Making Ideas Happen with Scott Belsky: Book Review and Interview


Creativity is a commendable quality. Good ideas are very valuable, and a person with repeated sparks of genius is priceless. But, even the most creative ideas amount to nothing if they’re not organized, established and executed. That’s where Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen can empower you with the follow-through needed to bring your intangible ideas into reality.

Belsky believes that “creative professionals — defined as those who generate (and sometimes execute) ideas for a living — constitute what is likely the most disorganized community on the planet.” It’s a bitter pill to swallow but also a difficult point to refute: Many of us are in the habit of forming great concepts, but few of us can say that we’ve gotten the most out of our ideas. Often, before our ideas come to full fruition, we interrupt ourselves with the next great idea. Scott considers creativity the “catalyst for brilliant accomplishments, but also the greatest obstacle.” The good sides of creativity are obvious, but few of us have considered – or addressed – the self-sabotage that can occur with idea schizophrenia.

Scott’s book and his newly-launched website, Behance, offer the tools and methods needed to recognize your best ideas and execute them to full fruition. Rather than offering lofty, fortune-cookie advice or old, tired adages, Belsky provides what’s really needed, a game plan to make the most of what’s in our minds.

Belsky’s execution philosophy is centered around ” The Action Method,” which helps those of us with creative tendencies live and work with a bias toward action.” Few of us have perfect organization, but Belsky contends that nobody is doomed to be permanently disorganized:

“Far from being some stroke of creative genius, this capacity to make ideas happen can be developed by anyone. You just need to modify your organizational habits, engage a broader community, and develop your leadership capability.”

Disorganization or self-interruption can often happen when faced with a new idea that seems better than the last. The choice presents itself – continue with your current idea, or start developing your newer, seemingly better one. Whether or not your newest idea is truly your best, continuing to shift from one plan to another will leave you with nothing but unfinished projects and unrealized potential. This could leave even the most brilliant thinkers with scatterbrained, piecemeal projects, none of which have flourished to their true potential.

To prevent a long trail of unfinished projects, Belsky teaches us to transition smoothly between creative conceptualization and executable logistics. He suggests that “any successful creative entity must be comfortable alternating between these two creative phases: ideation and execution.”

I had an opportunity to discuss Making Ideas Happen one-on-one with the author. Scott shed some light on how to implement these strategies in our typical, imperfect working conditions:

WorkAwesome: In Making Ideas Happen, you describe two sequential phases, “ideation” and “execution.” Sometimes it’s hard to know when to transition from one to the other. How do we know when an idea is fully developed and ready to be pursued?

Scott Belsky: Execution actually starts before an idea is fully developed. In the era of “rapid iteration” and prototyping, it is important to starting taking quick actions to test out the concept. For example, an early action during idea development may be to launch a survey or complete a mock-up. The notion of making “ideation” completely non-actionable doesn’t make sense to me.

Innovation is a constant effort to conceive solutions and act without conviction for the purpose of testing.

WorkAwesome: You’ve described how creativity can be a catalyst for great accomplishments, but also a huge obstacle to progress. Have you encountered businesses that are overly fearful of the risk involved with new ideas? Have you found others that are overly receptive to new ideas?

Scott Belsky: Yes, I have observed individuals and teams on both sides of the spectrum. The challenge often revolves around the incentives for generating ideas and taking risk. Bureaucracies often have an intolerance for failure and thus diminish the incentive to take risk and create something extraordinary.

WorkAwesome: Besides disorganization, what other factors can hinder a creative individual from executing his ideas?

Scott Belsky: Many other factors! But a few that come to mind include the inability to source effective feedback and support from others, difficulty leading a team, and falling victim to the gravitational force of operations that sucks our energy away from long term creative projects.

WorkAwesome: How do you begin applying The Action Method in a typically disorganized, actionless setting?

Scott Belsky: Quite simply, start asking the question, “now what?”

Start capturing the stuff that starts with verbs and keep it separate from your notes and other materials. “Call XYZ” “Redraft ABC and send to X” – you get the idea.

And then, with the mindset of looking for, capturing, and revering the action steps…start to measure how you spend your time and energy.

With this “Action Method” lens, you will begin to question your decisions and the value of meetings. In the book I talk quite a bit about how to navigate work and life with a bias towards action. I believe doing so is the competitive advantage in any creative career.

The methods and ideas in Making Ideas Happen are a unique asset to those looking to make the most of their efforts. Possibly thousands of great ideas per day are distorted into mediocrity or forgotten altogether due to ineffective follow-through. According to Belsky, the initial epiphany is only the first step in a much longer effort towards true idea fulfillment:

“Creative people are known for winging it: Improvising and acting on intuition is, in some way, the haloed essence of what we do and who we are. However, when we closely analyze how the most successful and productive creatives, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople truly make ideas happen, it turns out that ‘having the idea’ is just a small part of the process, perhaps only 1% of the journey.”


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Peter is Vice President of Digital Marketing at an investment holdings company in Washington DC and Co-Founder at True North.

Discussion

  1. Rondal on the 27th August

    I received a copy of this book as a prize and loved every page. Though the principles therein are really common sense, I have to give credit to Belsky for coming up with such an easy to follow system for organizing it all. His “Action Method” certainly provides a clear guideline to stripping away the erroneous tasks which I personally have trouble filtering from the really important work.

    Really great, article, Peter. Belsky is certainly in my top 10 list of daily inspirations!

  2. Brian Landi on the 27th August

    Thanks for this post Peter. I also recently read Making Ideas Happen and I derived a great number of ideas and practices from it. Thanks Scott as well for th book and your taking the time to answer questions for this post.

    One of the ideas that really stuck with me from the book was the idea of making colleagues accountable for their own action plans after meetings by emailing next steps, in their own words, to the group.

    I have actually used this a couple of times and shared it with some of my colleagues.

    Thanks again!
    Brian

  3. Anas Avais on the 18th October

    This book is for creative types. You know, the ones who are long on ideas and short on execution. This book is written for those who want to do great things but keep being lured away by the next shiny idea. This book will help you get things done. It is project management for the creative soul.

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