Scott Belsky knows a thing or two about bringing ideas to fruition.
He's the founder of the Behance Network, the world’s leading online platform for creative professionals. He's also founder of The 99%, Behance’s think tank and annual conference devoted to execution in the creative world. And he created Action Method, a popular online/mobile productivity application and line of organizational paper products.
In a recent interview, the author of the bestselling book, Making Ideas Happen, explained how to keep ideas alive, bring them to market and cross the finish line as a winner.
Q: What’s the harder step: vision to product or product to market success?
Vision to product, hands down! Why? Because vision is fleeting and taking incremental steps and surviving the doldrums of project management is extremely difficult. No technology or productivity insights can change the fact that most ideas never see the light of day. Once you transform your idea into something tangible…a product…it is now easier than ever before to spread the word because of the rise of “community curation” and interconnected flows of data.
Q: What happens more often: killing a good idea or sustaining a bad one?
Sustaining a bad one because it is extremely hard to kill our darlings. In any passionate pursuit, it is hard to incorporate feedback and recognize the need for change. We get headstrong with lust for our creations and lose our objectivity. As a result, we sustain bad ideas with a trickle of life; compromising our focus along as a consequence.
Q: At the early stage, how can one tell if an idea is any good?
Here’s the simple litmus test: Does your community care? Everyone has a “community” of constituents—customers, users, readers, clients, etc. Share your ideas liberally. If your community engages with them (either for or against them), then you know you’re onto something. If they don’t look twice you know that you either need to reconsider the idea or rethink how you communicate it.
Q: Why is it that some people can complete ideas and others just can’t?
Most of us struggle. However, some people and teams are able to complete ideas again and again. I am obsessed — my recent book Making Ideas Happen is about the topic — with those who consistently defy the odds. I have found that the “serial-executors” among us commit energy to thinking about HOW they stay organized, have found ways to leverage the forces of community, and are specially equipped to lead creative projects.
The most common challenge we face is surviving the “project plateau.” The project plateau is the pure drudgery in the middle stages of a project; ceaseless follow-ups and a lot of hard work with no clear end in sight. As we trudge our way through, we get easily distracted by life’s demands.
As creative minds, we also come up with new ideas, which entice us to escape the doldrums of the project plateau and start all over again with something new and shiny. The project plateau is especially difficult to endure without the usual short-term rewards that keep us motivated.
Q: What are the primary determinants of an idea’s success or failure?
The level of organization during the idea’s implementation, the extent to which a broader community is aware/engaged with the idea, and the leadership capability of the person who conceived the idea itself.
Q: Is it better to have first-rate people with a second-rate idea than a first-rate idea with second-rate people?
Great achievements can often be tracked back to great execution. Nobody knows about the great ideas that were poorly implemented…because they never reached their full potential. As such, I’d take first-rate people with a second-rate idea. Unfortunately, the quality of an idea is not correlated with the likelihood of execution. It’s the team—and their ability to execute—that matters more than anything else.
Q: Is it even possible for people make the transition from visionaries to implementors to managers?
Absolutely, but it takes a tremendous amount of introspection. The obstacles that we face during brainstorming, execution, and managing are all very different—and often diametrically opposed. We can change throughout the life cycle of creative pursuits, but only if we look within and recognize what we know, what we don’t know, and when we screw up and require help.
Q: How does one make people accountable for the success of their ideas?
Make it public. Public—communal—accountability is an amazing force that we should use more often…
Q: What are the best types of compensation to foster innovation?
“Compensation” can be both financial and non-financial. Whatever keeps you most engaged is the best form of compensation. Innovation happens out of passion to solve a problem and a deep genuine interest in the topic. As such, passion and genuine interest thrive more from non-financial rewards such as positive feedback from a community, the joys of play, and additional opportunity.
Q: What equipment and software does a person like you use?
I am a Mac user. I believe in TWO screens. Nobody would work on a desk that is fifteen inches wide, so why not aim for a larger desktop? I would rather have a slower computer with more screen space. Not surprisingly, I manage all of my tasks, both personal and professional, using Action Method on my iPhone and online via the Adobe AIR version of the application. Also, our team loves Google Docs.
You can follow Scott on Twitter at @ScottBelsky and get more information about bringing ideas to market in his book, Making Ideas Happen.