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).
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.
Join our Email List for Weekly Updates
And join this amazing community of makers and doers. You know you wanna...