven experience of going off and trying random projects and some of them making money and bouncing ideas around at work and getting a lot of them implemented. I am *almost* at the point where some kind of consultancy would work for this, but it’s definitely not something I could get hired specifically for. The Ideas Stuff is just a side effect of the Knowing Your Stuff bit that you actually get hired to do).

  16. Snark*

    I’ve been here. In grad school, I came up with a research idea that was brilliant, innovative, answered a thorny question related to global climate change that’s still not fully understood, and so utterly impractical that it would have occupied 50 people for several decades and required millions in long-term funding. My advisor, bless his socially awkward heart, shot me down in a slow-mo catastrophe of flames and flying debris, and told me that “Ideas are shit. We’ve all got a million good ideas. Figuring out how to make those ideas happen, showing everyone else that they’re feasible, that’s the hard part, and you need to get your shit together on that before your ideas are even worth listening to.”

    Brutal, but it was a life lesson I’ll never forget.

    1. hbc*

      I totally got assigned to a project like that as an undergrad researcher. It sounded so cool, I even appeared briefly on national news playing with the equipment while the professor and researcher were interviewed, but all I was seeing were the major gaps between theory and reality.

      I’ve never been an idea person, I’m the “poke holes in everyone else’s ideas” person. Which makes you real popular with the dreamers, let me tell you.

      1. Lora*


        I worked in industry for four years before going to grad school. I had a very clear idea of what was required to make a dream a reality and how limited PhD work is, how your experiments have to be very clear and simple (elegant) from a logic perspective because your resources are so very limited, and how you should respect other fields and get opinions and feedback from colleagues who will poke holes in your ideas so you don’t get too far down the path before you fail miserably.

        My dreamier fellow students really hated my guts. I was too tired to even remember they existed, between teaching and lab work and managing undergrad research. Ran into one a few years later at a conference who very nicely apologized to me saying she realized that I was right to be skeptical of the more aspirational work and she was sorry I’d been excluded from the clique. I didn’t even realize there was a clique, I simply assumed that everyone else was as busy and overworked as I was trying to get my experiments to run properly!

  17. Lefty*

    Ahh, I remember this one! I also remember admiring the answer that Alison gave- a firm reality check without admonishing the LW. (I think that combination of compassion and realism is why I am still reading.)

    It would be interesting to hear from the LW now… Have they been able to pursue those ideas? Did some entry level work change how they viewed their ideas? Was Alison’s advice something they actually took or maybe now wish they had? I think many of us later look back at good advice and say, “If only I had listened then!”

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Agreed. I think most of us who are more than a couple years older than the LW was then are quietly going “Oh you sweet summer child” or some variant thereon, but Alison’s response is really on point — compassionate but factual.

  18. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    What’s that xkcd comic about buying insurance? “That great hack you just thought of, we already know about it and it’s called insurance fraud.”

    Ideas are meaningless without context, detailed knowledge, and applicability.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Change the flavor and it sounds like about half the people I studied for my securities licenses with.

      1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

        Although to be fair, Kristy was usually pretty good about following through and making her ideas become reality.

  19. Lora*

    There are many such people fresh out of college frantically putting together PowerPoints at McKinsey, BCG etc. 90+ hours/week. Most likely very unfortunately for the OP, these places recruit exclusively from Ivy Leagues, MIT, the top end colleges. You don’t get in unless you have that pedigree. And the people who are successful in those jobs don’t actually have ideas of their own, they are simply good at mining the staff of their clients for ideas and packaging them nicely. Or they tell the manager who hired them exactly what s/he wants to hear, in a way that makes it sound quasi-objective.

    I know an awful lot of people like this in the startup world. They all seem to only be capable of learning things the hard way, which is also the expensive and time-consuming way. Eventually their funding backers insist they hire me or my colleagues to come in and make things work properly and reproducibly if possible, or to sometimes tell them that it’s not possible, so on the plus side I guess they keep me employed?

    1. Mike C.*

      I’ve seen this first hand and it’s absolutely true. These consultants do little more than copy the work of the employees and put it into their own PowerPoint templates. It’s absolutely maddening.

      1. Poochus*

        Came here to say this!

        Big strategy consulting firms are filled with people like OP. It’s their bread and butter. Many of these firms (e.g. Deloitte, McKinsey) even have their own think tanks now.

        Too bad OP didn’t know to target these types of firms. You’re not going to find them on Monster.

  20. Shadow*

    Many people fresh out of school become frustrated that they don’t have many opportunities to give input when large project or work decisions are made. This is just seems to be an extreme of that.

    1. Liz2*

      True, but there is some balance and I’ve run against more than a few brick walls that read “Not The Way We Do Things” and “Technology Bad” as their only problems. I have some ideas- sometimes I think “I have absolutely no clue how to make that happen, oh well” and sometimes I think “I can do this! I’ll take care of this and this and this and do it the way which makes everyone included but not add to their workload” and still nada.

      When does it go from part of the change process and into blockade?

  21. Oli*

    I think part of the problem is that when someone with a ‘great idea’ /does/ succeed, the media hype tends to focus on stuff like how they ignored the ‘doubters’ and stuck to their belief in themselves etc. Very rarely (although more so nowadays than before) do they go into detail about how much failure came before the success and how much effort and heartache went into getting where they did.

    1. Junior Dev*

      Yes, and also the advantages they probably had that allowed them to focus on their startup instead of having to pay bills/raise kids/care for sick relatives/treat their own health problems/etc.

