Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: Making Ideas Happen

According to Scott Belsky, the main problem for many "creatives" is that they are good at having ideas and not good at turning them into something real.  So, rather than write yet another book about how to generate ideas or find your muse, Belsky has written a book on how to make your ideas happen. (Of course, you knew that from reading the title.)

If this sounds like a big challenge for a short (230 page) book, it is. Belsky tackles a lot: there's a chapter on the "Action Method" which is yet another how-to-get-organized system.  (Basically, you break your life into a series of projects and for each project you have your "action items" or to-dos, you have reference items, and you have "backburner" items for later.)  Then there are chapters on dealing with others on a team; on harnessing a wider community; and on self-motivation.  As a result, while the ideas in the book are great, they do feel a bit rushed.  (Of course, Belsky has a website, the 99 Percent, and offers conferences, etc. to help you out and keep you coming back for more.)  And the book is well organized, well written, and I wouldn't describe it as "dense" by any means.

Still, I couldn't figure out why it took me so long to plow through such a short book.  Only in struggling to even write this review of it did I realize that the book has a rather dry, textbook like feel.  It's just not very inspiring.  Now, let me be totally fair here.  Belsky admits upfront that he's not looking to inspire you.  He assumes that the reader is someone who comes to the table with lots of ideas and motivation and just needs a structure in which to actually put those ideas into practice.  And he doesn't really care if your ideas are brilliant or mediocre.  In fact, he posits that someone like, say, Thomas Kinkade, the "painter of light" who produces some pretty awful kitschy art, has more "impact" (because he gets so much done) than a brilliant painter who doesn't actually do any painting (or doesn't get his work seen by others).

Yet, for me, the absence of inspiring quotes or ideas made reading the book seem like a homework chore.  (Note, again, the rather functional and uncreative title, "Making Ideas Happen.")  Yes, I have ideas for creative projects, but  for many of us inspiration, not just execution, is still part of the battle. This is one reason why a book like Rework is so much more fun to read, even if it gives you less practical advice.

Nevertheless, as a government worker there was one quote that I felt was worth the price of the book alone.  "Bureaucracy was born out of the human desire for complete assurance before taking action."  Not exactly inspiring but something that should replace those pictures of the President in every government office.  Insights like that got me to take notes on this book (I said it was like a textbook) and I will keep the book and refer back to it.  So I would recommend it --  just be sure to set aside some time to be inspired somewhere else.

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