Book review: Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky

Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality

This is my second time reading this book, the first time being about two years ago. I don’t usually read a book twice or more unless it’s worth it so without further introduction let’s get into the good stuff.

The primary takeaway from this book would be the Action Method which has three components: Action Steps, References, and Backburner Items. The action steps are all the incremental objectives that you have to take in order to move forward with your project, the references are basically all the information sources that you have to consult from time to time in order to achieve the action steps and the backburner items are tasks that you might want to do in the future.

“Like most creative people, I’m sure you struggle to make progress in all of your projects, with the greatest challenge being the sheer number of projects before you! But once you have everything classified as a project, you can start breaking each one down into its primary components: Action Steps, References, and Backburner Items. 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. It is important to note that References are not actionable—they are simply there for reference when focusing on any particular project. Finally, there are 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.”

Start your Actions Steps with a verb “call, install, research, update” and so on. Make sure you always capture Action Steps everywhere, note them down as soon as they pop into your mind.

“Capture! Capture Action Steps relentlessly. During a brainstorm or a meeting, or on the run, you will generate ideas, and those ideas will disappear unless they are broken down into concrete verb-driven Action Steps. Collect them using whatever notebook or technology option you desire—but try to keep Action Steps separate so they stand out amidst your References and Backburner Items.”

If you are delegating someone else to execute the Actions Steps it would be a good idea to check the execution through “Ensure Action Steps” type of…Action Steps. Another type of managerial Action Steps is the “Awaiting Action Step”:

 “The last type of managerial Action Step is the “Awaiting Action Step”. When you leave a voicemail for someone, send a message to a potential customer, or respond to an e-mail and clear it from your in-box, you’re liable to forget to fol ow-up if the person fails to respond. By creating an Action Step that starts with “Awaiting,” you can keep track of every ball that is out of your court.”

The two-minute rule: if the Action Step can be done in under two minutes do it right away.

Always be shipping, always move forward, consider this your main obligation:

“Godin made the case that shipping is an active mind-set rather than a passive circumstance. “When you run out of money or you run out of time, you ship. . . . If your mind-set is ‘I ship,’ that’s not just a convenient shortcut, it’s in fact an obligation. And you build your work around that obligation. Instead of becoming someone who’s a wandering generality—and someone who has lots of great ideas and ‘if only, if only, if only,’ you are someone who always ends up shipping.””

Ultimately, success is a numbers game, it usually takes a lot of tries and failures to get to that winning idea (and this why it’s important to always ship):

“The truth is, creativity isn’t about wild talent as much as it’s about productivity. To find a few ideas that work, you need to try a lot that don’t. It’s a pure numbers game. —Robert Sutton, professor of management science and engineering, Stanford School of Engineering .”

The old reptilian brain is the source for the fear of risk and the fear of failure and one of the main forces holding us back:

“But the primal tendencies of the lizard brain to keep us safe by avoiding danger and risk are still potent. After the biology lesson, Godin explained that “every single time we get close to shipping, every single time the manuscript is ready to send to the publisher, the lizard brain speaks up. . . . The lizard brain says, ‘They’re gonna laugh at me,’ ‘I’m gonna get in trouble . . .’ The lizard brain [screams] at the top of its lungs. And so, what happens is we don’t do it. We sabotage it. We hold back. We have another meeting.” The lizard brain interferes with execution by amplifying our fears and conjuring up excuses to play it safe.”

Creativity works well with constrains in making ideas happen:

“It turns out that constraints—whether they are deadlines, budgets, or highly specific creative briefs—help us manage our energy and execute ideas. While our creative side intuitively seeks freedom and openness—blue-sky projects—our productivity desperately requires restrictions. “

Other subjects in this book are: the stories of how Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and Ji Lee former Creative Director at Google put their ideas into practice, the three categories of creative persons: the Dreamers, the Doers and the Incrementalists, the importance of architecture and the workplace in the productivity of the creative process, the concept of ROWE (Results Only Work Environment).

A good conclusion-quote to end this review would be this one:

“IT SHOULD BE clear by now that organizing life into a series of projects, managing those projects with a bias toward action, and always moving the ball forward are critical for execution.”

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