Aaron Sumner


SXSW Interactive 2009 Day Two Takeaways: Making Ideas Happen

I'm a little bit behind on my synthesis of tweets from SXSW Interactive 2009. Here is the first of a series from my Saturday sessions–I'll type up the others as I find pockets of time throughout the day.

My first session, Tips for Making Ideas Happen, was perhaps the best session I've attended so far. Scott Belsky of Behance shared results from his interviews of not just noted creative-types, but creative-types who are also insanely productive in what they do. Simply put, organization is just as important as creativity for ideas to come to fruition. Lack of accountability, leadership, quality networks, and feedback also keep ideas from happening.

Based on their research, Behance has developed a Getting Things Done-like approach to productive creativity called the Action Method. The basic formula it attempts to fill is making ideas happen = creativity + organization + community + leadership. A few tips:

To quantify it again, another formula: creativity X organization = impact. In other words, 5 X 0 = 0, 100 X 0 = 0, but 3 X 2 = 6 … . The old adage about 1% inspiration and 99% inspiration applies.

Note: I omitted the remainder of my tweets on this topic–here are the rest of my notes. Sorry, I'm coming close to information overload now. Apparently, I took a lot of notes at this session!

Belsky is, like me, against the notion of holding meetings for the sake of holding meetings. He proposes measuring meetings in action steps, and asking "could this have been done another way?" such as e-mail or another communication mechanism. If there's nothing to meet about, don't meet.

Publicize productivity and relish progress. Belsky's visual here was a wall covered with giant post-its of notes, action items, and so on that had been generated during the group. From my own experience, this seems like the point at which a group has the most energy–we've jotted down our ideas, decided who's going to do what, and then go on our separate ways. I've been thinking about this in terms of general project management–if everyone can see everyone else's progress, and we celebrate those reached milestones, things might keep happening more fluidly than they do in our current models.

Belsky had several tips for creating and capturing action steps, including holding each other accountable for the capture process (see previous paragraph). An "energy line" can help visually balance high-energy and low-energy tasks so we don't overload ourselves. An "action area" is a useful space for tasks that can be completed by anybody with a spare minute or for whom it's convenient.

One thing I wanted to focus on is Belsky's mention of roles in making ideas happen. There are dreamers, there are doers, and then there are "incrementalists"–people who are a little bit dreamer, a little bit doer. Generally speaking, it's good to match dreamers to doers, but it's also good to match the incrementalists up with someone who can keep their work in-check. I found this idea of incrementalism interesting–what type of role do you see yourself fitting?

To make ideas happen, seek cross-pollination–don't just seek feedback from your closed circle. Look for advice and commentary from people outside your comfort zone. Along these lines, stop focusing on input from the visionaries–get perspectives from others, too.

Share your ideas liberally, even if they're half-baked. Don't worry about idea theft–any idea that's easy to steal probably isn't that great of an idea, anyway (this one is hard for me). Don't become burdened by consensus–this yields the lowest common denominator. Get respect for yourself and get over the stigma of self-marketing (another one that's hard for me). Leaders should engage emergents by "talking last"–or not talking at all.

Reduce your "insecurity work:" Analytics, measurements, etc. Value your team's "immune system" by knowing when to kill off deadly projects (great advice). Seek restraints to help define your work. Timelines, budgets, etc. are positive forces. Seek them if they're not given to you.

When building a team: Judge on initiative over experience, and bring in people more likely to show initiative in the future. Value chemistry over people: Hiring a group of all-stars doesn't guarantee success (some of the USA Olympic basketball teams, or the New York Yankees, come to mind here). Build teams that sync well.

Gain confidence when you are shunned! Nothing extraordinary is achieved through ordinary means. Finally, find competitors and use them as a catalyst for your own ideas and work.

And now I'm done with my notes on Making Ideas Happen. Again, excellent session.

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