Thursday, July 14, 2011

Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky - 9 Self-Leadership Tenets for Creative Business Professionals

Generating ideas is easy. It's executing them once they're exposed that's challenging. For six years, creative industry guru and entrepreneur, Scott Belsky, studied prolific creative professionals. He found that those most successful used a structured business approach. This seems counter-productive for a group of professionals often whimsically stereotyped. He details his findings in his new book entitled, "Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision & Reality." Following is the last of eight articles highlighting Belsky's message. Here, the focus is nine self-leadership tips for creative professionals, although they're applicable in any idea-generating situation.

Find a Path to Self-Awareness. The forces of organization, community and leadership capability often elude us. That's because we have a tendency to constantly generate more ideas, as well as isolate ourselves. The best way to track our tendencies is to be self-aware. It's a critical, deeply personal leadership skill that focuses on emotions, not actions. Some creative leaders engage in group therapy, allowing them to be in the moment and really listening to others. Group therapy members develop a contained set of relationships, mirroring the real world but in a safe environment. Expressing raw emotions in a safe environment provides a catalyst for understanding what lies beneath them. Increased self-awareness provides a better understanding of ourselves, enhanced, lasting relationships, and great decisions. They're all needed to help you gain respect and confidence to lead bold pursuits.

Develop a Tolerance for Ambiguity. Patience helps us avoid brash decisions based on emotion instead of intellect, when confronting ambiguity. The best leaders have a tolerance for ambiguity. They don't fret over the unknown and never lose patience when dealing with disappointment. They're able to work with what they know, identify what they don't know, and make decisions accordingly. They also believe in the law of averages. Over time, truth has a way of prevailing. A better practice is to develop a tolerance for momentary injustice and periods of ambiguity. Stay calm and strong. Situations settle over time; and the clouds around any period of change start to dissipate. Your fortitude will yield great respect and opportunity, rewarding you over time.

Capture the Benefits of Failure. When a project goes wrong, embrace its lessons learned. Acknowledge failure as a crucial part of the creative process. Most of us struggle with failure. We feel both a professional loss and personal hurt when our ideas fail. Projects that encounter, or end with failure have great value, but only if we recognize it and reap the benefits. When something goes wrong, ask three questions:

What external conditions may explain the failure?What internal factors may have compromised your judgment? When projects fall short of expectations, there's almost always something you could have done differently along the way. Ask yourself: if you had to pick two things that you would have done differently, what would they be? You needn't share your answers with others; but challenge yourself to respond.Are there any gems in the unintended outcome? Rather than dwell on what went wrong; consider what you may have inadvertently discovered.

Avoid the Trap of Visionary's Narcissism. Despite history, there's a tendency to think that a given opportunity or challenge is individual-specific. Belsky calls this "visionary narcissism"- a leader's thinking that he or she is the exception to the rule. Creative minds can obsess with the uniqueness of a particular problem or opportunity. They crave firsts, and love to do things differently. Approach every creative project objectively, while realizing not much is entirely new. And yes, we can adequately learn from the past. Challenge yourself to have some perspective. Today never feels like it will be history, but it will. It's likely that you'll reflect and realize that you should have known.

Combat Conventional Wisdom with Contrarianism. As you harness the lessons of the past, you must also question them. Creative professionals cannot become imprisoned by the status quo. "Contrarianism" is the act of purposely thinking against the grain when approaching problems and brainstorming new ideas. Contrarians are willing to manage (or embrace) the uncertainties and risks inherent in thinking differently. By questioning the norms they're bound to either find better approaches or to find more confidence in the old way of doing things. Following are tips for engaging in the practice of contrarianism and navigating the terrain of conventional wisdom:

Don't revere someone based on age. There's an inherent prejudice against young people. We question how much they could possibly know, given their relative lack of experience. Novices have legitimate advantages when it comes to detecting trends, adopting new technology, and attempting risky undertakings. More experienced creative types tend to avoid these elements. When working with novices, pass judgment on their raw interests and skills, rather than their age or number of years in the industry.Reconsider your approach to mentoring. Your tendency may be to seek veterans for guidance, connection and opportunity. Yet, your greatest advisers, partners, colleagues and financiers may be sitting around you, rather than standing in front of you at the podium. Society may suggest that you have the most to learn from those at the top. Make an effort to look around below you as well.Distinguish past accomplishments from present knowledge. We have a tendency to "rest on our laurels," but cutting-edge knowledge becomes antiquated quickly. Question the correlation between one's past accomplishments and present knowledge.Aspire to better practices, not best practices. Rather than default to the way things have already been done; recognize that anything can be done better. It's dangerous to passively accept advice. Conventional wisdom and "best practices" should be taken with a grain of salt and built upon, as we aspire to "better practices," (including, Belsky says, the advice in his book!).

Consider Yourself an Entrepreneur. For an idea to thrive over time, it must be treated as an enterprise. To lead an idea, ultimately, you're an entrepreneur. Stay focused on incremental progress vs. the need to win. The key to the start-up experience is momentum.

Be Willing to Be a Deviant. Deviants are maverick-like. They're willing to be unpopular, misunderstood, and even shunned from creative pursuits. Become emboldened by society's doubts, rather than deterred. Ideas aren't made to happen by accident or out of luck. Creative achievement is the logical outcome of doing something different, and seeing it through to completion. You must learn to gain confidence when doubted by others. The unchartered path is the only road to something new. Nothing extraordinary is ever achieved through ordinary means. Shed the obligations and expectations of the status quo; and organize and lead extraordinary ideas to fruition.

Keep an Eye on the Backward Clock. If you were told the exact year, day or time of your death, would you manage your existence any differently? We all have a final date and time ahead of us; but we're not burdened with a countdown. This is probably a good thing. There are benefits to keeping an eye on the backward clock hour. As you seek to capitalize on your creative energy, insights and ideas, the window of opportunity is always closing. A dose of pressure is a good thing. The fact that time is ticking should motivate you to take action on your ideas; and take risks. After all, time is running out. Get on it.

Understand the Love Conundrum. Love plays a strange role in creative pursuits. It creates a chasm between our vision and accomplishments. Love can lead to great disappointment.

Love drives us. Love keeps us engaged long enough to learn, experiment, and take bold risks. Love drives deep desire and interest in a topic, the ability to learn it, and the capacity to enlist support.Love disappoints us. Love plays a complicated role in creative work. It provides a paradoxical and interesting fact: The thing you end up making is going to be a failure, compared to your original feeling and vision. When you fall in love with something, you idealize it. You, develop a vision of it that's actually unattainable in reality. The depth of disappointment is in correlation to how beautiful your original vision.Reconciling love. Getting people to do something you love often means relinquishing control. You'll also realize that others will take credit for the outcome of your labor of love. Your challenge is to maintain an organic relationship your craft's passion. Expectations and rewards imposed by others will compromise you if you rely on them as the source of your interests. Stay focused on the intrinsic rewards of your work, and motivated by the means, rather than the end.

Raw curiosity and sense of wonderment drive our ideas, but bringing them to fruition requires unwavering commitment. Take yourself and your creative pursuits seriously. Challenge yourself to withstand the self-doubts and societal pressures that defy you. Use the above nine self-leadership rules to create something of value that's rewarding for you and enriching for all.

To learn how to make your ideas happen, visit,

Timothy Zaun is a blogger, speaker and freelance writer. Visit him online at

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