The Behance Action Method is a productivity system proposed in Making Ideas Happen, a book written by Scott Belsky. The basic premise of the system, which advocates focusing on forming concrete action steps in order to get things done, can be summed up in a simple equation: Making Ideas Happen = (The Idea) + Organization and Execution + Forces of Community + Leadership Capability. Targeted mainly towards “creative-types”, the book still offers a cornucopia of useful advice for those without a creative bone in their body. Before jumping into the overall critique, let’s break down the various parts of the equation first.
Organization and Execution
According to the Action Method, the first step to making ideas happen is to organize them into the proper buckets. These categories are (1) Action Steps – specific, concrete tasks that inch you forward (2) References – non-actionable information that helps you focus on any particular project and (3) Backburner – things that are not actionable now, but may be someday. Knowing where to put an idea is critical for getting it out of your head so you can actually focus on taking action. However, the system doesn’t get into too much detail though before moving on to the next step. Instead, it would have been nice to see how Action Steps could be broken down further, perhaps by incorporating the Priority Matrix which segments tasks based on their Urgency and Importance.
Within the Execution Process, a laundry-list of tips is given. These include:
- Act without fear or conviction
- Kill ideas liberally
- Measure meetings with action
- Always follow-up relentlessly
- Have a tempered tolerance for change
- Progress begets progress
Generally, speaking this is all great advice, but there is a lack of structure to all this common sense. Instead of a clear framework or process to follow, the reader is just given a number of tips without a way to make heads or tails of the situation.
Forces of Community
This section starts out very intriguing as it offers up a new lens of segmenting the types of people in a community – there are the Dreamers, the Doers, and the Incrementalists. Dreamers are people with real talent, but who never seems to get their act together. They are fun to be around but struggle to stay focused. While they are more likely than anyone to conceive of brilliant solutions, they are also the least likely to actually follow through. On the other side of the spectrum, Doers are the people who focus obsessively on the logistics of execution, but lack imagination. They often love new ideas, and their tendency is to immerse themselves in the next steps truly needed to actualize and idea. If a brilliant and sexy idea seems intangible or unrealistic, Doers will become skeptical and appropriately deterred. The downside is their ability to come up with the right ideas in the first place. Finally, there are the Incrementalists. These people are able to shift between distinct phases of Dreaming and Doing, basking in idea generation in one day and pushing ideas into action the next. This appears attractive, but the downfall of the Incrementalist is that he or she will often find himself starting too many projects and not seeing each one to its full potential.
When you put all these people together though, you get the stories of great success. The example is given of Apple as such an instance, where Jony Ive (Chief Designer) serves as the Dreamer, Tim Cook ( Chief Operating Officer) serves as the Doer, and Steve Jobs (Chief Executive Officer) serves as the Incrementalist. While a touching story, the metaphor completely overlooks that each of those people were already accomplished business leaders before joining forces. Regardless, the analogy doesn’t even matter, because the book goes on to completely ignore the different roles in later chapters.
Instead, the remainder of the section is used to sell the idea that seldom is anything accomplished alone, so one must learn to partner with others. The power of a network and the benefits of sharing your ideas are expounded ad nauseam – it allows you gather feedback, it creates a system of accountability, it spreads the burden of execution, etc. While all of these are true, the much harder part of the process is how to reach these key actors outside your direct influence. And unfortunately, the book turns once again to sharing common sense platitudes rather than giving concrete advice.
An example of such advice is to “be open, honest, and transparent,” but it’s not like I was lying to others or to myself before. Another piece of advice is to “go all in yourself, commit yourself in order to commit others.” This is also important, but committing yourself is more of a prerequisite of networking, than the networking itself. It also fails to address the difficulty of committing to a new idea in the first place – namely, the high risk and uncertainty that comes with it. Finally, there is a section that urges the reader to create a tight circle of friends to encourage each other and to engender some friendly competition. I completely agree, but mainly because social facilitation is a well documented phenomenon. Unfortunately, rather than explaining how to find this group of friends, the book merely goes on to explain how a group should be managed, as if finding these people in the first place will not take any effort at all. Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel like most people already implicitly understand that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with - the much harder part is finding those five people!
Moving on to the final part of the equation, the book does offer some solid ideas on how to lead teams. It argues that completing bold, innovative ideas requires a long-term focus. Therefore, the allure of traditional short-term rewards should be avoided in place of staying disciplined about the big idea. While this section also reads like a long list of ideas, I felt that at least a lot of advice wasn’t obvious.
Leadership is about instilling a genuine desire in the hearts and minds of others to take ownership of their work on a team project. As President Eisenhower once noted, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” Give them room to make mistakes, focus on just their results. Don’t be burdened to get total consensus, “cuz it ain’t gonna happen.” Give credit to others, let the team share in the glory, let them know they are appreciated. Additionally, hold back criticism, unless absolutely necessary, and allow others to make mistakes. This is similar to Dale Carnegie’s advice to “Be lavish in your praise and hearty in your approbation.” Along those lines, allow others to speak their mind first, leaders talk last. Identify and openly reward top performers, so others can see the good example. Seek out the hot spots in your company and listen to their thoughts.
Beyond the meaningless formula presented upfront (Does doubling “Leadership Capability” really equal two times “Making Ideas Happen” without “Forces of Community” and “Organization and Execution”?), there are many other signs that the book was written by an MBA grad. Many of the areas he probably takes for granted – having a tight circle of friends or plenty of great ideas – are not simple things to come by for most people. In the end, Making Things Happen reads too much like a collection of stories from Goldman Sachs and other famous people the author met in business school, rather than a robust framework for getting things done. Therefore, while all the advice is valid and important, the lack of structured details or unique insights leads to a system “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”