“Ideas are worthless if you can’t make them happen.”
Making Ideas Happen, Inside Flap
We all have them.
Whether it’s a new marketing strategy, more effective fitness regimen, or a new business idea.
We always seem to have an abundance of ideas.
The challenge, however, is in actually Making Ideas Happen.
We often forget, coming up with the idea itself, is actually the easy part.
In fact, it’s only the beginning.
It’s like Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
Enter Scott Belsky and his (conveniently titled) book, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision and Reality.
As the Founder and CEO of Behance, “a company on a mission to empower and organize the creative world”, Scott has had the opportunity to study, and sit down with, some of the most productive creative teams and individuals in our world today.
From leading creative companies like IDEO and Disney, to creative leaders like author Seth Godin and Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh, Scott has learned about the habits, principles and techniques, these companies and individuals follow, to consistently Make Ideas Happen.
And it’s these principles and techniques that he shares in Making Ideas Happen.
Principles and techniques I’m glad I’m now aware of.
Because, I’m sure, like some of you, 6 months after thinking of that “genius” idea, it’s still sitting tucked away in my notebook – exactly where I left it.
The Action Method
“While you may enjoy generating brilliant ideas and imagining new possibilities,
you must approach every occasion of creativity with a dose of skepticism
and a bias toward action.”
Making Ideas Happen, Page 31
The Action Method is based on one simple principle: Work and Life with a Bias Toward Action.
Any creative endeavor you take on must be measured by actions.
Seems easy right? In fact, we probably already do this anyway, right? Wrong.
Too often we find ourselves in meetings or brainstorming sessions, just tossing ideas back and forth. Questioning, analyzing, and sometimes even debating, for the entire hour, without any real sense of actionable outcome at the end.
Sometimes no one even knows what the next steps are. Or even if there are any.
We also tend to get caught up in new ideas we generate. Fascinated by the new idea, we forget about the current idea we’re working on, and before long, it’s been weeks, maybe months, without any progress – in other words, no action.
And now, we have two “half-baked” ideas. Lovely.
Managing your time and energy is crucial in Making Ideas Happen.
And that’s why I love The Action Method as an approach to both productivity and project management.
It puts an emphasis on the one thing that pushes ideas forward: action.
So how does it work? The following 2 GEMs encompass the foundation of The Action Method.
GEM # 1
Everything Is A Project
“The Action Method begins with a simple premise: everything is a project.”
Making Ideas Happen, Page 34
Every idea, and everything you work on, is a project.
Doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional – treat each one like its own, individual, project.
Planning a surprise birthday? That’s a project.
Delivering a big demo on Friday? That’s a project.
Starting a blog? That’s a project.
When you treat every idea like a project, you’re assuming that these are ideas you want to push into action. They’re ideas you want to act on and see through to completion.
And we can’t ignore the fact that our ideas are not only limited to work. Whether it’s a surprise birthday party, new fitness regimen or an upcoming fundraiser, we have ideas and events outside of work that we are working on as well.
If we fail to consider these as current projects, we’ll grossly underestimate the available time and energy we have available to work on other projects.
GEM # 2
Action Steps, References and Backburner Items
“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.”
Making Ideas Happen, Page 34
Every project has three primary components: Action Steps, References and Backburner Items.
Action Steps are the most important component in the project. They are the specific and concrete tasks that you or someone else does, to move the project forward. Each action step must be owned by someone and should start with a verb: design the birthday invitations, write the demo scenario script, book the hall for the fundraiser.
If you need to follow up with, or wait for someone to complete an action step, capture this in your action steps. For example, “Ensure Alex books the fundraiser hall” or “Awaiting confirmation from Lisa on demo date”. This ensures you don’t forget anything important.
Finally, “capture action steps everywhere”. Just like ideas, action steps aren’t limited to come up in meetings. Whether you’re reading this article, engaged in a lunchroom conversation or on a phone call, capture your action steps.
“No Action Steps, no action, no results…
Action Steps are to be revered and treated as sacred in any project.”
Making Ideas Happen, Page 37
References are not actionable. They are the handouts, notes, sketches, meeting minutes, etc. that we refer to for information. They are simply there for our reference.
Backburner Items are ideas that are not actionable yet, but may be later on. They’re new ideas we might come up with, but aren’t relevant to the project right at this time. For example, maybe you came across a new WordPress theme that might be useful for your blog, or maybe you thought of a new demo scenario that can be used in the future.
Although they’re not actionable, you still capture these items, since you’ll forget them if you don’t (Trust me, I know because I have J). In fact, Scott recommends that you create a “Backburner Ritual”, where you make it a habit to periodically (i.e. monthly) revisit your Backburner Items. These can often lead to new ideas and projects.
I love this approach. Focusing on Action Steps, References and Backburner Items, simplifies the process. You’re not lost in the “different phases” of the project. You’re focused on three primary components, with a bias towards action, which ultimately moves your ideas forward.
How you actually manage these is up to you. Scott and his team have created an online application for The Action Method, but I just created an Excel Document with three worksheets for now: Action Steps, References and Backburner Items.
In fact, I put all of my Action Steps across all projects on one list, as suggested by Scott. The idea is that maintaining several Action Steps lists just isn’t practical. You’re bound to miss items as you jump from list to list. So when it comes to Action Steps, I just have one list, where I identify: The Action, The Project, The Due Date. I’ll usually just sort the list by due date and project. Highlighting critical items in Red and completed items in Green. (Click here to download a sample Action Steps list.)
I was skeptical at first, but as someone who had several TODO lists before, this new approach has really helped my productivity across projects.
Picking only one or two key ideas from Making Ideas Happen really doesn’t do it justice. Aside from The Action Method, Scott shares other fantastic ideas to help us push our ideas forward (i.e. “Short-Circuiting the Rewards System”).
Since I started following The Action Method, I’ve seen a vast improvement in my focus on moving my ideas forward. So this is one book I am definitely keeping close by, to re-read and reference, as I continue my pursuit in Making Ideas Happen.
To quote Ji Lee, Creative Director at Google Creative Labs, “This book is like a Swiss Army knife for ideas.”