Book Review: Making Ideas Happen

When this book arrived, I tore open the box from Amazon to be met with the smell of excitement.

Back in 2009, I attended a SXSW interactive session about the Behance Network and the Action Method. One specific phrase from that session captured my attention:  “Nothing extraordinary happens by ordinary means.”  From that day forward I became an avid fan of the Behance Network and I visit daily to find inspiration from a variety of creative avenues.

When I saw that Scott Belsky (founder and CEO of Behance) was coming out with a book called “Making Ideas Happen”, I pre-ordered a copy without hesitation. This book had a lot of hype and I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.

I pretty much devoured it within a few days of receiving it. Armed with a highlighter and a pen, I scribbled in the margins and let my highlighter run dry.


This book is an extraordinary read for anyone in business – not just creative types or idea people, but employers and employees alike.  Chock full of insight from admirable companies such as IDEO and Zappos, it has an astounding amount of practical information and advice about how to measure success through action steps. Some of the advice may seem like “common sense”, but in the case of many companies throughout corporate America, there is little connection between “common sense” and bureaucratic reality imposed by micro-management and arcane corporate processes.

Brainstorming is the fun part but it’s easy to lose momentum once the rubber meets the road and you’re challenged to actually bring ideas to life. To push your ideas forward, you must develop the ability to endure theproject plateau.”

The project plateau is the most dangerous phase of a project. This is the part where Action Steps pile up and the team might start to doubt the idea. It is here that many projects fall apart or are abandoned. “The easiest and most seductive escape from the project plateau is the most dangerous one: a new idea.

New ideas are more exciting than action steps. Making ideas happen is hard work.


The Project Plateau

At the end of the day, it’s important to keep chugging along in your project through Action Steps. As long as you keep moving, you will quickly realize what you have to gain and what you need to change.

A few key points:

1. There are 3 elements to the Action Method

  • Action Steps should start with a verb and be organized per project. Refer to your Action Steps on a daily basis.
  • References are items that are related to a project but should be kept separate from Action Items.
  • Backburner Items are ideas that you can’t get to right now. They might be general ideas or related to a specific project improvements. This helps you to prioritize and focus your energy in the important stuff.

2. There are 3 Types of People

Dreamers, Doers and Incrementalists. The key is to balance each project with 2 of the 3 types below.

  • Dreamers have superb ideas but have a hard time following through on execution because they often jump from idea to idea.
  • Doers have a hard time thinking of ideas because they are obsessed with how to get things done. They focus on logistics and execution. Dreamers and Doers balance each other out.
  • Incrementalists are a little bit of both. However, they often run many projects at once, but may not feel they have the ability to see through in depth what they have achieved in breadth.  They balance well with both Doers or Dreamers.

3. Ceiling Height Might Affect the Way You Think

  • Taller ceilings encourage more free-flowing thoughts and are good for brainstorming.
  • Shorter ceilings may help you hunker down and focus when it’s time to plan.

4. Friction and Conflict is a Common Occurrence in the Creative Process

  • Conflict is good because it means people are passionate.
  • When issues arise it’s an important step to discovering issues early on and debating ways to finding solutions.
  • The answer is usually somewhere in the middle.

5. Skeptics are the White Blood Cells of Healthy Teams

  • They are the idea-killers that help keep projects on track.
  • If you continually add too many ideas to your project it might threaten the initial focus and drive.
  • Skeptics tend to be negative but can expose an idea’s faults and doubts early on.

6. Leaders Should Speak Last

  • A weird thing happens when revered leaders speak first; no one is willing to challenge them even though the leader might not have the best idea. Others become hesitant to disagree or offer up solutions for fear of rejection.
  • Instead, leaders should encourage the unity of the team to problem-solve and open up the discussion to invite participation.

7. Practicing The Action Method

Behance also offers tools for The Action Method including an online application for teams, paper products to help you stay organized and an iPhone app. However, you don’t have to use these specific tools to stay organized.  It’s really about creating a system that works for you and one that you can ritualize and stay excited about. For some, that might mean different colored pens and a small notebook. For others, it might be an iPhone app.


My Notebook

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the Action Method iPhone app because it seems to lack some features. However, I highly recommend Awesome Note as an great to-do list app. It’s incredibly flexible and provides organization by colors and icons.


Awesome Note App for iPhone

This is really a fabulous read and I personally feel like I walked away with an invigorating  perspective. Have you read “Making Ideas Happen”? If so, what do you think?