SXSW 2011: Stop Dreaming, Start Doing: Tips For Execution

Scott Belsky

The problem is that most ideas never happen. Sure, some ideas should never happen. Even the greatest ideas suffer horrible odds. Ideas do not have to be because they’re great or obvious.

The Project Plateau

You’ve got a great idea, it’s exciting and you’re loaded with energy. Eventually you hit this plateau where your creative energy dies, and you give up on it. But as humans we love having these great ideas, so instead of completing the first one we just create a new one; over and over.

  • How organized are you? Only 7% of people say they’re very organized.
  • Lack of Leadership Capability: not being able to leverage your team and use people for what they want/need/can be used as will fail.
  • Lack of Feedback Exchange: we’re not getting the insights we need to keep going.
  • Disorganized and Isolated Networks: We’re not thinking about professional networks in putting our ideas together.

Making Ideas Happen

  • Creative Ideas
  • Organization and Execution
  • Communal Forced
  • Leadership Capabilities

Overcome Reactionary Workflow: email, SMS texts, facebook, twitter, etc. These things pull us away from what our overall goal is. Ceativity * Organization = Impact: If you have all the creative inspiration in the world, but no organization, your impact will still be 0.

The Action Method

  1. Action Steps: the ideas
  2. Back-burners: everything that piles up on our desks
  3. References

Action Steps

If you enter a meeting and you don’t exit without knowing anything, then you shouldn’t be doing them. Standing meetings, or creating an agenda are good. Having a culture of capturing Action Steps where you confirm they’re written down what they need to do (it’s kind of Big Brother). Another good technique is to go around in the last few minutes of the meeting and confirm everything there is you’ll need to do based on this meeting, just to confirm you gathered it all. If you do not do this, then you’re just destine to have a meeting again in a couple weeks.


Progress Begets Progress: Hang things around your desk with milestones and tasks (such as sticky notes) to make sure you’re doing things. Prioritize Projects Visually: make a chart with project priority board with Extreme, High, Medium, and Low. This way you have accountability to say “I didn’t get project X in High done as project Y in Extreme was mentioned as more important.”

Reduce your amount of insecurity work (facebook, twitter, analytics, etc). The best method is to ignore everything until a certain time you set in every day (such as at the end) and then handle it all then instead of trying to handle it throughout the day.

Types of People

  • The Dreamers: Tendency is to always focus on the new. Right before execution they want to add all these new features. They’re always thinking how they can make it better and add things to the project.
  • The Doers: They are the downers. They don’t want to do things as they have deadlines they will not make.
  • The Incrementalist: Very good at rotating between the Dreamers and Doers. Sure, you’d think this is what you want to be. Instead the problem with them is they just end up creating too many different things.

There really isn’t a good type of person. The best thing to do is to assign these to someone, and only have them focus on their own category. Then rely on your community to keep you accountability. But should you be scared that the community will steal your ideas? Well, the idea is no ideas ever get done anyways, so even if they get stolen at least you were more inspired to attempt it. As well, if they idea is so great then it’s probably not something easy to do that anyone else wants to do anyways. Another technique is to share ownership of ideas because everyone will have different views and approaches to complete the goal. Basic line: The benefits of distributing ideas outweighs the costs.

Seek Competition

Don’t get discouraged if someone else has already done it. What we’ve found are the most successful companies have spent time thinking how they can pace themselves with other similar businesses or ideas. Fight your way to breakthroughs by arguing about a topic as people get emotional about it, and great ideas come out. Eventually people will start to give in with Apathy and just say, “fine, whatever.” When that happens, don’t let it. Make them argue back. Don’t be burned by Consensus.

Overcome the Stigma of Self-Marketing

Use twitter, facebook, newsgroups to get people involved in your idea or product.

Leaders Talk Last

Let everyone else talk first, and then voice your opinion after you have a chance to absorb everyone’s ideas. If you talk first, then everyone else will just agree with what you’ve said and you’ll never get their ideas heard.

Value the Team’s Immune System

The Dreamers need to be the only ones involved in the Brainstorming process. The Doers then need to be involved after the initial Brainstorming, and the Dreamers need to keep silent. It’s the best way to get through things and result in a finished project.

We need to say in the business plan to allow for failure. You should plan for 20-30% of your development to be failure. This way you have that time, and your company will be the most creative.

When you’re interviewing new people for your team you should ask then, “What did you do to take initiative on your hobby/interest/experience XYZ?” Their initiative is more valuable than anything else; since just doing it isn’t taking initiative.

Gain Confidence From Doubt

When more and more people start to doubt you, you start to become more confident. When 99% of people think you’re crazy, you’re either crazy or you’re on anything. Society is very critical and shuns what society celebrates. Usually everyone who’s successful has dropped out of college or done everything no one said they could do.  So, honor this. Do this. Be this.

Nothing extraordinary is every achieved by normal means.

Posted in SXSW 2011.

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