Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Difference Between an Idea and a Plan

Some people struggle to understand the difference between an idea and a plan. Though a plan starts with an idea, it must become much more than an idea to really be a plan. A plan must include a strategy for how the idea will be developed. That strategy needs to have some clear goals that are specific and measurable.

To be honest, ideas are often more exciting than plans. Ideas can often be reduced to witty sayings that can be put on bumper stickers or posted as a Facebook status or tweeted to our many followers in cyber space. Ideas are often contagious, perhaps even infectious. But ideas, without plans that develop those ideas, often lack any lasting value. They stir up a lot of interest when first proposed, but then begin to fade when people realize nothing is going to happen to move the idea forward.

Plans may be less exciting than ideas, but they are needed if innovative thinkers are to bring their great ideas to the masses. Plans take time to develop. Plans require resources, such as manpower, money, or training materials. Plans sometimes have to be altered along the way due to changing situations or unforeseen circumstances.

Plans most often require collaboration with other people who may have similar, but slightly different, ideas. When similar, but different, ideas are merged, both original ideas are changed. That can be a struggle for some thinkers who like to consider themselves purists. But having an unmovable idea is rarely helpful. Whereas, having a good plan that can be supported by a wider base will most often be required for an idea to become reality.

In my role as a church planting catalyst in New England, I work with many young ministers who are filled with excitement. They have a lot of great ideas for how to change struggling communities. It is easy to get caught up in their excitement. But part of my job as a catalyst is to help them think through what it will take to actually bring their ideas to fruition. I am not sure they always like it when they meet with me. I tend to ask questions about what they plan to do this week, or this month, or next week, or next month, to take their ideas to the next level. I ask them where they will find the manpower and money to make those plans work. I give them suggestions for who else they can meet with who may share some of their passions and encourage them to create partnerships that are mutually beneficial to everyone involved, even if that means adjusting their ideas about what they hope to accomplish. But when their ideas become real plans, and then their plans become reality, it is exciting to watch their eyes light up as they realize that they CAN do this, and they can do it well!

No matter how innovative a thinker we may be, there is no escaping the importance of developing a plan that moves our ideas forward. Whether we want to start a new church, write a book, create a community organization that meets a significant need, or develop a new product that will make life better for everyone, ideas without plans are just fantasies. The world may love our fantasies, but they will not be motivated to help us make them happen unless we come up with a realistic plan. So dream big, but then get out a piece of paper and develop a plan that will turn those dreams into reality!


  1. Well said, Terry.

    A saying I have picked up from our pastor, Jay, is that we often give ourselves credit for things we never did, just because we thought about them. "I had that idea once..." so we mentally check it off the list. Your words remind me of James 1:22...we must be DO-ERS!!! Thanks for modeling this in your ministry.

  2. Thanks Chip. And I may have to steal that idea from Pastor Jay!

  3. Excellent article.

  4. Thanks Trey and Bob. Challenging thoughts to mull over, but so important if we want to be productive.

  5. oh my, this is my pet peeve, when people mention an idea and then think they have it all planned out. I'm like, "No, you don't, you just have a vague of idea of something you might do eventually."

  6. This describes most politicians these days, they have a lot of ideas, but no real plans, but they want to spend millions of tax dollars promoting their ideas that in the end accomplish nothing.