Making Ideas Happen: Book review

Photo of book, Making Ideas Happen

Scott Belsky is the founder and CEO of Behance, with some wise words to share in his book Making Ideas Happen. The book is exactly what the title says. It’s a collection of information and instruction you can use to make your ideas happen.

Overcoming obstacles between vision and reality (the book’s tagline) requires a sort of process to follow, says Belsky. But he also notes:

“When a process is imposed on you externally, it can weigh you down and diminish your energy.”

Amen! The solution, he says, is to customize a process to your own personal preference.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like process, read this book to discover why you need one and how to follow a process that doesn’t have to be painful.

If you’re someone who loves process (hello, Six Sigmas!) and makes a living instilling process on others, read this book to humanize what you do more (and get buy-in from more coworkers). This book could open you up to a more simple way of doing things but still keep you process oriented.

For creatives, if you can get over being insulted over and over throughout the Introduction of this book (I’m not kidding), you will take away some very valuable tools.

The earliest and arguably most important one would be the Action Method. The Action Method is based on the idea that everything is a project. And for every “project,” you need a system to reach your goal.

Belsky has a nifty method that breaks down parts of your project into three categories:

  1. Action Steps – The actual steps you must take to move your project forward
  2. References – Project-related notes, sketches, websites, etc., that you may want to or need to refer back to
  3. Backburner Items – Tasks and ideas that come up that are not actionable now, but may be in the future

Simple, right? That’s the idea. If your process or way of organizing doesn’t suit you or isn’t simple enough, you won’t use it. Yet you need structure to move your ideas forward.

This structure works for almost anything. Test it out by using this method to organize your e-mail. At work, you can use it on most projects and jot down action steps, items of reference and backburner ideas during meetings.

Use it in your personal life to:

  • Plan a remodel of a room or home
  • Keep track of all you have to do when buying and/or selling a home
  • Set up a financial plan
  • Plan a long vacation trip
  • Create a “to do” list for the week

Possibilities are endless. If the process were more specific and lengthy, chances are uses for it would be specific and limited too.

Belsky doesn’t just talk about process though. He explains how to work smarter and manage better through the three sections of his book:

  1. Organization and Execution
  2. The Forces of Community
  3. Leadership Capability

For a guy who started off by insulting creative people, he sure did put a lot of effort into helping us as well. His ideas for creating and maintaining a productive workplace are easily doable and right on the money.

When you read this book, you might want to keep some paper nearby to keep track of action steps that come to mind, references, and backburner items. Here are just a few tidbits you’ll find yourself underlining:

“A fearless approach to sharing ideas is one of the most common attributes” among successful creative people.

“Smaller, more confined spaces may help us focus more intently, while wide-open spaces with higher ceilings foster a more unencumbered way of thinking.”

“Writing is a particularly labor-intensive exercise that calls for pure discipline and perspiration…Sheer perspiration will only come from organizing your energy and holding yourself accountable with some sort of routine.”

The book holds probably thousands more fresh ideas on conflict, apathy, leadership, productivity, skeptics, brainstorming, best practices and more. I wish I could list them all.

This is the type of book that excites you while you read it, because you feel like you can’t wait to put these ideas into practice.

So, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this review and go make your ideas happen!


Your experience doesn’t have to end when you finish the book. You can download a free template of an Action Pad (to help you create Action Steps), join the 99% community, and attend the 99% Conference. Also, I was not compensated in any way for writing this review. I just spotted the book online after hearing about and thought it sounded interesting. I was right.

Plain Jane vs. Sesquipedalian Sam

Who would you want writing your marketing materials?Picture of Jane Jetson with money

Jane, who speaks simply in words that are easy to understand? Or Sam, a loquacious elocutionist who insists that utilizing an elevated vocabulary will enforce an auspicious level of austerity any audience will recognize as intellectually superior?

Wait just a minute, you might be thinking. What audience are we writing for? Ahh. You got me. I was trying to trick you, so let me answer clearly here:

  • If you’re writing for the general public, pick Jane.
  • If you’re writing for people who know English as a second language, choose Jane.
  • If you’re writing to a group of Harvard professors, opt for Jane.
  • If you’re writing to a collective of multi-degreed clinicians, select Jane.
  • If you’re writing to members of a Congressional committee, elect Jane.

Are you out of your mind? You are probably thinking this and wondering if you should stop reading now. After all, we’ve all seen and heard the words that Congress and clinicians and academics use. Heck, we’re pretty sure Sesquipedalian Sam works for all of them. And he probably works for lawyers and financial companies too.

But times are changing—and rightfully so.

In fact, the government is even leading the way. (Check out They have made some very public efforts to put up websites, print materials and create forms that people can understand.

Do you really want to lag behind the government? The most notorious snail on the sidewalk of progress?

Why keep it plain? Simple—to save money.

What?? You probably thought I was going to say to:

  • Help your readers understand
  • Build trust
  • Save time, because people scan more than they read

Yes, those are excellent reasons. But money motivates and you actually can save a ton of money by communicating more clearly.

Statistics on cost savings

  • As much as 40 percent of the total cost of managing all business transactions is spent on problems caused by poor communications.
  • The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs saved more than $40,000 per year just by revising one letter. (One letter!)
  • Federal Express saved $400,000 by rewriting ground-operation manuals—that was just in the first year. (Source)

You’ll save money by reducing lawsuits. The need for customer service calls will drop. And building trust builds business.

Look what happened when a Baltimore Sun headline writer used the word “limn.” (“Opposing votes limn difference in race.”) Readers complained with four-letter words of their own.

