Making Ideas Happen, a Video Book Review

by on June 8, 2010 | posted in Marketing

Making Ideas Happen is written by Scott Belsky. The basis behind the book is how the world’s leading creators pump their work from idea to the moving line over, over, and over again. Belsky analyzes several productivity (and creativity) gurus to find their processes, establish patterns, and find ways we can carry these things over to our own lives.

Making Ideas Happen is an excellent book with great, non-expected takeaways. It reads quickly and will take you from page 1 to the end rather quickly, should you decide to let it whip you up. If you’re upper management or manage anybody, period, I especially recommend it. Even for those who are only in control of their own lives, I definitely suggest picking it up.

Making Ideas Happen Book Notes

“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” Thomas Edison – p. 2

Making ideas happen = Ideas + Organization + Communal forces + Leadership capability – p. 3

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. – p. 5

Creativity is the catalyst for brilliant accomplishments, but it is also the greatest obstacle. – p. 8

“daylighting” – practices in which an employee works on a creative, personal project for 10-20 percent of their at-work time – are increasing in popularity as companies like Google tout their effectiveness. P. 15

When employees quit a creative team, it is most often a result of an interpersonal conflict or not feeling engaged by the subject matter; it is rarely about money. – P. 17

“My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned to myself for each one of my undertakings. I shall go even further: my freedom will be so much greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees oneself of the claims that shackle the spirit.” – Igor Stravinsky, p. 23

The reality is that creative environments – and  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. – p. 24

Creativity X Organization = Impact, p. 27

The greatest leaders are “optimistic about the future, but pessimistic about tasks.” In the creative world, leaders should be excited about the potential of new ideas, but they should also be deeply concerned with how to manage their ideas as projects. – p. 31

The Action Method causes us to question many of the traditional practices of project management. The most productive systems of creative people share a common set of principles:

  • A relentless bias towards action pushes ideas forward – for each idea, you must capture and highlight your “Action Steps”
  • Stuff that is actionable must be made personable – assigning tasks isn’t enough, one should be allowed to make each task their “own”
  • Taking and organizing extensive notes aren’t worth the effort. (in business meetings, not like this)
  • Use design-centric systems to stay organized. (the color, size, and style of the materials used are important – aesthetically pleasing designs increase likelihood of implementation)
  • Organize in the context of projects, not location. (doesn’t have to be office focused)  – p. 33

Every project in life can be reduced into these three primary components. 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. REFERENCES are any project-related handouts, sketches, notes, meeting minutes, manuals, Web sites, or ongoing discussions that you may want to refer back to. BACKBURNER ITEMS are things that are not actionable now but may be someday. – p. 35

If an Action Step is vague or complicated, you will probably skip over it to others on your list that are more straightforward. To avoid this, start each Action Step with a verb:

  • Call programmer to discuss
  • Install new software for..
  • Research the possibility of..   – p. 39

Treat Managerial Action Steps differently. The first type is delegated action steps. “Delegate Calling programmer to discuss”. The second type is Ensure action steps. “Ensure Bob called programmer to discuss.” The last type is “Awaiting Action Step”, when are waiting for a voicemail, e-mail, or something else of that nature. – p. 42

Key Practices of Action Steps:

  • Capture action steps everywhere.
  • An unowned action step will never be taken.
  • Treat managerial action steps differently.
  • Foster an action-oriented culture.
  • Attraction breeds loyalty. (enjoy the method of recording these steps, make it attractive)

In a comparison of a color monitor to black in white was nill for one person. He was given the color monitor for one week. He found that there was no advantage to color – but he was now unable to give it up. “The difference lay not in ‘information processing’ but in ‘affect,’ in how full-color monitors made people feel about their work.” – p. 43

Set up a Backburner. Set aside an area at the bottom or side of your notes – or perhaps a separate page, to capture backburner items that come up. As you aggregate backburner items over the course of a day, you will want to use a central repository for storage.  | Create a backburner ritual. Periodically revisit and curate the backburner as time goes on. Make it a habit. – p. 45

Whether it’s personal or professional, managing everything actionable in one system is your best bet. – p. 50

