Something that’s hard for many an entrepreneur to learn is that great ideas aren’t where you make your money – you make your money from how well you implement your good ideas and ideas are just a multiplier of execution. As much as we creative people hate it, the oaf who works the list will often times be more successful than the creative genius who can’t sit down and get anything done.

In my work with entrepreneurs and small business executives, I’ve learned that there are three main gaps that keep them from implementing their ideas and being successful. They are:

1. The Assumptions Gap

“The least questioned assumptions are often the most questionable.” ~ Paul Broca

We all operate from a vast set of assumptions, many of which we haven’t consciously articulated. We assume that there’s a big enough market for our product. We assume that our product will deliver the benefits we say it will. We assume that we’ll be able to work eight focused hours per day. We assume that the vision we set represents a world we’d like to live in.

We start with assumptions because, if our assumptions are off, our plans are likely to be off too. The better our assumptions represent actuality, the more momentum we’ll be able to get. It’s hard to run through quicksand after all.

2. The Planning Gap

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” ~ Winston Churchill

The planning gap exists in two variants. The first variant is when there’s no plan at all and you’re just shooting from the hip. The thing about shooting from the hip is that you miss a lot. (Notice that an assumption from hip-shooters is that shooting from the hip is a sufficient way to run a business.)

The second way where there’s a planning gap is when there’s too much of a plan that doesn’t address the reality of where your business is. You don’t need a 55-page plan for a startup mostly because your job in the startup phase is to relentlessly focus on creating customers and figuring out how the business actually works. How it will work and who your customers actually are rarely looks like what your plan said.

The planning process helps you expose the assumptions you’re operating from and fine-tune them. The role of a plan is to make the decisions and illuminate the assumptions before you start executing so you’re not trying to think and do at the same time. It’s much harder to chart your course and steer your ship at the same time.

3. The Execution Gap 

“Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.” ~ Peter Drucker

Your assumptions seem reasonable. Your plan seems doable and sets the board up for you to win. Things should be easy from this point, right?

Wrong. Enter the execution gap. For whatever reason, you’re not able to execute on the plan. Perhaps you’re not committed. Perhaps the assumptions that seemed reasonable need to be modified. Maybe there’s not enough in the plan to give you and your team grip.

The visionary types that start businesses assume that an offer, a plan, and a team will automagically manifest into success. Those are critical ingredients, but the fact of the matter is that people have to do the tasks and projects on the plan to manifest success.

Knowing what needs to be done isn’t the same as doing what needs to be done. Remember, your revenues come from what you do, not what you know or think. The more you focus on doing the right things, the more momentum you’ll get in your business.

Whenever something’s not working in your business, use this list to debug what’s going on. Are your assumptions accurate? Is your plan relevant and actionable? Are people doing the right things?

One last thing: while it’s easy to start with the execution gap, it’s far more effective to start with the first two. Your job as the leader is to make sure those two are solid before you look at what your team is doing.

So what do you think? Are these the right gaps? Do you know of some others? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below.