In Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, American Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of Behance, Scott Belsky writes about the principles and techniques for effectively executing on ideas. He presents a systematic approach to overcoming the obstacles between crafting the vision for an idea and the reality of executing on the idea. Making Ideas happen involves:
Making Ideas Happen = (The Idea) + Organization & Execution + Communal Forces + Leadership Capability
“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” – Thomas Edison
Scott Belsky – The Behance Network
Launched in 2007, the Behance Network is an online collective of many thousands of leading creative professionals from around the world. At all hours of the day and night, network members post their latest projects—ranging from designs for major brands, to architectural plans for buildings, to new fashion lines and photographic series—for their peers to review and for potential clients to consider. Millions of visitors explore these projects every month. Each project is a testament to an idea that has been pushed forward.
What productive teams have in common:
(1) organization and relentless execution,
(2) engaging peers and leveraging communal forces, and
(3) strategies for leading creative pursuits.
Making Ideas Happen
While many of us spend too much energy searching for the next great idea, my research shows that we would be better served by developing the capacity to make ideas happen—a capacity that endures over time.
Being more efficient or cheaper is no longer enough to be competitive in a global marketplace. We need to conceive new ideas to address the problems and opportunities that surround us—and we need to defy the odds and make these ideas actually happen.
Unfortunately, regardless of how great your ideas may be, most of them will never happen. Most ideas get lost in a period of intense execution where your natural creative tendencies turn against you.
Making ideas happen = Ideas + Organization + Communal forces + Leadership capability.
Organization enables you to manage and ultimately execute your ideas. In the modern world of information overload and constant connectivity, you must manage your energy wisely. Otherwise, you will fall into a state of “reactionary work flow,” where you act impulsively (rather than proactively) and simply try to stay afloat.
Action Steps, Backburner Items, and References.
Everything in life should be approached as a project. Every project can be broken down into just three things: Action Steps, Backburner Items, and References.
The ideas that move industries forward are not the result of tremendous creative insight but rather of masterful stewardship.
The Life and Death of Ideas
Creativity is the catalyst for brilliant accomplishments, but it is also the greatest obstacle. If you examine the natural course of a new idea—from conception to execution—you’ll see that nearly all new ideas die a premature death.
Creativity x Organization = Impact
Even more powerful than the obstacles around us, however, are the obstacles within us. The most potent forces that kill off new ideas are our own limitations. Time is very limited, and with the demands of family, friends, work, and sleep, most ideas lose traction immediately. If your idea survives the honeymoon period of excitement, it may still be forgotten because you are probably the only one who knows about it. Most ideas are born and lost in isolation.
The prospect of making ideas happen carries with it a special conundrum. The forces that help us be productive and execute our ideas are often at odds with the very source of our ideas: our creativity.
Organization and execution.
It is undeniable that your approach to productivity largely determines your creative output. The way you organize projects, prioritize, and manage your energy is arguably more important than the quality of the ideas you wish to pursue. There is nothing new in this assertion.
Leveraging communal forces
The utilization of communal forces yields invaluable feedback and idea refinement, builds and nourishes beneficial relationships, and establishes a connective tissue that provides resources, support, and inspiration.
Community opens the door to new approaches for old challenges and spurs a more informed and powerful creative instinct. Accountability, one of the most crucial benefits of engaging with your community, is what binds you to the relentless pursuit of your ideas. As you become accountable to others, your creative impulses become tangible projects. Your ideas grow roots. Community strengthens both your creative energy and your commitment to channel it.
Leadership capability relates both to your leadership of others as well as to your ability to lead yourself. Perhaps some of the greatest hurdles in implementing ideas are personal deficiencies—common psychological barriers that creative minds often face when executing ideas.
The journey to a more productive life as a creative leader starts with a candid self-assessment of who you are, your tendencies, and the greatest barriers before you.
The reality is that creative environments—and the creative psyche itself—are not conducive to organization. We become intolerant of procedures, restrictions, and process. Nevertheless, organization is the guiding force of productivity: if you want to make an idea happen, you need to have a process for doing so.
Part of the creative mind’s rebellion is understandable, because there is no one best process for developing ideas and then making them happen. Process in general has a bad reputation; anyone who has worked in a corporate bureaucracy knows why. When a process is imposed on you externally, it can weigh you down and diminish your energy.
Process is a deeply personal matter of taste and habit, especially for creative people. Your process works best for you when it is customized to your own personal preferences.
Structure enables us to capture our ideas and arrange them in a way that helps us (and others) relate to them. Without structure, we can’t focus long enough on any particular idea to find its weaknesses. Ideas that should be killed will linger, and others that require development may be forgotten. Structure helps us achieve a tangible outcome from our ideas.
The Action Method
A surplus of ideas is as dangerous as a drought. The tendency to jump from idea to idea to idea spreads your energy horizontally rather than vertically. As a result, you’ll struggle to make progress.
Most ideas come and go while the matter of follow-up is left to chance. Next steps are often lost amidst a mishmash of notes and sketches, and typical creative tools like plain blank notebooks only contribute to the problem.
For each idea, you must capture and highlight your “Action Steps.
Primary Components of the Action Method
Action Steps, References, and Backburner Items.
Action Steps are the specific, concrete tasks that inch you forward: redraft and send the memo, post the blog entry, pay the electricity bill, etc.
