July 2011, Business Breakfast with Scott Belsky.

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Making Ideas happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality.

It was almost 3 years ago when reading Getting Things Done by David Allen that my life drastically changed. From being a highly disorganised whirl of stress and last minute hard work, I become organised and focussed with a mental clarity that I had never had before. It was incredible. But the effect wore off. It didn’t revert back to myself, but there was something about the Getting Things Done system (GTD) that made it hard work to just organise my work, sapping any creative thought I had when it came time to bring ideas into the world.

Enter Making Ideas Happen.

The way I see it, most productivity books from the 90s or even the 2000’s are based around office-chained middle managers and above whose work is in organisation and administration. “Making Ideas Happen” is about creativity and productivity in our mobile digital world. And it is the in our mobile digital world bit that makes this stand out against it’s predecessors. It deals with the always-on syndrome, or how to tackle our bad habits of checking Facebook when we’re distracted, or how to be creative in a group and harness tools like Twitter; clearly beyond the scope of GTD et al.

Scott divides the book into three parts, which are the three forces that he believes make ideas happen in addition to the initial idea: Organisation and Execution, Forces of Community, and Leadership Capability.

The first third, Organisation and Execution, is admittedly strikingly similar to GTD. It’s simpler and has sexier language (“Actions” rather than tasks, “Backburners” rather than the “Someday” list, etc), but does have a gem of a chapter called “Always Moving the Ball Forward.” Now the reason why I call it a gem is that it’s a phrase I use myself and in fact the whole chapter could’ve come from my own mouth – but that is the great thing about it – someone is finally writing down what I wish I could’ve learnt years ago but instead had to learn from hard experience.

Then into Forces of Community and Leadership Capability, Scott knocks out more great chapters that ultimately mean he is combining not just a to-do system, but an approach and even a culture for a creative work habit. And that’s actually what I feel I took away most from the book – I felt I had a stronger commitment to making ideas happen and that the culture of my work habit had been affected and imbibed with new vigour and focus.

However enough of my attempts to sound like an intelectual reviewer and into what I learnt. These for me are Scott’s best points:

  1. The Action Method is that any project in life has action steps, references (files, links, etc) and backburners (potential ideas and actions).
  2. Measure meetings in actions.
  3. 100% ideas x 0% execution = 0.
  4. Start every action with a verb.
  5. Always move the ball forward, i.e. everyday touch all your projects and push them forward, even if it’s a little bit.
  6. Projects have a project plateau – when the energy wears off. At this point, create new energy by adding a new idea.
  7. Seek constraint. A boundary in time and space helps you focus creatively, likewise a deadline forces innovative thinking and cuts out fluff.
  8. Reduce “insecurity work.” This is when you check your email over and over, or obsess over a very simple task with perfectionist acuracy because you’re distracting yourself from dealing with what really matters. Scott says to identity these habits, and you’ll catch yourself doing them.
  9. Ship it. This is Seth Godin’s famous phrase that means continually publish new stuff. It’s obvious, but when you read it, a light does go on and you get it in a way you haven’t before.
  10. Seek competition. Whether it’s with yourself, with a friend, with an actual competitor, or just plain ludicrous, competition certainly motivates me.
  11. Leaders should talk last. When you’re in a team or collaborating with a community, don’t say “This is my idea…. what do you think?” Instead listen to others, and then guide the conversation. (And if you’re Machiavelli, guide the conversation to your idea.)

Of course there are dozens of other great points in there (a lot, for instance, on appreciation, which makes one think of Ken Blanchard and the One Minute Manager.) But these are the ones that resonate most.

About the author

Andrew Ellis
Founded Like Minds in 2009. Andrew is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor. He founded design agency Icon in 1983 (sold to AGI Media) and Eyetoeye, one of the first digital agencies in the UK, in 1994. He advises start-ups and digital agencies on business development and is an Evaluated Consultant for Finpro, the export arm of the Embassy of Finland. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in 2000.

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