  22. Yamikuronue*

    The hardest lesson every aspiring writer has to learn: ideas are cheap, implementation is hard. If you can implement your ideas, you’ll get somewhere, but it takes time and effort to learn how to do that. If your best selling point is “I have great ideas!” you’re not coming across as exceptional.

    1. Sleeping or maybe dead*

      Was just thinking about this quote yesterday, watching Netflix’s chefs table Niki Nakayama episode.

      1. H.C.*

        My favorite episode of that series (& I’ve had the good fortune to dine at n/naka before that aired, I’m happy for her but oh – what I’d give to not have to reserve 3 months in advance)

  23. Allison*

    I wonder what someone hoping to be an “ideas person” thinks they’ll do each day. Unless you’re a consultant, you’ll need to fill an eight(ish) hour workday five times a week. Do they think it’ll be like Mad Men, where they meet clients to hear their needs, then pace around an office, drinking scotch until the lightbulb goes off, then put together a pitch to wow everyone and then oversee the execution while you start working on your next idea? Maybe some people do this, but not straight out of college.

    Most people start their careers working on other people’s ideas, learning the realities of their industry firsthand and gaining credibility, and then one day they’re able to bend someone’s ear with an idea they have, and if they play their cards right, get to manage the execution of that idea.

    Furthermore, the reality is that to get a job, there needs to be a job opening, people don’t just create jobs in their company because they saw a really awesome resume on Monster and thought “I gotta have this guy” unless it’s a super small startup with tons of money lying around – startups have a hard enough time finding the money to pay decent developers, testers, and sales people.

    1. Snark*

      “Do they think it’ll be like Mad Men, where they meet clients to hear their needs, then pace around an office, drinking scotch until the lightbulb goes off, then put together a pitch to wow everyone and then oversee the execution while you start working on your next idea?”

      Yes. This is exactly what they think will happen.

      1. Mike C.*

        Don’t forget bringing Dr. Feelgood around for shots of who knows what!

        /And massive foot injuries.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Back when ether was the new drug all the cool people were doing, a scientist kept understanding the secret of the universe when high, but when he came back down he could never remember what it was. Finally, finally, he managed to get high on ether while holding a pen in an ink pot, and when he came down he discovered that he had written ‘A smell of petroleum pervades throughout.’

    2. Allison*

      PS: I say this as someone who majored in political science, hellbent on taking the world by storm to advance a progressive agenda and make changes that will improve the lives of marginalized people . . . but somehow failed to figure out exactly *how* I was going to do that, and what sort of work I could contribute to that cause. Figured out after college that some sort of legislative research position was ideal for my interests and aptitude, but I didn’t lay the groundwork for it in college so actually getting to that point from being an unpaid intern was next to impossible. That’s okay, I’m happy where I am now (most of the time) but I wish I’d figured that stuff out a lot sooner.

    3. Anon for now*

      My dad is an ideas person for large insurance firm XYZ. He has a 40-hour work week, sometimes longer, but he finds it difficult to fill the time a lot of those. They literally pay him and sit and do nothing sometimes. It bores him to tears. By then, he’s already coding something for the company to improve its efficiency…which is how he got to be an “ideas man” in the first place.

      BUT…the kicker is he started at the company’s IT help desk. I can’t imagine having his job. I love structure and being told what to do too much.

    4. Airedale*

      I thought of Mad Men too. Especially since I just watched the episode where an applicant for a copywriter position gets the job by sending in his portfolio of ideas. Ditto Peggy because she said something cute in a focus group once.

      1. Allison*

        Is that the one where all his ideas where basically the same “cure for the common ____” line? That one drove me crazy.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I think the key to the first guy’s success did rest on alcohol? Specifically that Don spit out the tagline as part of an attempt to wow the clients by riffing on his excellent ideas, and then Peggy et al had to scurry around to hire the guy so they could legally use his idea?

      3. Natalie*

        Although in advertising that at least makes some logical sense – coming up with ideas is a core function of the creative department. Less so in many other fields.

  24. Lala*

    My mom and brother are the worst about this. “I have a great idea, I just need to figure out who to sell it to!” Some of their ideas are possibly great. Some are crap. But the one thing they all have in common is that neither my brother nor my mother want to do the work of making those ideas a reality. They glorify that gd Shark Tank show, but fail to realize the people on there asking for money have actually done the work to build something, even if it’s just a freaking prototype.

    Another side of this is “I have the best idea for a book, I just need to write it–but don’t steal my idea!” If you don’t write it, you don’t have a book. Hell, even if you write it, and even if it’s actually really good, you’ve got to be pretty persistent if you want even the smallest shot at getting published.

    1. Mike C.*

      Also note that like 2/3 of those deals fall through when the investor does their due diligence. Turns out many of them exaggerate or have otherwise serious issues, like being snake oil salesmen.

      1. michelenyc*

        A company I worked for a very short time a couple of years ago actually produced one of the Shark Tank products. The “owner” was such a PIA. She had no clue when it came to producing the item on a large scale. I felt like I was dealing with a 2 year old every time we had a conversation. It was a total nightmare.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      I can’t tell you the number of times someone has, after learning I work in publishing, told me about their great idea for a book. All too often it’s either a generic idea or an idea someone has already written.

