Imagine that you are a venture capitalist investing in start-up companies. Ideally you are looking for a really good team with a great new idea. But if you had to choose, would you prefer a great idea in the hands of an average and competent team or an average idea in the hands of a really great team? Pause for a moment and make your choice.
It is a dilemma which Ed Catmull describes in his book Creativity Inc. Catmull was President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation. He tells the story that he was having lunch with the head of a movie studio who said ‘My biggest problem is not finding good people; it is finding good ideas.’ Catmull was stunned when he heard this because his experience was the exact opposite. He points out that the choice is a false dichotomy because ideas come from people and so people are more important than ideas.
He syas that if you give a great idea to a mediocre group, they will likely screw it up, because a movie or a project or a start-up involves many ideas and choices not just one. If you give a mediocre idea to a great team, they will likely find a clever way to make it work, or they might just replace it with a better idea that they generate.
The driving principle behind Pixar was to find, develop and support good people and then let them develop and own good ideas. The primacy of the team over the idea is one of many lessons we can learn from Pixar’s success.