Making Ideas Happen: Talking With Behance’s Scott Belsky

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I recently had the chance to talk with Scott Belsky, the founder of the hugely popular creative communities and solutions, Behance and The99Percent.com. Scott has a new book out that dives into the bane of most creative pros’ existences…

How to make the move from ideation to actually making your ideas happen.

Here’s how it went down…

JF: What inspired you to start Behance?

SB: I was most inspired by a sense of frustration. There is SO MUCH discussion in the creative world about inspiration and creativity, but very little discussion about organization and execution. The stuff that makes our lives interesting – the art, the design, new businesses, great blogs, and all of the original content – is all created by the creative professional community.

But, unfortunately, creative people in particular face unique obstacles when it comes to actually making their ideas happen. We created Behance with a very specific mission: To organize the creative world. We are not trying to increase creativity. On the contrary, we are trying to help creative leaders harness their own creativity and actually make ideas happen.

JF: You said there is so little focus in the creative world on organization and execution. I’m wondering why that is? Lack of interest? Do creatives just not think that way?

SB: I think it is the latter. Our natural inclination is to indulge ourselves in idea generation. And when we seek guidance, it is often for inspiration rather than for execution. Of course, as creative minds, we should seek to complement our dreamer-like tendencies by partnering with skeptics and disciplining ourselves. But doing so is not fun….which explains why there is so little focus on the topic.

JF: So, you’ve built these tremendous communities online, what made you want to write a book?

SB: For over five years I have been studying (borderline obsessed) with execution and organization in the creative world – and among entrepreneurs. As we all know, most ideas never happen. But some people/teams are able to consistently defy the odds…and execute their ideas time and time again.

Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality summarizes the methods, insights, and best practices used by leading creative people and teams across industries  – companies like Google, IDEO, and Disney, and individuals like author Chris Anderson and Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh. I hope that the book helps start SERIOUS discussion around execution and how creative people and teams should operate to make ideas happen.

JF: You talk about something called the “Action Method.” What is that?

SB: We observed many different approaches to project management across the spectrum. But there were some themes among the especially productive people and teams that we met. The “Action Method” was an attempt to wrap up some of these best practices into a very straightforward mentality for managing creative projects.

The Action Method suggests that every project in life can ultimately be reduced to just 3 primary elements: Action Steps, Backburner Items, and References.

Action Steps are succinct tasks that start with verbs. They should be kept separate from your notes and sketches.

Backburner Items are ideas that come up during a brainstorm or on the run that are not actionable but may someday be. Backburner Items should be collected in a central location and should be revisited periodically through some sort of ritual.

One leader I met prints out his list of Backburner Items (kept on a running Word document) on the first Sunday of every month. He grabs the list (and a beer) and then sits down and reviews the entire list. Some items get crossed out as irrelevant, some remain on the list, and some are transformed into Action Steps.

The third element of every project is References – the articles, notes, and other stuff that collects around you. It turns out that References are overrated. Rather than spend tons of time organizing your notes, consider keeping a chronological file where all your notes are simply filed chronologically (not by project name or other means). In the age of digital calendars, you can search for any meeting and quickly find the notes taken on that date.

JF: Pretty cool. I’m curious, too, were there any big surprises in the process of researching and writing the book?

SB: I found many of the methods and insights counterintuitive. For example, the benefits of fighting in a team, the positive impact of nagging when it comes to prioritization, and how important competition is in the creative process.

But I was most surprised by the lack of correlation between great ideas and great execution. It turns out that ideas don’t happen because they’re great. In fact, the quality of an idea has no impact on whether or not it happens. For better or for worse, it is all about the execution.

JF: So, about these counter-intuitive discoveries, like the critical role of fighting and competition in moving an idea from concept through execution. Especially in the world of social media, we’re being told competition is dead, it’s all about collaboration now. How do you bridge that gap? Or, do you?

SB: When I talk about the benefits of competition, I am citing the increased level of accountability and pressure that we get from our community. I heard many stories of people with ideas for projects, blogs, books, and businesses – and these ideas meandered for years until someone else started taking action.

