New ideas can be like a drug, says Scott Belsky, co-founder of Behance, a New York-based company focused on empowering creative professionals. “For a passionate person, the more you care about what you do, the more you’re trying to solve a problem, the more ideas you’re going to come up with,” he says. “There’s a tendency to be addicted to the energy and excitement of new ideas, but that’s not a long-term high – it’s short-term.” That desire for variety is easy to understand, says Belsky, but if you want to accomplish anything substantive, you’ll need to stop chasing novelty.
The real battle, he says, becomes focus and sustained effort: “As you enter the project plateau, it’s about how to keep yourself engaged, even how to trick yourself into being engaged. That’s the art of execution.” So how can you resist the siren call of sexy new ideas? Here are three tips from Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality.
- Listen to Trusted Colleagues. “When we come up with ideas ourselves, we’re drunk on them,” he says. “We don’t have a sober bone in our body to recognize what’s working and what’s not.” Reach out to your brain trust to get their honest opinion – and leave your defensiveness at the door.
- Have a Bias Toward Saying No. “In day-to-day operations, the tendency should be to kill new ideas that can get us off track or over budget,” says Belsky. On the surface, that may sound antithetical to the creative process – shouldn’t we embrace innovation? But Belsky says it’s a matter of timing: “You have to know the difference between regular operations and the 1% of the time when you’re coming together to brainstorm and solve problems. It’s during that 1% that you have to suppress the immune system of the team and let new ideas take hold.”
- Be Stingy with Your Resources. It’s a brilliant new concept – why not try it out? Belsky says to stop right there and pull out your checklist. “An idea happening is the perfect storm,” he says. “There’s a confluence of events that needs to happen. You have a need for whatever the idea proposes, you have time when you can focus on it and pursue it, you have the resources required, you have the capacity.” Do you meet every single one of those criteria? If not, think twice, because (whether you admit it or not) you’ll be making tradeoffs: “It’s very dangerous to pursue an idea without any of those pieces, because you’re depleting something else.”
It can be hard to turn off the spigot of inspiration, especially when a new idea seems compelling. But embracing the unglamorous slog of execution means you’re more likely to make an impact. Ask yourself, says Belsky, “What is the problem we’re trying to solve? Who are the people we’re trying to serve?” If you stay focused on the end result, it’s easier to kill the tantalizing distractions along the way.
How do you ensure your best ideas actually come to fruition? What’s your system for generating –and triaging – new concepts?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on June 29, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.