Genius, opined Thomas Edison, who had firsthand knowledge of the subject, consists of 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Call it the \u201cEdison Ratio.\u201d\n\nWhile one might haggle over the exact numbers, the Edison Ratio provides a useful benchmark for what it takes to make an inspired idea real.\n\nAnd it cuts straight to a key reason organizations often fail at innovation: They overemphasize innovation\u2019s need for new ideas while remaining oblivious to \u2014 or eternally optimistic about \u2014 the volume of work necessary to execute each and every one of them.\n\nInverting the Edison Ratio\n\nWe\u2019ve all known managers who reverse the Edison Ratio, thinking their brilliant idea \u2014 whether truly original or pilfered \u2014 is what\u2019s important. It\u2019s the sin of arrogance, but arrogance isn\u2019t the worst innovation sin.\n\nNo, arrogance merely demeans the importance of the work needed to turn a brilliant idea into a brilliant reality. It\u2019s an irritating character flaw, but one that doesn\u2019t necessarily lead to failure.\n\nQuite the opposite, once an arrogant executive puts their name on a brilliant idea, they\u2019re staking their reputation on it, and might even, depending on the politics of the situation, go an extra mile or two to make sure its implementation succeeds.\n\nWhen it comes to Edison Ratio inversions, far worse than arrogance is being oblivious. Those oblivious to the Edison Ratio have no idea how much more brilliance will be needed \u2014 not to mention sweat \u2014 to make their brilliant idea real.\n\nBut unlike arrogance, obliviousness is pandemic \u2014 it\u2019s both contagious and debilitating.\n\nIt\u2019s contagious: If the idea\u2019s originator and chief proponents oversimplify and thereby underestimate the effort needed to make it real, every decision-maker involved in the attempt to implement it will also oversimplify and underestimate.\n\nAnd it\u2019s debilitating: If the contagion makes everyone involved in deciding project staffing and funding oblivious, the resulting effort will be understaffed and starved for budget throughout the attempted implementation.\n\nInnovation paralysis\n\nGood things come in threes. So, unfortunately, do not-so-good things, and that includes leaders who invert the Edison Ratio.\n\nThis third group of Edison Ratio inverters is, if anything, the most dangerous \u2014 not because they\u2019re malicious but because they\u2019re having fun. These are the \u201cidea cluster bombers.\u201d An idea cluster bomber has brilliant ideas on a regular basis. Any one of their ideas is so brilliant they\u2019re bursting with it. And so they tell someone to drop everything and go make it happen.\n\nWhich is fine until the sun sets and rises again. That\u2019s when they have another brilliant idea, and tell someone else to drop everything to make it happen.\n\nBrilliant!\n\nBut not so brilliant that it can withstand the impact of Edison Ratio Inversion.\n\nAn example: Imagine someone has a brilliant idea as they\u2019re brewing coffee in preparation for starting off their workday. They spend, oh, I dunno \u2026 let\u2019s say they spend the morning fleshing it out before Zooming a likely victim to work on it.\n\nDo the math: 4 hours to have the idea equals 1% of the total effort. That means making it real will require \u2026 hmmm \u2026 carry the 1 \u2026 396 hours. That\u2019s about 10 weeks to implement the brilliant idea.\n\nAssuming each day is blessed with another brilliant idea, during that 10 week span we can expect the idea cluster bomber to come up with another 50 brilliant ideas, which will take another 19,800 weeks of effort to implement, which adds up to a completely paralyzed organization.\n\nGetting innovation right\n\nIf we leave it at that, an inspiration-free organization might seem like a downright appealing alternative right about now.\n\nBut if we head down that rabbit hole with no eureka! light bulbs over our heads to enlighten us, it would be a very dark, innovation-free rabbit hole. And no innovation means no competitive advantage.\n\nOrganizations need to encourage innovation, not stifle it. Only they need to encourage it without falling into the Inverted Edison Ratio fallacy.\n\nThe obvious answer is to establish some form of governance to prevent brilliance run amok. But while governance might seem like the right place to start, it won\u2019t solve the problem unless decision-makers first get the education they need to understand not only the Edison Ratio itself, but why it is what it is. It\u2019s only then that they\u2019ll be in a position to figure out what that governance should look like.\n\nWe\u2019re talking about subjects like:\n\nSolution design: A brilliant idea is a rough sketch. Someone has to add enough detail to support at least order-of-magnitude estimates of direct costs, benefits, and, especially, ripple effects so the potential organizational impact is clear.\n\nTracing the impact on existing business process flows: Even if the brilliant idea is all about improving the customer experience by creating a next-generation user interface, that experience \u2014 say, making the UI 3D via VR headsets \u2014 will most often equate to a promise your company makes. Someone will have to keep that promise. That usually means figuring out what has to happen in the back office to complement the brilliant changes envisioned for the front office.\n\nApplication changes: That changes to business processes and user interfaces require work by IT on their supporting applications is hardly surprising. What is sometimes surprising is a principle that\u2019s well-understood by IT\u2019s professional estimators: Simple changes are hard; the rest are exponentially harder.\n\nOptimism bias might occur elsewhere, but IT is its organizational home.\n\nMetrics: A brilliant idea, once implemented, should improve either existing performance metrics \u2014 more accurately, change the targets for these metrics \u2014 or call for new metrics to complement or replace the existing ones. Leave the old metrics and targets in place and nothing will change because of Lewis\u2019s 3rd Law of Metrics: Anything you don\u2019t measure you don\u2019t get.\n\nStakeholder analysis: Every business change affects multiple stakeholders and stakeholder groups. Some, supporters, will like the change. A second group, call them accepters, won\u2019t care very much either way.\n\nBut then there are those \u2014 resisters \u2014 who, for one reason or another, dislike the idea and will, actively or passive-aggressively, do their part to make it fail.\n\nAny change leader who ignores the need to assess the various stakeholders and stakeholder groups, and then to develop strategies to keep supporters on board, convert fence-sitting accepters, and prevent resistance in thought from becoming resistance in deed, is a change leader whose proposed change will fail.\n\nProject management: Projects are how organizations make tomorrow different from yesterday. Try to move a brilliant idea forward without knowing where the project team will come from \u2014 and, even more important, where the project manager will come from \u2014 and you\u2019ll experience nothing but frustration every step of the way.\n\nThe takeaway\n\nThis is hardly a comprehensive curriculum of turn-brilliant-ideas-into-brilliant-realities topics. (At the risk of appearing self promotional, if you\u2019re looking for this curriculum, There\u2019s No Such Thing as an IT Project provides one.)\n\nAnd if insisting that leaders gain sophistication in all of these topics seems like too big a hill to climb, at least make sure they understand the Edison Ratio itself \u2014 that having a brilliant idea is the least important step in achieving anything interesting enough to talk about.