And then, once these people noticed they had competition, they became more motivated and focused. Especially in the world of social media, it is important that we seek peers to benchmark our own efforts and progress.

JF: Okay, I get that. You also mentioned “the quality of an idea has no impact on whether or not it happens.” What’s behind that? Why?

SB: Because, from the moment an idea is conceived, it’s all about the execution. Our ability to capitalize on the forces around us is not determined by the quality of our idea. Have you ever seen a REALLY bad movie and wondered how it got made? Well, the execution was better than the idea itself. Happens all the time.

We should learn from this that spending our lives searching for the best idea may not be the right approach. Perhaps it is best to develop the capacity to make ideas happen – a capacity that endures over time (and, in my opinion, makes all the difference).

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If you’re a creative soul looking for a serious tool to help you make your ideas happen, check out Scott’s new book, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality.

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11 responses

11 responses to “Making Ideas Happen: Talking With Behance’s Scott Belsky”

  1. Scott Webb says:

    I had been waiting for this book to come out. Started 2 days ago and loving it. It’s been my own mantra for 2010 and what I’ve noticed everywhere: SHIP

    I thought this might be another audio but still cool interview.

    It’s going to be huge for sure. huge book

  2. Diane Craver says:

    Your last question is one I’ve thought about quite a bit. My husband said one day, “All you have to do is look at the Chia Pet & see that it’s not just about the quality of the idea.” I think execution is hardest for us perfectionists. I’m working on that…

  3. Wow, so glad you did this interview, Jonathan! Confirmation all over the place.

    Scott & I own New England Multimedia and work our tails off doing web, audio, video, etc. in a business-to-business environment, but we’re not doing what we really love yet.

    He decided this year to defeat the perfectionist in himself and write, record, and upload a new song every day in 2010 (http://scottquillin.com); note all the VERBS in those Action Steps!

    It’s exhausting to run a multimedia business by day and then shut it all down at night to create from a different place, but he’s determined to not let another year go by while he waits to get all his ducks in a row.

    Inspiring.

    Michelle Quillin for new England Multimedia & Q Web Consulting
    http://twitter.com/NEMultimedia

  4. Katherine says:

    Thank goodness for the fact that someone is tackling this issue that plagues me every day…and thank YOU for bringing us face-to-face with Scott Belsky’s insights through your interview! I can’t wait to get my hands on this one.

  5. Megan says:

    What’s funny is that I’ve spent my life becoming a master of execution! And no one wants to pay me for what I do because everyone believes that anyone can do it – and that one day they will too, when they get around to it.

    I would love to meet creative people that would like to partner with someone who can move mountains to make things happen…. I’m currently trying to build a start-up around that, but how to market it to people who think it’s so easy they’ll just do it themselves?

    If everyone was so good at this stuff, why are they still just talking about their ideas instead of seeing them flourish?

  6. Raye says:

    As I read this interview I knew that I must order the book! Thank you Jonathan and Scott.

  7. Thank you Jonathan for the eye opening interview about some of the counter intuitive discoveries that Scott made.
    Definitely going to get this book when it comes out.

  8. Babs says:

    I couldn’t agree more than it’s much more motivating to finally execute an idea once you know someone else is about to do so also. Thanks for the insights!

  9. Nice article and interview. I think I might look into getting his book as well.

  10. Talk about things falling into place… I’ve been idea-generating for a while here with no action. I picked up your Career Renegade book and read it all in one sitting, and came to the Internets to check out what you had to say. Next, I see this interview – and this is exactly what I need.

    I’ve been all about action in my traditional jobs, which is why I’ve been successful. But for some reason, when I’m working on my own art projects, I get stuck. THANK YOU JONATHAN for your book and for introducing me to Scott Belsky.

  11. Thanx for this interview. Always liked Behance, and love 99percent (they need more videos). 99percent helped me with sooo much of my creative life.