The forces that help us be productive and execute our ideas are often the odds with the very source of our ideas: our creativity. -Scott Belsky
Years ago while I was still a student at College for Creative Studies I met a man who was an excellent storyteller. When he told me his ideas for a story he wanted me to illustrate, I was excited about the wonderful things that could come from our collaboration. Unfortunately, although his story was thought-provoking and interesting, years after he told me about it he still wasn’t done writing it. To this day I don’t think he ever finished it. All the grand ideas of making the story into a play or novel never went anywhere. I know others, some even dear friends of mine, who are gifted in writing, fashion and other things. A lot of them have a similar story. When I would try to do a project with them it never worked out. Nothing of significance was ever accomplished. Even I have started projects that were left on the shelf to collect dust.
In Making ideas happen Scott Belsky gives ways to combat the problems that stand between grand ideas and turning those ideas into reality. Scott splits these ideas up into 3 categories: 1) Organization and Execution, 2) the Forces of Community, and 3) Leadership Capability.
Organization and Execution
The first section (and in my opinion the most important) focuses mainly on discipline in developing a method to get work done. He starts with stories of incredibly talented people whose lack of discipline prevented them from having the success they desired. He then gives examples of people who critics dislike, but are very successful. Blesky points out that the difference between the less-talented successful creative and the more-talented unsuccessful creative is discipline and organization. After the stories, Scott describes his action method. In his action method, he separates everything into 3 categories: action steps, back burner items, and references. From there, he explains the ways that our creativity gets in our way. In short: we get excited and really motivated to start a new project, but as the project goes on the excitement fades and the work feels like work. Then, a new idea comes and we are distracted by the high of starting something new, which prompts us to leave a project half done. I’ve been guilty of this all to often.
I don’t believe the muse visits you. I believe that you visit the muse. If you wait for that “perfect moment” you’re not going to be very productive. -Michael Lewis (author)
Belsky then gives us practical advice by giving us a central part of the process of being a productive creative person: having a daily routine of creative work. This is easier said than done. However, it is hard to make an excuse when given the example of John Grisham, a bestselling novelist, who while he was practicing law he would wake up and start writing by 5:30 am for five days a week. Belsky concludes that worst time waster of them all: the work we do out of being insecure. This includes checking Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and whatever other websites we use to share our work. I am personally guilty of using social media to waste time. I know it is good to be aware of the platforms people gravitate towards, but it can distract us from essential work we need to do. I have gotten better at managing my social media usage by limiting myself to one visit per week to check the traffic of my website and social platforms.
The Forces of Community
A good self-marketing strategy should start with intrinsic interests that can become personal projects-projects that demonstrate your strengths. -Scott Belsky
The next section is all about engaging the people around you, both, when it comes to producing work and when it comes to promoting your work. Belsky challenges us to do some uncomfortable things. We need to examine ourselves and understand our strengths and weaknesses. Then, we need to seek out people to partner with us who have what we lack. Belsky encourages us to share our ideas with people because that is how support comes. Also, he expresses that ideas die when they are not shared. I think the most uncomfortable suggestion mentioned in this chapter is sharing workspace. To me, people are very distracting and make me uncomfortable, especially when I’m figuring out a problem or correcting a mistake in a painting. On the other hand, I’ve also seen the benefits of sharing workspace. It opens up opportunities to collaborate with people, get feedback, and learn from each other. Even if you do your work alone, it’s important to get feedback from artists, clients and other people you interact with.
The section ends with advice on marketing yourself. Belsky explains that we should focus our efforts on an ongoing marketing campaign rather than a onetime thing. The campaign should focus on something you like to do and that you do well. Social media has made self-promotion easier than ever because of it gives people the ability to follow your work. This allows us to build respect and keep our work in front of our audience.
The last part. It’s last for a reason… it doesn’t apply to everyone. Before I started teaching, I wouldn’t have understood why leadership skills even applied to artists and creative people. At some point you will have an idea or a task that is too big for you to do by yourself; that is where leadership comes in. In my 3rd year of teaching, I got assigned all sorts of things to do for the school where I was working. I learned that teaching a class where everyone did work individually was much more different than leading a team to make one big project. Scott makes some good points in this section that are for people who lead teams. One point is to not be a micro-manager. Another is to make the work environment one that makes the team motivated with rewards, flexibility and recognition. He also suggests that we should be more focused to the strengths of others and builds them up rather than just pointing out weaknesses. He ends the book with advice that is focused on knowing yourself and your motives, taking advantage of other information gathered from other’s experiences, and not becoming fixated on other’s experiences
After reading the book, I started putting some of the advice into practice. Not that I was very unorganized before, but I still wanted to get more done. I really enjoyed the stories in the book. Some were cautionary tales and others showed how getting organized and getting involved with a community helps a person. Overall it’s a great book. A lot of books only focus on methods that can be applied, but this book gives lot of examples of how it actually looks when it is applied in the lives of real people. If you’re looking to get more done and to become more productive in getting things out of your sketchbooks and in front of people, this is the book to read.