Thinking about Ideas as a System: Ideas as Cost

Ideas are generally thought of as having value, but in fact, ideas only have cost.

3 min readAug 29, 2022

About Ideas

Ideas appear in the minds of human beings and there can appear infinitely many ideas.

An important thing to understand is that an idea can be a great idea, but still not the right idea.

Here, the right idea means an idea that is the correct idea to be implemented. The correct idea to be implemented is one with the greatest potential.

Here, potential means the degree to which a feature or a project can have value, as a result of implementing that idea.

What is value then? It depends entirely on the context in which the idea is expressed. For example, ideas related to businesses tend to be evaluated against their ability to generate cash flows.

There are many reasons why great ideas usually are not the right ideas.

An idea can be great, but not feasible due to being too complex.

An idea can be great, but not correctly timed.

An idea can be great but require too many resources.

An idea can be great, but not the greatest among the known universe of ideas.

There are other cases where an idea can be great, but still not the right idea. The ones mentioned above are the most important ones.

Cost of Ideas

The cost of an idea is at its minimum upon its initial emergence in the stream of cognition of a single individual. In other words, the cost of ideas is the lowest immediately upon its conception.

From there onwards, the cost of ideas dramatically expands.

At first, the cost increases as the single individual starts thinking about it.

Then, the cost increases as the single individual share the idea with others.

Then, the cost increases as the others start thinking about it and sharing it with more people.

Using a software product company as an example, without the right countermeasures, the idea then finds its way through product innovation and product management processes, increasing the cost by several orders of magnitude.

Again, without the right countermeasures, then the idea is formulated as an engineering spec and goes through the motions where it is fulfilled as an immaterial artifact such as a user interface or other functionality. Depending on the idea, it has generally become an order or two orders of magnitude more costly than in the previous step.

Some ideas are able to attract energy to a degree where the idea becomes implemented and monetizable. Everything up to that point is cost.

Anatomy of an Idea

Ideas appear as thoughts. Following the appearance of an idea, there can be a sense of being pulled toward that thought. When that happens, many more thoughts appear related to the idea as the idea expands. As the fascination and involvement one has with the idea increases, the idea becomes concrete. Basically, the more one thinks about it and talks about it, and the more one shares it with others, and so forth, the more concrete it becomes. The process of concretization oftentimes involves the appearance of various artifacts. Such as notes, documents, and presentations. As ideas become concrete enough, a committed investment is made into implementing the idea. There is a business case for implementing the idea, and the case attains wide acceptance. The idea is then implemented and brought to such a point where it can be readily monetized.

In summary, there are in total seven phases of an idea making its way from being just cost to unlocking its potential for value:

  • Appearance
  • Attraction
  • Expansion
  • Concretization
  • Investment
  • Implementation
  • Monetization

Once the idea actually delivers value, it is no longer an idea. The idea is the cause for the value that may arise after the idea has been brought to a point where it can be readily monetized. Ideas and value should therefore not be confused with one another.


  • Ideas are cost and nothing but cost
  • Value can be optimally created through implementing the right ideas
  • Ideas can be managed and exploited systematically

Thanks for taking the time to read this article, I would love to hear your thoughts about it. 🧡

Next, read the second part of this article series here.




Worked with machine intelligence for 15 years, and built the interwebs for 25. Nothing here is my own.