Really. They’ll pretend they do if they like you, but that’s the best you’re gonna get. Everyone has ideas. If a snowflake fell every time someone had a great idea we’d all be buried up to our necks in snow. And ya know what? That snow would be way more useful than the ideas that produced it. A snowperson, snow angels, snowballs - there’s a lot of fun to be had in the snow. Your ideas, however, aren’t worth a damn. And nobody cares about them.
You know what people care about? Actions. Motion. Shiny things they can look at and go “oooooooooooo, pretty”. Ideas carry weight when we can see them in living color. Well, at that juncture they’re no longer ideas, and that’s really the point. If you truly want people to care you need to bring your ideas to real life. Anyone can have an idea.
That’s precisely why ideas without actions are so useless. People love to sit around and wax poetic about things they would love to do or want to do. It’s not a skill, and you’re not going to sell anyone on the idea that you’re a great ideas person. Unless of course, you have a history of turning your ideas into actions and delivering. Even people with such a reputation still have refuters and detractors. Delivering on ideas is the hard part, and if you want people to respect your ideas you need to start delivering something.
I’m entirely guilty of this myself. I’ve had a lot of “amazing ideas” that I never even tried to bring to life. But I wanted people to respect them because they were great! Hell, I’m blameworthy as I write this after announcing this great idea to automate my YouTube channel. Spoiler alert: It didn’t work out the way I thought it would. It’s a lot harder than I thought. Surprise surprise. Have I made progress? Sure. Is it even close to the idea I envisioned? Not even a little bit. I should have shut the hell up and built something that works first. I’m not sure if it’ll ever get finished at this point.
Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t have ideas. Ideas are great. It’s fun to think up things you want to make or goals you want to reach. It feels good to bring them up in conversation and have other people validate your thoughts. But that’s the key issue with falling in love with the idea and sharing them with everyone. People tend to grow content with that validation and lose motivation in delivering. This isn’t even just my option. There are studies that have shown when you profess your ideas you’re less motivated to achieve them. Well, shit. I fell into that trap again.
It doesn’t always end up like that though. Sometimes you can find the motivation in other ways to break past patting yourself on the back for thinking something up and then calling it a day. I remember a long time ago in a company far, far away I had an idea that would totally improve one of the systems.
I was working on a project that provided a service which assuredly you’ve used at least once in your life (if you live in the USA at least). Part of my role was managing the operating system images that were used to provision machines before they were sent out into the field. “The field” was a network of more than 50,000 computer terminals across the entire United States. It was big, and terminals had to be replaced all the time for various reasons. It was critical that systems are deployed as fast as possible without any errors. Our imaging process was a computer replacement pipeline to keep this heavily used network up and running.
We used Norton Ghost as the solution to deploy the images to terminals. There wasn’t really any better option at the time. Norton Ghost was the best imaging solution, and it wasn’t cheap because of that. There was a lot of aspects to the system that made it cumbersome to manage. Ghost images were sector-based, and so images ended up being the same size as the hard drive you pulled the image from because of that. If the hard drive was 20GB then that was the size of your image. Even if the data only took up 4GB. So we had around six different terminal images which each had either 20GB or 40GB hard drives. Even calculating the low end, this meant we had 120GB of image data to manage. This was 2011 when hard drives were still slow and Gigabytes were still expensive.
Oh, but it gets better. There wasn’t a single image for each machine. The final image was built up after creating seven different layers of images. The first layer contained the basic vanilla operating system. Then the second layer contained all of the latest operating system updates. Then the third layer would contain all of the custom hardware drivers and software. This continued on until you had a final image which was ready to deploy to the terminal. Now each machine had seven images, so let’s redo our math. 20GB * 7 layers * 6 machines resulted in 840GB worth of images. Mind you, this is our hypothetical low end, which was not the reality. If you had to update one of the layers it meant you had to re-create all of the successive layers after that, and it was a regular practice to maintain the images this way.
It was a slow laborious process using expensive software and the whole setup itself was expensive to store and slow manage. I hated it. Because I was the one that had to manage it.