    3. Bookworm*

      Exactly. A story is all about the execution. There are a surprisingly large amount of brilliant movies and books based on silly ideas, and dull movies and books based on interesting ideas.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I had a great idea, and I made one… but it sucked so I keep waiting for someone else to invent it so I can buy a better one.

  25. Astrid*

    This comes up a lot with research students as well, and academic advisors really need to get good at reining them in.

    Like, sure, your idea for your dissertation sounds amazing and really interesting and would potentiall get you a Nobel prize ..but there is no way you’ll be able to get the data / have the resources etc. to pull it off by submission deadline.

    1. Snark*

      See my post above. Mine didn’t so much rein me in as he took me out behind the barn, gave me the Ol’ Yeller treatment, and called the knacker to render what was left of my ego down to glue.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      Yeah, as a librarian I get that with research papers. Yes, your idea sounds awesome and in a few years when you’re in a doctoral program you can maybe revisit it, but meanwhile you need something you can write in a month that wouldn’t require doing field research in Pakistan.

      To their credit, a lot of time they’re kind of the inverse of this letter in that they don’t realize how original/current/etc. their idea is and they’re expecting to find sources that don’t exist yet.

    3. Overeducated*

      Yeah, but I think this is one of the important and common duties of a research advisor. Of COURSE a student who has never worked on something bigger than a term paper or maybe a senior thesis has absolutely no clue how to design a feasible project. A good advisor helps them not only narrow it down, but develop a manageable plan and timeline. (A bad one says, “good luck with that.” Don’t ask me how I know….)

  26. Foreign Octopus*

    What even is an ideas person? Like marketing or something?

    I get the feeling that this might be more of an American job than a British one because I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before.

    Would you just sit in a room and wait for inspiration?

    It’s an interesting visual.

    1. Bookworm*

      Yeah, I imagine this kid is thinking like Marketing, or Biz Dev. I know someone in the UK who has what might be described as an ‘ideas’ type job, and he’s in advertising.

      FWIW, I don’t know anyone who actually has the title ‘ideas person’ and who ONLY thinks up ideas (that sounds very Willy Wonka). But some jobs have a lot of room for creative brainstorming, which I think is what many people are thinking of here.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe*

      I don’t think it’s fair to blame this on OP’s university. There are always going to be pie-in-the-sky people who ignore all practical advice and teachings.

  27. Just an Anecdote*

    I actually recently interviewed for an “ideas guy” position at a Fortune 100 company. I have 8 years of experience in the industry and spend a lot of my personal time keeping up with it as well. It’s safe to say I live that world.

    I wasn’t hired. Too inexperienced.

  28. Complainer*

    I’ll be a little nicer to the OP. For anyone that is an “ideas” person, I really recommend non-profits or smaller organizations where ideas have a lot more of a shot of being tested out and implemented. I currently work at a small non-profit where the marketing department was 2 (!) people, myself included! This meant a lot of my ideas, problem-solving, etc. had a chance to be implemented. I got a lot better at understanding of what makes good ideas and what works and what doesn’t.

    If you see yourself as an “ideas” person, non-profits and smaller organizations are great places to test those ideas out and see what works and what doesn’t and to hone in on the essential skills that come with being a good problem-solver and coming up with creative solutions. Who knows, maybe the OP would discover they didn’t like it?

    I also don’t necessarily see anything wrong with identifying yourself as an ideas person (as mentioned above a few times). I see myself as stronger in conceptual, big-picture thinking and weaker in organizational skills and details (I miss smaller details often). That’s okay! It’s just a matter of finding opportunities where you get to test that out in earlier stages, and I think the above two work. One day, I hope to have those opportunities at bigger organizations, but that’s obviously a long ways away, (I’m still a recent graduate).

    1. Bookworm*

      I like how practical this comment is! Another thing to consider is that ideas people generally have to specialize to an extent. You’re not going to be doing advertising and biotech and human resources. A smaller company might be a good venue to get to know some different department functionalities and start thinking about what you’d like to focus on.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Yeah, I actually think it’s helpful to know yourself and be aware of your tendency to be a big-picture thinker (that may even be part of Myers Briggs or something). However, usually it’s best to put that knowledge to use as “because I have a tendency to think big-picture, it’s helpful for me to surround myself with details people and carefully solicit their input when I’m interested in a new idea.”

    3. Former Nonprofiteer*

      I’d argue that small nonprofits are *not* the best place for self-proclaimed ideas people, because resources for testing out new ideas/approaches are so limited. Plus, the problems nonprofits address by definition are extremely complex and systemic, and solutions can very rarely come from “ideas people” without years of direct experience. In my former nonprofit life, I was enraged by the offers of “help” from McKinsey types, who would volunteer to serve on the board or otherwise serve in an advisory capacity with support from their company. When what would have been much, much more appreciated would have been a sizable cash donation. There are *already* many knowledgeable people in the sector.
      For a humorous take on this: http://workingatanonprofit.tumblr.com/

      1. Complainer*

        I mentioned non-profits based on the fact they tend to be smaller and less bureaucratic. I also wasn’t necessarily discussing “ideas” in regards to resolving the issues non-profits address, but ideas within the organization itself. I worked on a marketing/communications team, which meant the stakes were somewhat lower, (some social media post didn’t get as many likes/follows, for instance).

        The type of non-profits I’m mentioning would, for instance, not have Mckinsey offering to be on the Board of Directors. I’m talking about smaller, local arts/culture non-profits where a young recent grad can say “Hey, let’s start up a social media account and see what happens”.