Actions are truly “delegated” only when they are accepted. Just because an e-mail goes out does not mean the action has been delegated, a reply or reception is required.– p. 50

Create a central clearinghouse for all of the stuff that you accumulate but can’t immediately execute or file. For digital stuff, try and have alerts sent for all profiles to one central location, so you don’t have to check several different ones. – p. 52

For teams that manage Action Steps via e-mail, actionable e-mails should have “Action” as the first word in the subject line. For Reference e-mails, you should start the e-mail’s subject line with “FYI”. By establishing a common language with your colleagues, everyone will be able to sort their e-mail in-box and view Action Steps using these keywords. P. 54

If the action in an e-mail takes under two minutes, do it right away. After all, if it will take a minute or so just to enter it into your system, so why not just take create of it already? P. 56

Energy is your most precious commodity. Regardless of who you are, you only have a finite amount of it. P. 59

As leaders of creative projects, we feel an impulse to solve everything quickly. I call this “Creator’s Immediacy” – an instinct to take care of every problem and operational task, no matter how large or small, as it comes up, similar to a mother’s instinct for the care of a newborn baby. However, it becomes nearly impossible to pursue long-term goals when you are guided solely by the most recent e-mail in your in-box or call from a client. – P. 61

Don’t hoard urgent items. Even when you delegate operational responsibilities to someone else, you may still find yourself hoarding urgent items as they arise. When you care so deeply about a project, you’ll want to resolve things yourself. – P. 65

Merlin Mann, founder of, realized that the level of interruption increases in direct proportion to one’s level of availability. – P.67

New ideas offer a quick return to the high energy and commitment zone, but they also cause us to lose focus. The result? A plateau filled with the skeletons of abandoned ideas. Although it is part of the creative’s essence to constantly generate new ideas, our addiction to new ideas is also what often cuts our journeys short. P. 71

Traditional practices such as writing a business plan – ultimately a static document that will inevitably be changed on the fly as unforeseen opportunities arise – must be weighed against the benefits of just starting to take incremental action on your idea, even if such early actions feel reckless. P. 73

Kill Ideas Liberally – The ability to expose an idea’s faults and doubts based on data from early actions is a critical skill for productive creative teams. – P. 75

Things to consider with Meetings:

  • Don’t meet just because it’s Monday. Abolish automatic meetings without an actionable agenda.
  • End with a review of actions captured. Have people go around and give their action steps – this breeds a sense of accountability. If you state your action steps in front of your colleagues, you are more likely to follow through with them.
  • Call out nonactionable meetings. When meetings end without any Action Steps, it is your responsibility to speak up and question the value of the meeting.
  • Conduct standing meetings. Lengthy, pointless meetings are less likely to happen when everyone is standing.
  • Don’t call meetings out of your own insecurity. For team leaders, the true purpose of a meeting is sometimes just to get reassurance.
  • Don’t stick to round numbers. Most impromptu meetings that are called to quickly catch up on a project or discuss a problem can take places in ten minutes or less.
  • Always measure with Action Steps .. or something else. Sometimes, we must meet for a concrete but nonactionable objective. For cultural change meetings, value should be measured with a shared understanding. P. 81

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). P. 88

The same techniques that draw your attention to billboards on the highway or commercials on television can help you become more (or less) engaged by a project. When you have a project that is tracked with a beautiful chart or an elegant sketchbook, you are more likely to focus on it. Use your work space to induce attention where you need it most. P. 97

Smaller, more confined spaces may help us focus more intently while wide-open spaces with higher ceilings foster a more unencumbered way of thinking. “If you’re in the operating room, maybe a low ceiling is better. You want the surgeon getting the details right.” P. 103

Reduce your amount of “Insecurity Work”. Stop doing the stuff that has no intended outcome, does not move the ball forward in any way, and is quick enough that you can do it multiple times a day without realizing how much time is being wasted. (I.E – checking e-mail constantly, Analytic accounts, bank balances). By consciously labeling your Insecurity Work as such, you will become self aware. P. 104

