For decades the entire creative world has been propelled forward by the concept of brainstorming. Alex Osborn, the father of brainstorming, showed us how we could get groups of people together and, magically, come up with a room full of ideas. Unfortunately, this is where the story usually stops. As Thomas Edison famously once said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”. This is a book about the 99%, so get ready to sweat. Get ready to make your ideas happen.
Scott Belsky, the founder of Behance and the 99% Conference has dedicated years to researching how creative teams can become more productive and effective. In this book he’ll teach you how to take an idea and turn it into reality.
Part 1 – Organization and Execution
Any creative project hinges on the “little things” getting done. Even companies that are revered for their creativity and innovation like Apple have become masters of this. The only reason that we have the iPod, iPhone and iPad today are because of a relentless bias towards action. By studying the companies that are capable of marrying innovation with action, he developed what he calls the “Action Method”. Here’s how you can put it to use in your business today.
The first step along your 99% journey is going to be the realization that everything is a project. If everything is a project, then everything has to be managed. Good start. When you first start considering everything a project, things might get overwhelming. Here’s how you prevent this from happening to you.
Determine whether something should be an action step, a reference item, or a backburner item. Action steps are things that need to be done, reference items are things that you need to refer back to in order to get the action steps done, and backburner items are things that aren’t important to the project at the moment but might be at some point.
Associate every single one of these things to a project. If you can’t find a project to associate the item to, it’s likely that you just started a new project.
Assign every action item to somebody so that it can be “owned”. If nobody takes ownership of an action item, it doesn’t get done. And remember, an action item should start with a verb. For instance, “groceries” is not an action item, while “buy cereal from the grocery store” is. This is a seemingly small, but critical point to put to use.
Follow up religiously. If you delegate an action item to a member of your team, remember that you are still ultimately responsible for making it happen, so make sure that you create an action item to follow up with that person to make sure that the action item actually got done. Belsky suggests that you use the verb “ensure” at the beginning of this action item so you can easily search for all the follow-up items on your plate.
Design your own system. Make this system work for you by designing the mechanics of the system on your own. For instance, use a technology (whether it’s digital or analogue) that you feel comfortable with. He has found that people who have made their system “their own” are far more likely to actually follow through and use it than people who blindly follow a system made up by somebody else.
End each meeting you have with a review of the action items created in the meeting. Go around the room and have each person read their items aloud. If you have a meeting and it generated no action items, you just wasted a whole bunch of time.
Now that you are organized, you can start executing. Here are some tips to help you get things done.
Set the projects you’ve created onto a grid that determines how much of your team’s energy each project should get at the moment. Notice that we didn’t say amount of time – we said amount of energy. Set them into the following categories – extreme, high, medium, low and idle.
Work on the projects for the week that deserve your highest amount of energy. Remember to make the distinction between important and urgent – sometimes projects will seem very urgent, but in the grand scheme of things are not very important. Avoid devoting your highest energies towards these types of projects.
Create a daily focus area, where you pull about 5 action items into your day to focus on, based on the prioritization you’ve done above.
Create a responsibility grid so you know who takes care of the common issues that usually come up in the course of a week. Put the name of your team members on the Y-axis and the issues that typically come up on the x-axis. This will ensure that nothing gets missed as you implement your projects on a weekly basis.
Do an honest assessment of both you and your team. Most people fall into one of three categories – the dreamer, the doer and the incrementalist.
The dreamer is the visionary who can’t seem to stop moving from idea to idea.
The doer is somebody who puts their head down and gets things done, but can’t be depended on for creating a vision for the company.
In between those two are the incrementalists, who can switch from vision to execution when necessary. However, those people have their own challenges in the form of creating and executing too many ideas which stretches them far too thin.
You’ll need a team that has a mix of two or more of these roles.
Do these things on a consistent basis and you’ll be well on your way to making your ideas happen.
Part II – Community
You would expect a book about making ideas happen to end at execution, but that’s only half the battle. Why? Because with human beings nothing is as simple as breaking things down into a few simple tasks and then watching them unfold as planned.