        1. Overeducated*

          Yeah, I have worked for 3 tiny nonprofits and one behemoth government agency, and I had MUCH more room to try out small, low – cost new ideas in the nonprofits (like, ones that cost only a bit of my time and maybe a few office supplies – I had no budget to think bigger!) because there were fewer levels above me and fewer internal stakeholders whose time and approval were needed. That’s partially just because bureaucracy is a real thing that’s related to size. There’s a difference between “co-hosting a small program with a neighboring org” or “making a training module a little more interactive,” which are the kinds of ideas I want to try out, and “advising experts how YOU would solve a major social problem.”

  29. Katie the Fed*

    Ideas people also need to understand their environment. We get lots of people who start and are full of ideas, but then we have to patiently explain why things are this way or that way and that it’s probably not going to change anytime soon. It’s the nature of bureaucracy.

  30. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    My husband has a colleague who has this job. His job is to keep his eye on what’s going on in his field (lots of meetings with creative people, conferences, managing a research team, etc.), develop ideas that the teams he manages work up into potential lines of business, convince the C-suite that it’s a good idea, pilot it, and then — if it actually works — spin it off into a new division.

    I’m sure his work is super interesting — I want a job like that in my field! But he has maybe 30 years of experience in his field, worked as a management consultant, successfully launched several new products and businesses (at his current employer), and, after all that, finally now has a title of “VP of Long Term Strategy” or something like that at a Fortune 500 company.

    The point is, as many others are saying: These jobs exist. But they are among the MOST senior jobs, not the early-career jobs.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve seen this a few times, and where I work we actually have a small “New Business Development” team comprised of someone from R&D, Marketing and 2-3 other management types and they basically vet new ideas and/or companies who may want to partner with our company. They all say it’s one of the funnest meetings they have! Nothing is too ‘out there’ to consider.
      But again, our people are all experts in their own respective fields with an average of 10 years experience.

      We are a small specialty chemical company and always have R&D. But I’ve also seen this with tech and some consumer goods manufacturing jobs. And of course, advertising agencies.

  31. Granny K*

    Oh PLEASE don’t become an ‘idea person’. I’ve worked with idea people (mostly VPs) who come up with this Great. Idea. and absolutely no clue as to how the world works. (Example: Hey, we have extra budget, let’s throw a HUGE PARTY for all of our customers. This was 2 weeks before a large tradeshow, so needless to say, all the spaces were booked. Two of the team leads had to go in and explain this to him. He then proceeded to try and tank their careers because they said ‘no’ to him.) It’s great to be a visionary, but you have to be able to execute on those ideas too.

    1. sara*

      I left my last job because of a boss like this. Huge ideas (and really, not all bad, just impractical) and absolutely no concept of the work it would take to make them happen. The thing that did me in was that she did not care in the slightest if someone tried to explain the issues or even suggest alternative, more practical/manageable ways of implementing her ideas. She just blamed us for making excuses or, ironically, for not being creative enough problem solvers.

      1. SayNad*

        Sounds EXACTLY like my research supervisor. I purposely choose an independent topic for my master as to not being too involved in her craziness, but bless the PhD’s patient soul, she is being driven up to the wall with the supervisor’s “totally great idea” antics every single day.

    2. Adlib*

      This was an owner of a business I used to work for. He was sure of things that weren’t true. At all.

  32. MashaKasha*

    I admit I’m envious, because I’m the opposite of an ideas person. I am a “take someone else’s idea and figure out how to implement it”, or “take something half-baked and keep enhancing it till it runs well” kind of person. This is why I’m going to spend 100% of my career in a cubicle farm, reporting to everybody else.

    I’ve known a few ideas people in my life. Dated an ideas guy for two years. He was a small-business owner. Every few years, he’d get bored of his current business, sell it off, and start a new one based on a fresh idea he just had. Some of the businesses failed, but enough thrived for him to make an okay living for himself and his family, while being happy with what he does. How many of us get out of bed every morning looking forward to a day of work? He did. That’s pretty big in my book. One of my sons, who also has a lot of ideas he’s willing to try, and is now in college, is also thinking of possibly going that route; maybe starting with a corporate job first, to learn the ropes. I think that’d be the way for OP to go. Get some real-life experience, learn how a business works, learn how to market your product. Start a few of their own, learn how to run one, learn what to do when one fails. Spend some time in the trenches. I’m confused why OP even wants to sell his ideas to large companies; best-case scenario, they’ll pay them pennies for the idea and proceed to butcher the idea and twist it to where it’s unrecognizable and run it through the bureaucratic machine to the point where it does not look like OP’s idea anymore. Why would anyone want to do something like that to something that they created and think it has great potential? I’d imagine an “ideas guy” would want to at least get his idea off the ground and get it to a working state before selling it to a corporation.

  33. Not Today Satan*

    I think people are being a little harsh on LW. Yes, he’s presumptuous and for all we know not smart at all. But I sympathize with being a recent grad and very smart but with little marketable skills, and being frustrated that employers wouldn’t just take a chance on me. Life will undoubtedly take him down a few pegs (and I guess has, since it’s been a few years). Weren’t most of us young and overconfident at some point?

  34. Dan*

    I have seven years of “in the field” experience, working hands-on in the domain for which me and my more analytically minded colleagues practice. (These types of folks, including me, are often MS and PhDs in analytic fields. I got my MS after leaving the “field”.)