Insecurity Work threatens to weigh you down and prevents you from escaping the never-ending ticker of what the world thinks. To envision what will be, you must remove yourself form the constant concern for what already is. – P. 106

An article in the February 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review cited a recent MIT study showing that employees with the most extensive personal online networks were 7 percent more productive than their colleagues, and those with the most cohesive face-to-face networks were 30 percent more productive. – p. 112

Research indicates sharing ideas significantly increases the odds of ideas gaining momentum and ultimately happening.- p. 123

While the value of feedback is high, the incentive to give feedback to others is low – and the actual desire to hear it is often nonexistent. – p. 125

When you publicly commit yourself and take on risk to make an idea happen, you garner what I have come to call “Committal Benefits.” Committal Benefits represent the increased likelihood of others to take a risk of their own – financially or with their reputations – to support your projects. – p. 139

The Washington Post conducted an experiment where one of the world’s most famous violinists, given a $3.5 million dollar violin, was placed in front of a Washington, D.C., Metro station to play anonymously. After playing for 43 minutes, Bell collected only $32.17. The lesson? Marketing matters. – P. 148

As the founder or originator of a creative pursuit, you may find yourself acting and thinking as the sole owner despite the presence of your team. But if you fail to share ownership, you’ll also fail to get those around you to care. This is not about money; it’s about mentality. – P. 160

As you lead creative pursuits, find ways to incorporate elements of fun that keep you and your team motivated and engaged over time. Every creative effort has a project plateau where momentum is most often lost. – P. 175

“When ideas prove to be great, the CEO takes tremendous pride. When things are rough, it becomes a blame game.” – P. 176

As you assemble teams around creative projects, probe candidates for their true interests – whatever they may be – and then measure the extent to which the candidate has pursued those interests. Ask for specific examples and seek to understand the lapses of time between interest and action. When you stumble across an Initiator – someone who has passion, generates ideas, and tends to take action – recognize your good fortune. Nothing will assist your ideas more than a team of people who possess real initiative. – P. 179

You should foster a chemistry of complementary expertise. This is the “T” – where the long horizontal line at the top of the letter represents an individual’s breadth of experience, while the tall vertical line represents a depth of experience in one particular area. “The benefits of having ‘T’ people on a  team is that everyone is able to relate across boundaries while also covering depth in one particular area.” – P. 180

Measuring work by time spent working is seductive, because it’s easy and objective. But doing so defies the realty of the creative work flow and will ultimately damage morale. – P. 181

The pressure of being required to sit at your desk until a certain time creates a factory-like culture that ignores a few basic laws of idea generation and human nature: (1) When the brain is tried, it doesn’t work well, (2) Idea generation happens on its own terms, and (3) When you feel forced to execute beyond your capacity, you begin to hate what you are doing. – P. 181

Early and complete consensus on a team project is comfortable but almost always unremarkable. Leaders of creative teams should identify and highlight the noteworthy, memorable solutions at both ends of the spectrum that, in all likelihood, are not agreeable to all. – P. 188

When it comes to making decisions, we should listen to all constituencies without feeling the burden to reach complete consensus. Ultimately, we must preserve the extremes and seek common ground on the rest. Otherwise, we risk mediocre creations. – P. 189

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower – P. 190

Leaders should talk last. “Here’s what I think we should do.” Jack Welch would explain his vision and reasoning. Then, after sharing his solution for the problem at hand, he would say, “Okay, now what do you think?” – P. 193

A creative team’s purpose is to generate, refine, and execute ideas. If you fail to capture insights from each member of the team, then you are actually losing value. – P. 194

The best leaders have a high tolerance for ambiguity. They don’t go nuts over the unknown, and they don’t lose patience when dealing with disappointments. – P. 205

“Visionary narcissism” – A leader’s default thinking that he or she is the exception to the rule. – P. 208

While our tendency is to approach every creative project with a fresh set of eyes, we should also accept a groundbreaking realization: not much is entirely new, and yes, we can adequately learn from the past. – P. 208

Entrepreneurs should just try “to stay in the fifth inning forever” – meaning they should focus more on incremental progress than on the need to win. – P. 212

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