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But What If It Works?

Few things are more effective at eradicating a bad mood than a good movie involving unrealistically beautiful people. So when I found myself in a bad mood a few months ago, I chose on a title with Chris Hemsworth and Cillian Murphy and proceeded to get cozy with what I thought would be 122 minutes of distraction from the noise in my head.

And while these gorgeous men were easy on the eyes, they were not beautiful enough to salvage

I couldn’t tell if it was the script or directing, but the movie was terrible. Cliched and predictable. 

It had SUCH potential, too: Moby Dick told from the perspective of Melville interviewing his source subject. That is gold. And yet the execution botched what should have otherwise been a movie version of The Iliad. An epic tale of survival and fortitude. 

Instead, it was slow and boring. 

It got me thinking about how an idea becomes a thing. And how the ideas I’ve had that are easiest to talk about and explain often are the worst executed. I thought about the pitch meetings Ron Howard (who directed the movie) was in for In the Heart of The Sea and how compelling this idea had to have been. How strong the script felt. How much potential this story had to become an Oscar-nominated epic tale next to Cast Away and Titanic

And yet…it wasn’t.

Maybe Howard was going through a hard time in his personal life. Maybe the screenwriters slacked on the job because they got high off hubris. Maybe the screenwriters wrote a better script, but the producers insisted on edits to make it “more marketable” or “appealing to a mass audience.” So they made all the revelations too on the nose, stripped it of subtlety, and stole its power. 

Maybe the cast didn’t get along and there were fights on set which is why the connection between sailors never felt real. Even the actors couldn’t act past their own apathy towards the film they were creating. 

Maybe they were testing something new – cinematography and color and lighting and direction and CGI maybe that was the point and on that point perhaps it succeeded. Maybe it wasn’t about the story at all, but a new way to make films. 

We’ll never know.

But then we have , which managed to succeed at doing what In the Heart of the Sea couldn’t. 

is an inspired version of Moby Dick that follows a little girl who discovers that the sea beast is perhaps not a beast at all…and where you think that storyline would be predictable, it wasn’t. 

And part of it is because of what you expect. You expect to see a sea creature destroying boats in the 1700s, men hopped up on testosterone trying to be heroes by killing big animals, forced to face the elements, but

What you don’t expect is to see a little girl on the whaling boat or magical giant creatures who live on a secret island or the twist that the whalers started this fight and the sea beasts are responding to being attacked. 

Still…it’s kinda flat when I write it like that, isn’t it?

But isn’t. 

That’s because the idea itself is only part of the battle. 

The execution is where the magic happens. And you can see why when you watch these two movies with ostensibly the same plot (or at least, the same source material) executed dramatically differently. 

The effect on audiences is different too. One is forgettable, the other leaves a mark on your heart. 

Kristen Hatcher and I have been thinking a lot about this chasm between idea and execution (or what we call “shipping”). How so many people get stuck waiting, planning, thinking, and perfecting the “idea” – not realizing that the magic of the idea is in the shipping – in the execution of it.

I’m reminded of the million iterations of Moby Dick every time someone tells me they have no original ideas. Fear they’re “derivative.” Everything is derivative. What has not been done is your version.

And you can’t know if your version will become trite and cliche like In the Heart of the Sea or revolutionary and transformative, like The Sea Beast until you put it out into the world.

Both these movies came from great ideas. And everyone who has the courage to ship will create both of these. You do not get to the revolutionary story without shipping some trite and cliche things that don’t work – sometimes because of your failures, sometimes for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

Execution is (coughs) a beast.

If you’re sitting on a “good idea,” waiting, thinking, strategizing – it’s time to ship. There isn’t a point where it will “Feel ready.” 

My suspicion is Ron Howard and everyone else who participated in making In the Heart of the Sea felt ready. And their battle wasn’t the idea. It was execution – it was shipping.

Part of what we risk when we put our ideas out into the world, is falling short. The other part of the risk is far exceeding our expectations.

Go find out what happens to your idea when it meets the world.

It just might work.


PS: Kristin and I are creating a community of practice where you ship your work with others. If you’re ready (and you are) to bring your idea into the world, stop talking about it, and make it real – click here to get on our waitlist

I’ll send you details next week on what we’re about and how you can join.