Every Action Step must be owned by a single person. While some Action Steps may involve the input of different people, accountability must reside in one individual’s hands at the end of the day.
References are any project-related handouts, sketches, notes, meeting minutes, manuals, Web sites, or ongoing discussions that you may want to refer back to. It is important to note that References are not actionable—they are simply there for reference when focusing on any particular project.
Two of the greatest benefits of storing References with some sense of organization are simply the reduction of clutter and the peace of mind—even if we seldom refer back to them.
Backburner Items—things that are not actionable now but may be someday. Perhaps it is an idea for a client for which there is no budget yet. Or maybe it is something you intend to do in a particular project at an unforeseen time in the future.
The Backburner keeps your ideas—and the possible future actions you might take to make the ideas happen—alive. It is critical to making an impact with your creativity because, most often, great ideas that are not yet actionable are quickly forgotten.
The Action Method starts by considering everything around you with a project lens and then breaking it down.
The actual outcome of any idea is dependent on the Action Steps that are captured and then completed by you or delegated to someone else. Action Steps are to be revered and treated as sacred in any project.
Keep an Eye on Your Energy Line
Energy is your most precious commodity. Regardless of who you are, you have only a finite amount of it. Just as a computer’s operating capacity is limited to the amount of memory (or RAM) installed, we all have our limits.
The Energy Line is a simple mechanism to help us measure and adjust a team’s energy allocation.
Windows of non-stimulation
To achieve long-term goals To achieve long-term goals in the age of always-on technology and free-flowing communication, create windows of time dedicated to uninterrupted project focus.
Avoid the tendency to escape the lulls of the project plateau by developing new ideas.
To push your ideas to fruition, you must develop the capacity to endure, and even thrive, as you traverse the project plateau. You must reconsider the way you approach execution. The forces you can use to sustain your focus and renew your energy do not come naturally. Making ideas actually happen boils down to self-discipline and the ways in which you take action
Constraints serve as kindling for execution. When you’re not given constraints, you must seek them. You can start with the resources that are scarce—often time, money, and energy (manpower). Also, by further defining the problem you are solving, you will come across certain limitations that are helpful constraints. As you find them, try to better understand them.
In a challenge meeting, anyone is invited to ask and answer questions like “What doesn’t make sense with our current plan?” “What are we missing?” and “What should change?”
The Dreamers, the Doers, and the Incrementalists
As entrepreneurs, Dreamers often jump from one new business idea to another. Even within an existing business, they are always imagining something new.
Dreamers are fun to be around, but they struggle to stay focused. In their idea frenzy, they are liable to forget to return phone calls, complete current projects, even pay the rent. While Dreamers are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are less likely to follow through. Some of the most successful Dreamers we have met attribute their success to a partnership with a Doer.
Doers don’t imagine as much because they are obsessively focused on the logistics of execution. Doers get frustrated when, while brainstorming, there is no consideration for implementation. Doers often love new ideas, but their tendency is to immerse themselves in the next steps needed to truly actualize an idea.
While Dreamers will quickly fall in love with an idea, Doers will start with doubt and chip away at the idea until they love it (or, often, discount it)
As Doers break an idea down, they become action-oriented organizers and valuable stewards. An idea can only become a reality once it is broken down into organized, actionable elements. If a brilliant and sexy idea seems intangible or unrealistic, Doers will become skeptical and appropriately deterred.
They have the ability to play the role of both Dreamer and Doer. Incrementalists shift between distinct phases of dreaming and doing. When imagination runs amok in the Dreamer phase, the Incrementalist begins to feel impatient.
The developing sense of impatience brings on the Doer phase, and the idea at hand is pushed into execution. And when the time comes to pull back and dream again, the return is a welcome relief from being buried in the managerial mind-set. Thus, an Incrementalist is able to bask in idea generation, distill the Action Steps needed, and then push ideas into action with tenacity.
Incrementalists have the tendency to conceive and execute too many ideas simply because they can. This rare capability can lead to an overwhelming set of responsibilities to maintain multiple projects at the expense of ever making one particular project an extraordinary success.
Examples – Dreamers, the Doers, and the Incrementalists
- Bill Bowerman, the former track coach who developed Nike’s running shoes, partnered with Phil Knight to transform his vision into a business.
- In the leadership of Apple, one might call Jonathan Ive (chief designer), Tim Cook (chief operating officer), and Steve Jobs (chief executive officer) Dreamer, Doer, and Incrementalist, respectively.”
- In the world of fashion, the Dreamer Calvin Klein had Barry Schwartz, Ralph Lauren had Roger Farah, and Marc Jacobs had Robert Duffy—three fashion visionaries paired with a world-class Doer as a partner.
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.—President Dwight D. Eisenhower
The Value of Competition
The competitive forces around you will display better ways of doing things. Watch them—and get to know them—rather than pretend they don’t exist. While it may be against your nature to do so, you should actively seek out competition and be grateful for it. By embracing competition, you stay at the top of your game.
If you are ever unsure about the true chemistry and potential of a team, use conflict as an opportunity to measure it. Whether you are judging the leadership capability of your superiors, peers, or clients, performance during conflict is revealing.
Most creative leaders can trace their greatest obstacles to something personal—a fear, insecurity, or self-imposed limitation.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.