    If my company were to hire an “ideas guy” straight out of school, stick him on my team, and tell me we had to implement his ideas, I’d quit, or at the very least transfer projects. He would get in the way and be a distraction more than a value add. I don’t mind getting someone up to speed (that’s part of the deal when you get more experience) but the idea is that they’d then become self sufficient, take the ball and run, and deliver more value than their training costs and salary dictate. An “ideas guy” with no experience is less likely to have “ideas” that me, the rest of the team, and the client haven’t already thought of.

  35. Hiring Mgr*

    I’m wondering out of all the letters that could have been reprinted, why this one? It seems the point is just to mock the letter writer which I don’t appreciate..

    1. fposte*

      My guess is because it’s one of the early legends that gets referred to. Maybe we’ll get coworker-moonlighting-as-prostitute later this week.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Partly this, yes. And partly that I think it’s an interesting letter and one that a lot of people can relate to (either from having similar thoughts as the OP early in their career or knowing others who did).

    2. Fellow dissenter*

      I’ll join Hiring Mgr and play Devil’s Advocate to the majority opinion here:

      What *do* you do when you *know* that your talents tend to skew toward pondering deeper ideas, and you realize that doing “useful work” in industry is going to leave you empty because it doesn’t present the same level of challenge? What if the way you think is just such a mismatch for a job that doesn’t engage with this *very significant* part of you?

      I’d like to think that I can fit a standard teapot industry role well, because I’ve improved my sense of what’s practical and what isn’t, but I also know people who are drained because they’re not in a role that lets them do what they do best, i.e. think.

      I’d like to think that people who are more “practical” and less “intellectual” would want a certain amount of compassion if thrust into an extremely “intellectual” environment; similarly, a certain level of compassion, I would think, should be extended to those with an “intellectual” temperment who have somehow found themselves in more “practical” settings for some reason or other. Surely we can’t all be salty about this.

      If a person is in this situation, surely they can get better advice than “haha you’re stooooopid!”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In most fields you’re not going to be all that great at pondering big ideas until you have real work experience in that field. So I’d push back on the premise of this question; I don’t buy that in most cases, the people you’re describing could be successful doing that work when they’re essentially entry-level.

        There are many, many people whose talents don’t line up especially well with what our modern labor market values. It sucks, for sure. But it’s actually a fairly privileged viewpoint that says that we should get to love what we do and feel fulfilled by it. That’s not a thing for massive swaths of the population.

        1. Jesca*

          I think its also important to mention that yes intellectual thinkers can and do (I know this first hand) struggle with practical work day in and day out. But I can also tell you that there is no way to get to “ideas guy” without doing practical things. An intellectual person would understand that they need a level of knowledge before getting there. Even those young people fresh out of college who make millions? Often its just from taking a huge risk at their own expense and then onboarding experts to make it happen again at a relatively large expense and risk. They also are rare due to the fact that they gain through normally privileged backgrounds mass amounts of money to do it. And in the end, all they had was some idea and tons of money to throw around. Rarely if ever do companies just hire them to be their brain.

          1. paul*


            For your deeper ideas to matter, you really do need some boots on the ground experience. It’s OK to bring in people with an outsiders view–people from a different company, different part of your field or an adjacent one. That helps avoid institutional baggage and inertia. But some one who is fairly young, has minimal work experience in general AND no practical experience in a field really, 99 times out 100, isn’t going to be able to give much useful visionary feedback for that field.

            I’ve got a very young cousin running for mayor of a fairly large metro in a different state and this is something I’ve tried to delicately explain to him more than once….

        2. Complainer*

          I’m definitely more of a person whose skills don’t necessarily align with the job market. I’m naturally more of a big-picture/conceptual thinker and weaker on practical skills (organization, details, etc.) as mentioned above. When I was first job hunting, I was upset that most entry-level positions required the skills I was weaker in and that the higher-level positions seemed to be more likely to use big-picture thinking and was convinced I would fail at my first job out of college.

          I’ve definitely had to adapt to the job market and am MUCH better at these skills (they’re much easier now!) and hope to get use to the skills I’m more naturally comfortable in at some point in time. Part of it is just learning to adapt. Additionally, I do think there are opportunities to use these types of skills, even in entry-level positions. Being creative can be really good for problem-solving and I’ve had the opportunity to use these skills a lot. Being a big-picture thinker means you might be able to see how smaller components create a bigger picture which is a useful perspective, or you might see unusual ways to tackle an issue that others may not have thought about. These are all skills I’ve used, even in primarily administrative positions. Also, a good manager might see that you have these strengths and give you work that allows you to nurture them. (Mine has done that)

          I think another thing is looking out for organizations that may value “ideas”. For instance, is the organization bureaucratic or is the culture more like a start-up that values ideas/input from the entire team? I think you can scan for that in the interview. If you’re an ideas person, maybe you’d enjoy a more democratic culture. I got a little off-topic, but the point is that workers like me can figure out how to be successful in places that aren’t all about ideas! The point is to have people strong in both skill sets.

      2. Overeducated*

        I don’t know – I think I am more of an abstract, “big picture” thinker and have to start there before I can care about or really focus on details, but I’ve found some lower level roles that focus on education, communications, and tourism to be pretty good fits for that. (I also like working with people – ymmv in those roles if you don’t). On the other hand, I was a terrible bank teller and dislike work that’s heavily administrative and detail oriented, so as I move forward in my career I know I need to try to stay in more subject matter related roles rather than moving laterally into support or upward into management roles that are focused on budgets, contracts, and such.

