June 7, 2010
Book Review: Making Ideas Happen
A helpful book of counter-intuitive pragmatism.
Years ago I worked for a visionary pastor who saw ‘the city on the hill’ that he believed our church could become and then he proceeded to lead us there. Using his preaching, pastoral care and personal charisma, he got everyone – or nearly so - focused on the one main goal of impacting our city for Christ. And because of his single-minded devotion, in time his vision became a reality. The church prospered, the community was blessed, and hundreds of lives were touched with the Gospel.
Unfortunately, that was the extent of his success. In subsequent years he lost his way. He regularly generated new ideas and strategies but hardly focused at all on the need for more organization and structure. He continued to change out staff and lay leaders, but spent almost no time building community with the ones who stayed. And he gave too little attention to the necessary practice of self-leadership. That, unfortunately, resulted in a tragic moral failure. Too bad Scott Belsky’s book Making Ideas Happen wasn’t around then. It might have saved our pastor, his family, and the church a lot of heartache and wasted resources.
Belsky’s passion is to help people put their best ideas into action. As the founder and CEO of Behance, a company devoted to empowering and organizing the creative world, he and his team interviewed hundreds of productive people and teams over a six year period to discover the principles behind their success. The result of their empirical research is this book, a systematic presentation of the necessary steps needed to bring ideas to fruition.
The great inventor Thomas Edison once quipped, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” For Belsky the perspiration part is composed of three overlapping forces: good organization and execution, the solidifying power of community, and capable leadership. Each of these is explained by a series of “mini-chapters” that demonstrate exactly how to bring your ideas from the world of creativity to the world of real life. In the author’s view, only by using all three forces can individuals and their organizations overcome such ever-present obstacles as disorganization, perfectionism, and undisciplined creativity.
One of the many strengths of this fine book is its counter-intuitive pragmatism. Some of its most useful suggestions are: when it comes to ideas “less is more”; momentum must be maintained by acting on ideas “without conviction”; both team and interpersonal conflict are not only good but essential for projects to come to fruition; “nagging” others really does help to get things done; and when it comes to being productive, competition can be your best friend. All of these principles – and more – are neatly explained and illustrated with engaging examples from Behance’s research. This makes the book a quick and enjoyable read.
In my opinion, a great number of pastors and Christian leaders could readily benefit from Making Ideas Happen. We’re often creative, idea-oriented types who love to cast the vision or promote the mission of our church or organization. But, as one noted Christian leader has said about vision sermons and mission statements, “If it’s hanging on the wall but it ain’t happening down the hall, it ain’t happening.” Belsky has given us an accessible guide to creating church and ministry systems that will produce what we’ve preached and promised.
Moreover, this book is a helpful and necessary corrective to the “great man (or woman) theory”of church growth and missional effectiveness. Without question there are some omni-competent evangelical leaders who have been used by the Holy Spirit to make a profound impact for Christ and His kingdom via their preaching, writing, and leadership. But if Belsky is right - and I suspect he is - underlying much of their success are empowered teams of both staff and lay leaders who serve as the hidden forces of Christian community. As he notes, “very seldom is anything accomplished alone” and there is “tremendous power waiting to be unleashed in the network” of most groups. This almost sounds like something the apostle Paul would write! And if Behance’s research is any guide, the implications of these principles are clear for Christian leaders. If more of us would simply begin to work with and through teams, our churches and ministries would likely see both our in-house ministries and external outreach to our communities and cities expand and grow.
At a personal level, my favorite part of the book was the third section, Leadership Capability. Belsky makes a number of stimulating and helpful suggestions such as “Leaders should talk last”, “Develop others through the power of appreciation”, and “Capture the benefits of failure”. This probably isn’t new information but collectively it serves as a necessary reminder that good leadership is a crucial element in making ideas happen. My thanks to Scott Belsky for giving us such a valuable guide as we seek, by God’s grace, to make Christ’s mission to a lost and dying world come to fruition through our work and ministries.