Even the most successful managers sometimes struggle to turn their ideas into reality. But some authors, creative teams or companies manage to be more productive than most. So, what distinguishes them from the rest, and what can we learn from them?
Over the past 5½ years, Scott Belsky, author of ‘Making Ideas Happen’, met with hundreds of individuals and teams at companies such as Google and Apple to find out how they go about executing their projects. He is the founder and chief executive of Behance, a self-described New-York based ‘creative professional platform.’ whose main aim is to help creative thinkers see their ideas develop into actual results.
‘We spend too much time focused on innovation and creativity and not enough time on the execution side. Ideas don’t happen because they are great or by accident. They happen because there are other forces at play,’ he says.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal in London, Mr. Belsky shared some of his tips for turning ideas into concrete outcomes. The interview has been edited.
Embrace ‘micro action’
A lot of the creative teams [I met with] will find micro actions to push ideas forward, rather than always sitting back and waiting for the perfect time. We are often are told to ‘think before you act’ but I found it’s never the right time to do something new. In fact, it’s always the wrong time because you always find a reason why you should wait.
Escape the ‘reactionary’ workflow
Everyone is struggling right now with the same thing. We have entered the era of reactionary workflow. We are constantly connected, have our devices with us at all times. Right now you are probably receiving emails, voice mails, text messages, Facebook messages…all of this stuff is coming to you. You could live a life of simply reacting to what’s coming in rather than being proactive in what matters most to you. You can slip into reactionary workflow the minute you get up in the morning with your phone and everything else. You can never have an impact on your long-term stuff. We will never push an idea forward unless we find ways to manage it.
Book time to think about the longer term
Executives I work with preserve what I call windows of nonstimulation in their day. They book themselves two- or three-hour chunks and they don’t focus on their to-do list or their email. Instead, they are focusing on two or three things that important to them over the long term. They are revisiting their business plan during this enforced period of [thinking] time.
How to avoid the ‘project plateau’
If you have an idea to write a novel, your energy and excitement will be extremely high. You are willing to stay up until three in the
morning writing that first chapter. But then four days later your energy is going to start going down. You will realize that you are behind on your other deadlines and you are going to find a million reasons to get back to what’s urgent. You then enter the ‘project plateau’ where most ideas die.
The one thing that’s really important to keep yourself engaged with a project even though it’s no longer new is to kill off [subsequent] new ideas. The whole premise of the project plateau is that there is a lot of energy and excitement when a new idea comes but it’s really important to work with people who are doers. If we spread our energy too thinly the main project suffers.
‘Insecurity work’ is bad for you
Five or 10 years ago, when you wanted to know how things were doing you waited for the data to get to you. You got a weekly report, or a quarterly report. Today, executives walk around with applications that allow them to see to the minute the number of visits to their website.
The problem with this is that there is a new type of work that we are starting to do. I call it insecurity work. It’s stuff that we do repeatedly throughout the day: searching Twitter for a keyword. When
you are leading a bold creative pursuit you always want to know that it’s OK. We should really delegate this work to somebody else. If your job is to lead a creative project, you shouldn’t be filling your day with this stuff.
The power of accountability
The power of accountability was a big theme that I saw in everyone that I met. They all had stories of having an idea within a company but not sharing it. And then suddenly for some reason putting it out there and being held liable for it. That was always a good turning point for them. Chris Anderson, author and editor-in-chief of Wired
magazine, says every time he has an idea he puts it out on his blog. People ask, first of all, aren’t you afraid somebody is going to steal your idea and, second of all, aren’t you worried that you are sharing it prematurely? The answer: the more I share the idea, the more likely people are to hold me accountable and help me refine it.