        TL;DR I get what you’re saying about how people think, but the only two options are not “grunt work with no intellect” vs “intellectual work making all the decisions,” entry level and upper level work can combine big picture and detail oriented thinking in lots of ways. I also don’t think ” intellectual” vs “practical” is at all a helpful distinction – even literal philosophers need to be able to think practically about proving their worth through publications, teaching evaluations, recommendations, and so on. Every field has its own game to leatn.

    3. Jaguar*

      I’m kind of weirded out by the response on this as well. A lot of comments can’t be described more generously than cynical scoffing. I realize it’s a reprint but man, I consider myself overly cynical and this is kind of depressing.

      1. CityMouse*

        There is actually a lot of advice in here for how to actually be an ideas person, if you read it openly. There is no good way to be one out of college, but there is a way to be there eventually. If LW really wanted this as a job he would need a lot.of things commenters mention, connections, industry knowledge, implementation plans, etc. This is not cynical to tell LW he needs more experience.and specific skills to get where he wants.

    4. CityMouse*

      I don’t think the vast majority of responses are mocking the LW, actually. Catering to this guy’s incorrect worldview is not favor to him.

      1. MashaKasha*

        But I don’t think his worldview is all that incorrect… it needs a bit of tweaking, sure. But incorrect, no.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      Isn’t your usual thing tying all letters to the Duck Club letter? Or is that someone with a similar handle?

      I like this as a reprint for a number of reasons:
      • It is a good encapsulation of the sort of thinking people will tumble into when school is their only experience, a recurring theme where I think Alison is really compassionate. And there are a lot of good examples in here of how you get to be the sort of person people go to for ideas…. which is to have a lot of practical experience implementing ideas, not just having them.

      • They actually did that–started their own business, and it’s even profitable. Someone made the excellent point that as someone running a successful business, they were not looking to hire an ideas person–they had an idea and implemented it. For the rare business that admits they are really in trouble and all out of ideas, that’s when they bring in Bain, not a new graduate.

      • As Snark pointed out, this reflects a broad and growing issue in many facets of life–the feeling that having an idea should be enough and the minor details of how to practically implement the obviously great idea are just whining by mean people who refuse to share your vision.

      1. Natalie*

        No, the duck club gimmick poster is Wakeen’s Duck Company or something like that. HiringMgr sometimes posts extremely dry sarcasm that is easily misread, but they also post plenty of non-sarcastic comments.

  36. Airedale*

    I can actually relate to this. I dreamed of working in PR – nonprofit specifically – because I’m a strong writer and wanted use my creativity to produce marketing content for causes I believed in. But it was frustrating that the jobs leading to that depended on the exact opposite skillset. It was a tough realization.

  37. Elizabeth West*

    This guy sounds like those folks who say, “I have this great idea for a book,” and then they spend all their time talking about how they’re going to make stacks of cash from it instead of actually sitting down and writing it.

    I hope the OP knows now that you need to actually learn how to do the work before you can figure out how to improve the process.

    1. Jenny*

      The thing is, most really great books aren’t built on great ideas, it’s all about execution. JK Rowling was not the first person to write about teenage witches and wizards, not by a long shot, for instance.

  38. Doc C*

    I had to laugh out loud at the similarities to an acquaintance I had a few years ago. He always had some big get rich quick, grand idea brewing. At the time I was doing technical writing and editing for a medical textbook, so he asked me to give some feedback on his latest big idea. It was truly awful. Literally, painful to read. I gave constructive feedback from a technical standpoint, but also pointed out some serious flaws (insulting marketing “plan”, promoting himself as an expert on a topic he had no training in, gross disconnect between his content and target audience). We haven’t spoken since, and last I heard he was opening for a wannabe stand up comic in a grungy little rural bar…

  39. Ramona Flowers*

    This is one of my favourite ever posts. Oh yes. I wonder how the OP is doing these days?!

  40. nnn*

    Dear LW,

    It would be very, very unusual for a business to be in the market for hiring an ideas person, because when someone starts a business in the first place, it’s because they have an idea.

    You mentioned that you started your own small business and it was profitable in the first year (congrats, btw!) Is your small business in the market for an ideas person? Probably not, because you already provided the idea. Depending on the size and nature of your business, you might be in the market for support people – someone to package the shipments or answer customer emails or keep your web server running. And you might be in the market for professional services – lawyers and accountants to make sure everything is kosher. As you get bigger, you might be in the market for other people who make the same product or provide the same service as you, so you can serve more clients at once. If you want to expand, you might want to hire marketing.

    But you’re not in the market for an ideas person, because your own idea is what started the business in the first place.

    It’s similar for other businesses. There aren’t idea implementation structures just sitting around waiting for an idea, they’re all in the process of implementing their own ideas.

    Your best bet would probably be either to use your own business to implement your ideas, or figure out how to get hired by one of the organizations best placed to implement your ideas and then, once you’ve established your credibility as a valuable employee, start pitching.

      1. Svengali*

        Sorry, but no. nnn makes a really stupid point.

        Businesses look for ideas people all the time. That’s why they turn to strategy consultancies for advice (do you think they hire McKinsey because it’s cheap) or have internal M&A teams, or “skunk works” projects/intrapreneurship.