One of the best ways we can overcome our resistance to making ideas happen is to push our ideas out into the community. You are probably a member of a bunch of communities – from the different networks that you participate with online, to the business community in your city, your family and even your neighborhood would constitute a community. Enlist the help of all of them.
The magic in this is that as soon as you declare your idea to the world, things start to change. Here are some of the things you need to do in order to harness the power of community:
Get over yourself. If you are one of those people who doesn’t feel comfortable with self-promotion, get over it. If you want your idea to succeed, you’ll have to let the world know about it. You’ll need to figure out what makes your idea relevant to the people you want to reach, and then devise a communications strategy to make it happen (which is beyond the scope of this summary).
Get feedback. Most of our ideas sound great in our head, and perhaps even with our internal team. The best way to see what parts of your idea are great and which need work is to get it out there. Let people tell you that it’s crazy. Let people tell you that it won’t work. Most importantly, this feedback will be from the people who will eventually consume your product, which is quite often not you. Your most important job is to figure out what to do with that feedback.
Belsky suggests we use a simple formula to help us make sense of the feedback: ask people what they think you should start doing, what you should stop doing, and what you should continue doing. Answer those 3 questions and no feedback will go to waste. Notice that each of those questions leads to an action.
Be accountable. When you declare your idea to the world, people will start to expect you to do it (imagine that!). When you get lazy and don’t deliver something you said you would, people will call you on it. There is no way to overestimate the power this will have in bringing your idea to fruition.
Create a group. Communal forces, as it turns out, work best in groups. Organizations like Vistage and YPO have gathered groups of CEOs across the world for decades, creating a dynamic that these leaders otherwise would not have access to. Make sure your group is made up of 15 members (or less), has a clear schedule to follow, meets frequently and has a leader.
Do these things and you’ll be well on your way to harnessing the power of communities to make your ideas happen.
Part III – Leadership
As Belsky points out, no matter what your role in your company is, if you don’t manage your project with your leader hat on, it won’t get done. Here are some of the ways that you need to rethink how you lead in order to get your ideas off the ground:
Rethink your reward systems. We are all hardwired to seek rewards in the short-term. This causes huge disconnects when our daily actions determine whether or not a long-term project is a success or not. Don’t worry, this isn’t your fault.
You’ve been taught to think this way ever since you joined the school system. In order to rethink the reward system you’ll have to go without what most people would consider “success”. Your project might not be a home run in the first quarter, or even the first year. Stick with it.
Stay engaged with incremental rewards. On the other hand, if you find it impossible to go without short-term rewards, make up some of your own. Maybe it’s doing a Google Search every day to see the increase in how much people are talking about your idea. Whatever it is, make sure it won’t take your day-to-day behaviour away from the long-term goal.
Focus on happiness. A lot of people would tell you that they are in it for the money, but most people are terrible at predicting what actually makes them happy. If you want your team to stick at it for the long-haul, you need to focus on creating a culture that makes them happy.
Incorporate an element of fun. I know this starts to sound a little bit wishy-washy, but there is increasing evidence that things like happiness and fun actually lead to successful completion of work. Remember, you are leading something with a long-term vision.
Provide flexibility. Unless your project requires that people be chained to their desks or to a boardroom table from 9-5 (or worse), give them some flexibility in how they do their job. Some companies have implemented a ROWE (results-only work environment). Even if you aren’t ready to completely let go of the reigns, consider that your job is to relentlessly manage for results, not for how and when people do their work.
Foster an immune system that kills ideas. This one may seem counterintuitive, but it’s critical to your success. Along the way you are likely to be driven to add new ideas into the mix, or keep expanding your idea. This is one of the main killers of projects – too many ideas to execute. Kill them before they kill you.
Manage yourself. This one could fill a volume of books itself. Being self-aware and knowing your limitations and what to do about them will allow you to build a team that will forge through to success.
So there you have it – everything you need in order to get started making your ideas happen.