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Making Ideas Happen: 5 concepts for moving ideas forward

3 Comments 06 April 2011

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I have worked at or consulted to many nonprofit organizations where ideas never come to fruition because there are key impediments to making ideas happen. At South By Southwest 2011, I attended Scott Belsky’s session entitled “Stop dreaming, start doing.” Scott Belsky is the founder of Behance, a creative network that empowers creative professionals to make ideas happen. Belsky’s session focused on why most ideas never happen.

I’ve been thinking about his session ever since. Here are five concepts to bring ideas to creation:


Take control of your own workflow

A wise friend once told me not to look at email until noon, but spend the first part of the morning working on my own “to do” list. How many of us spend much of the day answering SMS, email, Twitter, Facebook, and phone messages? Belsky contends that we are essentially living someone else’s “to do” list. The real challenge is to limit our interactions with outside messages in order to be more productive.

Creativity times organization = impact of the idea

In the equation above, all the creativity in the world without good organization still equals zero impact. There are so many creative ideas that are not executed because of lack of organization. I once worked with a client to develop an incredibly creative social media marketing campaign, only to have it lie in waste because two departments could not agree on who should execute the idea.

When you are dreaming up your next big idea, think about what you need to do to organize for its success. As a consultant, this means that I will also assess how an organization is set up to execute on the ideas generated to provide a sense of the chance for the success of any project.

Find sacred extremes in your idea concepts and cherish them

Don’t become burdened by consensus. I belong to a book club. When we first began, we chose the books to read by consensus. We always picked the lowest common denominator, the book no one objected to, instead of a book anyone really wanted to read. I was frustrated every month, but so was everyone else. Eventually, we decided that each month someone will choose what she wants to read, no matter how controversial that choice. I still believe Crime and Punishment was one of the best books I’ve ever read (my book selection) but I surely believe my fellow book club pals do not. I exposed them and they expose me to new books and ideas by standing by our individual selections.

Belsky said, “try to find sacred extremes.” Sacred extremes are those one or two things that you think will make a project remarkable. Go into the meeting leading with your extremes, and hold onto them. Every project should encourage its team members to find their sacred extremes and defend them fully. Conversely, project leaders must also value these extremes and really take them into consideration. The best ideas come from those who feel passionately about them.

Find and empower the network weavers

In every company, there is the person whom everyone goes to when they really want something done. This is not necessarily a manager, or the most popular employee. Find out who holds the nodes of company information, and identify and reward them because they make things happen.

In social networks, these people tend to be network weavers. Network weavers may not be the most influential online, or the most popular, but they share information freely, connect people to one another freely, and pass ideas along to make them happen. There are people like that in every social network, in every online community, and in every online segment; find them and nourish them. Ask their opinions and bring them into the idea development process. Empower them to be your brand and idea advocates!

Create a backburner idea ritual

Every organization and consultant has great ideas to be acted upon at a later date. What do you do with those ideas? What do you do after a brainstorming session that creates a mountain of backburner ideas? Belsky suggests putting them in a notebook and going through the ideas once a month. What if, as a department or project team, you created a monthly meeting just to discuss the backburner ideas, move the good ones to action and leverage their utility, and discard the bad ones? Would this move more ideas to actuality?

Prioritize projects visually according to how much energy it will take, and compare attitudes

He suggests thinking about the energy that a project will take, and identifying all projects as idle, low, medium, high, and extreme energy needs. Place all of the projects on an Energy Line. Compare the energy lines of the various projects at the same time to create debate. For example, one member of your organization may think that creating an infographic every quarter takes low energy, while another may think it takes high energy. What does this tell you about the ability to bring this idea to fruition and how to make it happen? Could this change how you prioritize projects?

Further resources

Behance has a think tank called the 99%, which focuses on research about bringing ideas to fruition. I highly recommend visiting The 99% website, which is also a daily magazine, for more inspiration and research to make your ideas happen.






Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

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