        1. Mary*

          They do, but there’s a bigger point that the LW is focussing on what they think they can do and be good at, and not who their market is. That’s a really common start-up/entrepreneur problem: “I want to do this thing! I think this thing would be cool!” “Who needs you to do that thing? More specifically, who needs you to do that thing and has the budget to pay you to do it?” “Um?”

          If LW is successfully running their own business, they’ve successfully answered that question once, but they haven’t realised how to apply that question in another sphere. Working out more specifically what they can offer and who might/will buy it is a great next step for them.

  41. Delta Delta*

    I worked with someone like this. It’s true – he had good ideas and good vision. He had no idea how to get there, though. It became difficult and frustrating to continue to work with him because everything always felt frenetic. It was sort of like someone saying “I want to get to California” without looking at a roadmap or an airline schedule (or, in some really frustrating instances, even a globe). It became a drain to try to get to the point of the “vision” because there was no clear guidance on how to get there.

    I say this not to pile on the LW, but because I think vision and ideas are important. but I also think it’s very important to understand the context of the industry and how to implement appropriate processes to get to that point. And, I think it’s also important to have a clear enough vision so that colleagues at least have an understanding about where things are going. Simply saying, “I envision growing our ad agency” doesn’t give anybody any direction.

  42. Christine*

    You need a foundation in which to apply the “idea” to. You work in a field that you find interesting, study it, work in it for a few years, than turn around and make the proposal for “said idea”. Employers looking for an “idea” are looking for someone that knows their product or service they are selling. What their competitors are doing? The individual would have to write their proposal, apply a budget to said idea, answer if the said idea will save money, or make money, how much of an investment in time and money will it take to implement said idea. They would also like to see if said idea would streamline a process, work with current equipment and software. Companies are not going invest in an idea person unless that person has a proven work history of successes.

    If you have a great idea, go ahead an get a Paton or copyright it, what ever you need to do? Than sell the rights.

  43. Amber Rose*

    The problem is more that “Ideas person” is so vague you might as well say you’re looking to get hired as a worker. What are your ideas about? What industry would that be? How can you learn more about/get work in that industry, so as to maneuver your way into an idea providing sort of job?

    More new grads need to face the hard reality that you gotta start at/near the bottom. Break your goals into easy and understandable steps.

  44. cornflower blue*

    My work has an ideas guy–someone who literally gets the luxury of rambling around the office and thinking up new stuff to do. He is highly respected. He has that job because he spent 35 years busting his butt DOING the job first.

    LW is welcome to apply for a similar job–in 2045 or so.

  45. Hooptie*

    …but I bet this guy’s mom tells him ALL the time how brilliant he is. You guys are mean. :)

  46. Ruthie*

    There’s someone at a senior level in my organization who just has ideas and is completely unhelpful in assessing if they are realistic, then gets bored when it becomes time to implement and leaves that for us to figure out. Some of his ideas are great, but I’d rather work with some who has great ideas and other skills. The “doers” in my office can’t stand working with him and the dynamic is creates really hurts morale. In my experience, there’s never a shortage of ideas, just limited resources to make them happen.

  47. Adlib*

    My husband used to work with a guy who wanted to be an “idea man”. He basically was the one that thought up things and then wanted to do (and did) exactly none of the work. That’s usually what happens. He’s still at the same company, just a different team, annoying different people.

  48. babblemouth*

    I work with Ideas People. I fancy myself to be one on my best days. The difference between the good Ideas People and the bad ones is not the quality of the ideas, it’s their awareness of the obstacles in the way of the people who will have to execute them.

    Bad Ideas People have come up with brainfarts, passed them on to me and told me to make them happen. These ideas have been, variously: completely unaffordable, illegal, required ten times more people than we had on staff, using technology ten years outdated, or that wouldn’t exist for ten more years. When I pointed out these problems, they would tell me “you figure it out, I’m the Ideas Person.”

    Good Ideas People have ideas that have a lot fewer loopholes. They also listen to me when I point out the problems and work with me to fix them. The reason they do these things is because they’ve been where I am. They have done the grunt work. They have had to figure out where to get 2000 copies of a leaflet printed on the night before a conference in a town where they didn’t speak the language.

    What will make you an Ideas Person ad agencies and start ups and cool companies want to hire is the experience with the grunt work.

    Some people avoid the grunt work. They often have a parent who knows the right person, and it’s not fair, but that’s life. And you can take comfort in the knowledge that because they avoided a critical part of this, they will always be a bad Ideas Person.

  49. f*

    I was just thinking about how I wanted to hear an update from this LW! I suspect this sort of person was probably going to be happier long-term as an entrepreneur than a worker, since he had started and run a profitable business, which indicated he did have some talent for it, and he could pursue developing his own ideas.

    I know a lot of the comments then and now were focused on ‘yeah, you sound naive’, and to some extent, that’s true. But I also genuinely hope he got the experience he needed and got to run a business where he was able to do the kind of work he wanted.

  50. Rachel*

    This guy should hook up with the guy who thought he lost a job because the boss’s wife unfairly trashed him for his poor behavior on the train … with a forceful CEO and a great ideas man, they could go straight to the top!

  51. Brogrammer*

    I’m mildly envious of these people who are just full to the bursting with ideas. I have a good relationship with my boss and a job that, by design, has some built-in downtime. I’m sure if I came up with a good idea for a project, he’d greenlight it. But I don’t have any good ideas. Where do these people get the energy?

