Getting Things Done for Creatives: A Review of “Making Ideas Happen”

Yesterday, I wrote about expanding your reading list. One of my suggestions was to look toward books mentioned in your RSS feed or other social media. One suggestion I came across was mentioned in Twitter. It linked to a talk by Scott Belsky. I found his ideas intriguing (I discussed his talk here), so I started reading his book, Making Ideas Happen.

Belsky’s main idea is that creative people tend to have lots of ideas on how to improve products or services, but they have difficulty executing those ideas. And that’s crucial because ideas are cheap. We have tons of ideas that come and go. But success only comes to those who can execute. Belsky believes that “making ideas happen” is simply a matter of satisfying a formula: Ideas + Organization and Execution + Forces of Community + Leadership Capability. With the exception of ideas, he then focuses on each element of the equation.

Regarding organization, Belsky offers a simplified version of David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Similarly, Belsy’s system is one of capture, categorization, prioritization, and review. Belsky’s key idea is the “action step.” These are concrete things to do (like Allen’s “next steps.”). As for execution, Belsky says to focus on those action steps, and employ methods to keep moving forward. These include things like killing ideas quickly and learning to fail faster. In this section, Belsky starts to introduce ideas mentioned in his talk. But the key is to locate the real gem ideas, work to refine them, and bring them to fruition.

Belsky believes in sharing your ideas widely. If you find others responding favorably to the idea, you’ll know you’re onto something. Additionally, he thinks such publicity and transparency will help you build a fan base, meet new people, and even encourage competition. Your fan base will serve to keep you accountable. New people might spark new ideas. And competitors will keep you motivated.

Lastly, Belsky talks about leadership: how to manage a team of creatives, and how to manage yourself. To successfully manage your team, Belsky talks about non-salary rewards, building in flexibility, and avoiding consensus (in the sense of avoiding lowest common denominator results). To successfully manage yourself, Belsky stresses self-awareness, because it will allow you to remain confident and comfortable in times of ambiguity or setback, to avoid narcissism, and to engage in contrarianism.

I found the book interesting, but not great. The book is probably most useful for someone about to establish a start-up business consisting of a few employees. But the freelancer working on his own will also find some useful advice. The chapters on organization are execution are the most helpful (but nothing really new if you’ve read Getting Things Done). The chapter on engaging the community are also useful, now that everyone stresses the need to use social media and to build a platform. Although Belsky says the book is geared toward “creatives,” it’s really focused on those who want to create start-up after start-up. Although job security is decreasing these days, so is start-up funding. Although many people may like the idea of being their own boss, some will likely have difficulty with the idea of embracing failure as calmly (if not eagerly) as Belsky suggests. I’d suggest checking out his talk and maybe skimming the book. No need to hang on every word.