One reader, Carol N. Shaw (who graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Maryland) called using “limn” in a headline “unbelievably arrogant and patronizing.” And it is.

I’m all for increasing your vocabulary, but “limn” belongs in the crossword puzzle, not the headline. And, in case you’re wondering, it doesn’t belong in your marketing materials either.

The whole point is to use simple words to make it easy for your message to be read by all audiences.  Or, you can utilize multisyllabic verbiage to assist in engaging your audience in a continuum of communication.

The choice is yours. Do you want to sound smart or do you want to be smart?


For more on plain language, check out the Center for Plain Language, CDC’s Simply Put, and the Plain Language Association InterNational (PLAIN).

AT&T’s Blackberry ad wins by using nostalgia

We’ve all been driving and a song comes on the radio that reminds us of a former love or an old memory. Sometimes we feel instantly warm inside or sad or start laughing at a goofy incident from years past.

We all have other places that bring up memories. I remember my first big-girl movie. My dad took me to the Keswick Theater to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Keswick is no longer a movie theater. Instead, it’s a small concert venue. But every time I go back there, I have this warm feeling inside thinking of walking to the movie theater and other fond memories of growing up in Glenside.

Both are examples of nostalgia and can be the key to successful advertising.

One year ago, Stuart Elliott of The New York Times said, “As the recession continues taking its toll, marketers are trying to tap into fond memories to help sell what few products shoppers are still buying.” That still holds true today.

The key to evoking nostalgia in advertisements is to create a scenario that’s more likely to evoke positive memories—and to appeal to a large group of people. Then, if you’re lucky, that positive association drifts toward your product as well.

AT&T does a fantastic job of this in their new commercial. Check out the ad here:

What do you think?

I instantly smiled and had a strong urge to find some bumper cars to ride. My dad even said how much he liked the commercial when it came on while we were hanging out together this weekend. So, that’s two generations who agree. (And my dad and I don’t often agree!)

Did you catch the expression on the man’s face in the elevator? Wouldn’t you love to feel that way at work?

Business meet fun. Fun, business.

Given that tagline, AT&T could’ve gone another direction and simply showed people having fun at work. Adding a nostalgic childhood element to it made it more than just watching people having fun, we could actually identify with them.

They took a place where many people these days don’t feel good and transformed it. And that’s how you get your audience to engage.

Look at some of the viewer comments (from YouTube):

I like this ad. The world-speeding-up idea is well captured. Next time I start to roll my eyes at middle managers carrying on during a meeting, I’ll imagine them twirling in teacups… lol. <LilyOmori>

I’m addicted to watching this commercial! It’s so cool! When fun meets business, that’s the life I want! <Tehtarik1996>

All I have left to say is, “Well done.” In fact, I liked the commercial so much, I won’t even mention that awful name Torch. With solid advertising and the Blackberry name, it probably doesn’t even matter.


Want more nostalgia? Bookmark Popular Nostalgia. Want to read more about branding and advertising? Check out the Branding Strategy Insider and the Warc blog—found some great stuff there.

5 tips to survive layoff season

In honor of Labor Day marking the unofficial end of the summer season, I’d like to give some tips as we approach our next season—layoff season.A photo of office man with helmet on

I know, I know. I realize the sad irony here. Labor Day was originally “dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”

Yet, in what has recently become an annual rite of passage, this is also when executives go behind closed doors to decide which of these workers to erase from their expenses spreadsheet.

Marketing departments tend to be an easy target. Alas, fellow marketers, we have been through this before. So, I’ve gathered some tips to help you get through the next few months.

1.  Update your resume. This should go unsaid. But I’m stating it anyway because many workers still do not pay attention to this. Every time you accomplish something major or demonstrate a new skill, add it to your resume. At the very least, update your resume at least twice a year.

Not only does this prepare you to look for a job immediately after layoff, but it also keeps you ready to move up internally.

2. Share your ideas. Every day employees come up with fantastic ideas on how to improve products, save the company money, serve customers better, increase efficiency in their department, and more. The problem? Very few employees share these ideas.

Now is the time. Write up a proposal and show your boss. If it really is a great idea, guess whose name is less likely to come up at layoff time? And, if you have a history of great ideas, that would help even more.

Even if this doesn’t save you, it just might give you an edge over the competition when you’re interviewing for a new job.

3. Work hard. No, I’m not telling you to work hard to save your job. The truth is that layoffs often have more to do with numbers and politics than they do about actual job performance. So why work hard? For your own sake.

Employees who are depressed or upset about layoffs often slack off. “I’m just going to get laid off, why should I care?” I get it, but it’s the wrong approach.

Working hard is more about keeping your own integrity intact. When you do better, you feel better, and this time of year it’s all about taking care of you, which brings us to number 4.

4. Take care of yourself. Layoffs are stressful—both before and after they happen. Work hard , but don’t work so hard you have no time left for yourself. Make sure you eat right and exercise. Rest, give yourself breaks and do things you enjoy.

5. Let go of what you cannot control. Worrying about whether your name will be called when layoffs come will not do any good. Worrying can’t stop you from being laid off, but it can do serious damage to your health and the relationships with people you love.

Protect yourself. Protect your health. And keep on living your life. Focus on what you can control. These 5 steps are a good start.

Good luck, and feel free to add more tips that work for you.


Some “feel good” places to go on the web: Zen Habits gives all sorts of great advice. Here’s 100 ideas to make your life better. And check out these sites for info on women’s health and men’s health.