  52. Bolt*

    I am still waiting for the day when we’ll see a job opening for “Visionary – No Experience Required”

  53. Falling Diphthong*

    I liked the first few Not So Big House books because they would take a common broad idea (e.g. “I want this space to feel more open”) and list, with examples, very specific things you might do that would address that (e.g. visual connection between spaces, line up openings on line-of-sight, light from two sides, circular traffic flow). They also regularly tied solutions to the cost-space-detail triangle: for most people, cost is fixed and so if you want more detail it comes at the expense of space.

    For various forms of fiction, I regularly come back to the saying about limitations being a key to creativity. You set the limitations on what the characters/visuals/whatever can do, and how you work within or around those constraints is what makes the story compelling. In a lot of fields, someone who understands what all the constraints are is probably going to come up with a much more useful and creative idea than someone who tosses out “Okay, how about he has a one-use-only invisibility pill in his pocket?”

  54. LQ*

    I’ve been thinking about this guy lately. My job has become more and more “ideas” or in my case asking a lot of questions and poking at things and coming up with new things. Less and less implement them. But it’s taken me a long time. (And also while it’s SUPER fun, there is this missing element of feeling like I’ve made a thing or done a thing too that I miss occasionally.)

    It only came after like 6 years at this job and many more elsewhere of head down working and making things happen. I got to be known as someone who could come up with a good idea, implement it, and (here’s the key for me) bring other people along with those ideas.

    It is totally fun though! (And my job is ideas means I spend like 2-5 hours a week in meeting with people asking them questions and coming up with ideas they need to think about and work on. The rest is still doing the stuff.)

  55. Nefret Emerson*

    I once worked with a man who thought he was an “ideas man”. They were terrible-all of them. He would approach the COO with ideas like selling baked Brie in our fast food restaurant or branching out to selling buffalo burgers when we only sold chicken.

    Unfortunately, our COO was also a terrible Ideas-man and would try to convince us to implement both his and this other guy’s terrible ideas. We wasted so much time and money.

    1. Svengali*

      “I once worked with a man who thought he was an “ideas man”. They were terrible-all of them” –<Ergo, they all are? Sheesh.

      1. Nefret Emerson*

        No, that is not what I said or meant to imply. This particular man had terrible ideas and when I read this letter, I immediately thought of him because he thought his ideas were brilliant. I don’t know the LW-he could be full of smart, wonderful ideas. However, without the connections or the knowledge that companies don’t usually hire people just to create ideas makes him seem naive. Had he asked what careers would make good use of his creative side and allow him to try out new things, I would have had a different reaction.

  56. Noah*

    I mean, sure, this guy is way into the deep end. On the other hand, somebody running a profitable business in college is the kind of person who might have some shot at succeeding with this stuff.

    1. See What I Did There*

      Not necessarily. My profitable college business was selling my zines for 50 cents a piece, because I used donated supplies and had no employees. Anything can be a profitable business if you have no overhead.

  57. See What I Did There*

    This reminds me of a guy I know who had been successful in one field for most of his life, and he had really strong opinions about how another industry runs itself. He was determined to go into the new industry and clean it of all the backwardness, much like siphoning filth out of a low-lying brackish pool. But then it turned out the new industry was actually full of competent, devoted people and this guy had no knowledge of the industry’s working or style.

  58. The Expendable Redshirt*

    For more complicated jobs, my supervisor says that it can take three years to really understand a role, and then make improvements on it. I’ve found this to be true. It took me a year to LEARN my job inside and out. Then another year to become really good at it. In year three, I’ve started to make improvements on policy and procedure. Which starts the learning process again.

    I wonder if the OP took some time to learn the industry that he wanted to change. It would be great to hear from them now.

  59. ArtK*

    I’ll give the LW the benefit of the doubt and think “naive.”

    My friend, here’s how you do it. You *prove* yourself. How? By taking a mundane job and work hard at it. Prove that you’re reliable and intelligent. Show initiative when possible, but don’t overstep. Work your way up. Propose small ideas at first. If they’re accepted *and* they work out, try something bigger.

    Being an “ideas person” or “visionary” is a title that others will bestow on you. If you go in with the attitude that you are one, you’re going to put people off and will get exactly nowhere. What you’re talking about is trying to start as the CEO of a major corporation; that doesn’t happen except in fairy tales.

  60. Safely Retired*

    I am reminded of a Thomas Edison quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety nine percent perspiration.” Though I first encountered it in a different form, attributed to John M Browning, “One drop of genius in a barrel of sweat.”

    If I were trying to help this person reach their dream (besides everything out hostess said) I would suggest getting a job not as an idea man, but something near where the action is in an organization likely to value such things. The idea is to be in a position to make constructive contributions. Once you get a reputation for doing that effectively you might have the ear of someone. Alas, I share everyone’s doubts that this individual would be prepared to do enough mundane work to get near the right people.

  61. CanCan*

    Hey, ideas guy! The way to prove that you really can generate great ideas is to make that business of yours blossom. You say it’s profitable – great, so it can give you some capital to put some of your ideas into practice. As the business grows, you’ll be able to hire more people to take on the more menial tasks, and you’ll be just the true ideas guy.

    I’m not kidding, as a business lawyer at one time, I’ve worked with many small business owners, some of whom had great ideas, and more importantly, the perseverance to make those ideas come alive.

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