Innovation and execution are often incompatible

Posted by  Paul Honeywell —July 22, 2021
Filed in Anecdotes, Culture, Insight

I have owned a piece of land in an incredible position on a remote Scottish island since 2000. It overlooks pure white beaches, azure seas, and hills of breath-taking beauty. I wanted to build a house there—not any house, but one that blended into the landscape and made the most of those views. I tried different designs, but none seemed to meet my aspirations.

Then, in 2014, I met a really creative architect. In fact, the most creative I had ever come across. He had designed several very unusual houses on the islands—stone houses that seemed to grow out of the landscape, with turf roofs blended into their surroundings. This was exactly the kind of thing I was looking for.

He started work for me and quickly came up with sketches for my project. It was a much bigger scale than his other buildings, and his interpretation was for a curved, snaking design, with a sunken section for bedrooms and a huge social area, with a curved stairway leading up to an observatory for the clear night skies. I was enthralled, smitten by this wonderful idea—and I couldn’t wait to make it a reality.

That’s when the trouble started. He promised build quotes from building firms, which never arrived. We found that part of his design used land that wasn’t even ours—his response being that he was sure that we could sort that out. Erm, not really!

When I took it upon myself to ask builders directly, they all said that they would never work with him—he was notorious for lack of detail, complexity, cost overruns, and generally making life hard for builder and owner alike.

So, what to do? I loved the design, but nobody would build it. I had to make the hard decision to employ a new architect, one with a down-to-earth, practical approach but who would stay as close to the original idea as possible. I found a project manager who was an ex-civil engineer who had moved to the islands. My original creative friend was pretty upset, because he really believed that he could manage the project—but only he had that opinion!

Two years later, with some elements toned down and others enhanced, I had my house. The project manager and the local craftspeople had worked as a team to build something that nobody had ever done before. They were rightly proud of their achievement, and the place has become a celebrated icon in the Hebrides.

Years later, I helped to found a company based on a hugely innovative technology that could potentially analyse any material on earth from a printed sensor, even being able to look inside the human body and analyse blood constituents or detect and locate tumours. The inventor had come up with a method that nobody had thought of before, hence a raft of patents protecting it.

Years of research followed, seeking to stretch the capabilities of the invention, but never quite delivering the absolute proof and data that is needed to get a product to market or a big partner committed. We had become an academic company—a research company, not a development company.

A painful but profound change was essential, and, just like my house on the island, we are now on the way to a product launch which will have profound implications to the way that we monitor and manage our lifestyles for optimum health.

These two stories are very different in the topic, but the similarities are clear.

Innovation and execution are so different that they almost always demand different skills, different people, and a different culture. Where is your idea, or your business? Is it in research or is it on a development path?

Both innovation and execution are crucially important—there is little point in developing a poor idea, and equally there is little point in having a great idea that won’t make it to completion.

You can learn more about Paul’s property at

Paul Honeywell About  Paul Honeywell

Paul is a successful entrepreneur who has 40 years of business experience. His career started in Formula One motor racing and has since involved the leadership of Europe’s largest design and marketing agency, work with a highly advanced technology company, and consulting with C-suite leaders at many of the world’s largest companies, including Hilton, Coca-Cola, BP, and Lloyds Banking Group. After founding and leading a UK-based storytelling consultancy, Paul became Chairman of Anecdote and has guided the business in innovating and growing globally.

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