Through a bit of research, I found out about a new tool created and distributed for free by Microsoft to manage deployments of their operating system better. It was called WIM images. This was a very new tool, and nobody seemed to know much about it at the time. It was difficult for me to understand as well since I was just learning how to automate things with batch scripts. Oh, batch scripts. I don’t miss you at all. It had the possibility to solve so many problems we faced.
WIM images only took up the amount of space equal to the amount of data on the drive. So if you created a WIM image from a 20GB hard drive and there was only 4GB of data on the drive then your resulting image was only 4GB. Also, you could append images to each other and it would only increase the image size by the size of the new data. It would not duplicate file data between appended images. So with our layering process, we could combine all seven layers into a single image that was able to fit on a DVD. A single set of machine images that took at minimum 120GB of data could now be the size of a DVD. That also made them FAST to provision. A process which previously took up 15-20 minutes to deploy could now be completed in a few minutes. Also, did I mention it was free? FREE. NO LICENSING TO DEAL WITH.
After all the research I was confident this is something we could hack together with scripts to replace our existing expensive cumbersome system. I remember the day I excitedly went to my team lead and shared my idea to update the system with this new solution. I explained all of the benefits as best I could and shared my desire for us to build this.
Wait? What!? But this is amazing! This is going to save us so much time, money, headaches. It might even cure baldness it’s so good! Steve Balmer will come and thank me personally. I didn’t let it go that day. I shared it with other colleagues in front of him. He had to listen to me ramble on about this idea all day since our team shared a small common area. That did not go over well. “We are NOT going to do this. Stop wasting time with it.”, was the last statement he made about it before leaving the room. That was the end of our discussion about it that week. That infuriated me. Here I was spending my own time outside work hours figuring out how we could make things better, faster, stronger and I was told off in front of my peers for doing so.
The timing couldn’t have been better. He went on vacation the following week which left our team to manage ourselves. Every single day I worked feverishly to learn more about WIM images enough to put together a proof of concept. I would blaze through finishing my daily tasks before lunchtime and spent the afternoon hacking away with batch scripts and the WIM tools to produce a client/server deployment setup similar to our existing system. And it was certainly similar to our existing system, except better in every single way possible. I could have an entire machine image saved to a single DVD. That image could be deployed to any system within a few minutes by having the machine boot to a USB that automatically identified the system type and pulled the correct image. It worked, and it worked amazingly well.
It was no longer merely an idea. I had something to show off. When he returned from vacation I asked him to come see something. I gave a demonstration of the process which took all of a few minutes. I wish I could explain the 180 degrees turn his attitude took this time around. He now realized the magnitude of implementing this within our business process. This was huge. The gears started turning in his head and HE was convincing ME of other benefits that I hadn’t even thought of.
Immediately, that day, he encouraged me to continue building out the rest of the images and system while also tasking another colleague to help with this process. “How fast do you think you could finish this?”. It was basically already finished. We just needed to create the images for the other systems.
It did everything I said it could do, but he absolutely did not care until he saw it in action. This is not unique to him, and I never held the scenario against him. He was acting in the best interests of the team at the time. Ideas without action don’t hold value, and I spent a whole day rambling on about this one. In his eyes, I produced no value that day. I was, effectively, wasting the companies time.
There still stands the caveat that some people have a reputation for delivering, and so their ideas hold far more weight. I was probably the youngest person within the entire wing of the building in my early 20’s and the least experienced person on the team. I could barely read a batch script when I joined. A year later I think I can replace an entire system that existed for 5+ years developed by multiple talented engineers? Yeah right. Go back to your desk and shut up, kid.
Had I stayed at that position I’m sure my thoughts would have carried further weight in future discussions, but I moved on to new challenges shortly after. Though I did stay long enough to see through having my proof of concept developed further and deployed into production.
Had I not been admonished by my team lead in front of my colleagues I might have sat content with everyone telling me how cool the idea was. “Wouldn’t this be cool?” “It sure would!”. Book closes. End of story.
I swear tho I’m going to automate that youtube channel. It’s such a great idea.