Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky – 6 Elements of a Successful Creative Team-Business Book

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Generating ideas is easy. It’s executing them once they’re exposed that’s challenging. For six years, Scott Belsky, creative industry guru and entrepreneur, studied prolific creative professionals. He found that those most successful followed similar procedures; which seems counter-productive for creatives. He details his findings in his new book entitled, “Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision & Reality.” Following is the sixth article in a series highlighting Belsky’s message. Here, the focus is building your creative team. Successful team leaders must strike a balance between flexibility and expectations, idea generation and execution and helpful disagreements and consensus.

Engage Initiators in Your Creative Pursuits. Effective managers measure a prospective employee’s ability to take initiative, rather than exclusively focusing on their experience. Productive teams are powered by people who pursue whatever interests them, even if sometimes prematurely. The best indicator of future initiative is past initiative. “Initiators ” attach themselves to an interest and then relentlessly advance it. When assembling creative teams, probe candidates for their true interests. Measure the extent to which the candidate has pursued those interests. Ask for specific examples and seek to understand lapses of time between interests and activity. Nothing will assist your ideas more than a team who possesses real initiative.

Cultivate Complementary Skill Sets. Some designers use the letter “T” as a model. The letter’s top, long, horizontal line represents an individual’s breadth of experience. The tall, vertical line represents a depth of experience in one particular area. Each team member should have both a general breadth of skills that supports collaboration and good chemistry, and a deep expertise in a single area, such as graphic design or business.

Provide Flexibility for Productivity. Realistically, ideas are made to happen in spurts. Rather than measuring work by time spent working, creative teams should embrace transparency; and strive to build trust between colleagues. Create rules and norms for the sake of efficiency, rather than as a result of mistrust. Some companies have implemented programs, including ROWE (Results Only Work Environment).A ROWE environment compensates employees based on their achievement of specified goals, vs. the number of hours worked. The ultimate goal is to empower employees to make their own decisions about when and where they work as long as mutually agreed upon goals are accomplished. People thrive when their judgment and autonomy are respected. ROWE and other attempts at hands-off management require establishment of concrete goals that are constantly revisited.

Foster an Immune System That Kills Ideas. A cohesive team develops new ideas and helps eliminate bad ones. Ongoing projects face risks when new ideas arise during the process. The ability to extinguish new ideas is critical to productivity and the capacity to scale existing projects. Team skeptics are always questioning ideas first rather than falling in love with them. They keep the group functioning and on track. Differentiate between skeptics and critics. Critics cling to their doubts and are often unwilling to abandon their convictions. Skeptics contrarily, are receptive to new ideas; they’re just initially wary and critical. The challenge is to balance idea generation and relentless focus. It requires allocating time for open idea exchange along with a healthy level of intolerance for idea generation during execution.

Fight Your Way to Breakthroughs. Conflict commonly occurs in any creative process. It’s a good sign and powerful opportunity to refine your ideas and methods. Successful creative team leaders value the friction that results when opinions vary among passionate creative minds. Despite the opportunities that conflict provides, we tend to shy away from it. Conflict is a by-product of different viewpoints, but don’t let it become a source of apathy. Imagine that a problem’s answer lies somewhere on a spectrum between A and B. The more arguing that takes place at both ends of the spectrum, the more likely it is that the complete terrain of adequate possibilities will be explored. The more individuals involved as the team brainstorms the solution, the better. As creative team leader, promote healthy debate between people with different levels of influence and experience. When you sense shortness or impatience, ask, ” How can we keep all options on the table?” or “Since we’re all trying to find the best solution, why are we getting impatient with each other?” Many successful creative teams share the tenet that they’re comfortable fighting out their disagreements and diverse point of view. But they always share conviction after the meeting. Your team is more likely to conceive breakthroughs if its chemistry is strong enough to capitalize on conflict.

Don’t Become Burdened by Consensus. The ultimate challenge in collaborative projects is understanding how to draw on the best input of all without settling on the lowest common denominator. Consensus can often lead to a lackluster outcome. When working with an extended team of stakeholders, listen to their stories, gather knowledge about all their viewpoints and identify the “extremes” that will differentiate the project. Hold these extremes sacred. Incorporating two extremely different viewpoints into a project might signal an “either/or” decision. But, consensus can often be achieved by taking an “and/and” approach. Teams should not strive for complete consensus at a project’s outset. Preserve the extremes and seek common ground on the rest, otherwise, risk mediocre creations. Choose a process that engages all, while preserving the extremes that make an idea extraordinary.

To build a high-performing creative team, look beyond technical skills. Develop a chemistry that will transform ideas into remarkable accomplishments. To learn more about Making Ideas Happen, visit

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