I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Scott Belsky for an episode of the Future Squared podcast.
Scott is the author of the bestselling books Making Ideas Happen and his latest book, The Messy Middle, which explores finding your way through the hardest and most crucial part of any bold venture.
Scott founded Behance, the leading online platform for the creative industry to showcase and discover creative work, and served as CEO until Adobe acquired Behance in 2012 for $150 million.
Scott also founded 99U, a publication and annual conference devoted to productivity in the creative world and serves on the Board of the Smithsonian. Scott currently serves as Adobe’s Chief Product Officer.
Below, I’ve summarised 32 big lessons from our conversation on building a company that stands the test of time.
To listen to the conversation, search for ‘Future Squared’ wherever you get your podcasts, or tune in below.
On Peaks, Valleys and the Middle Journey
- It’s the volatility of the middle journey that defines teams, products, and companies
- At the valleys, we’re not our best selves because we make decisions out of fear
- At the peaks, we’re not our best selves because we falsely attribute success to things that we’ve done before to things that work, and start to become headstrong and not as paranoid as you need to be and that’s why incumbents get disrupted by new companies.
- Luck can be timing and finding the right people
- Luck is awareness of the opportunities around you — ask questions, be less self-absorbed, and capitalize
On Creativity and Innovation
- Creativity is probably a combination of childhood trauma, mistakes of the eye and connecting dots and seeing where they go without any clear plan
- Time is key to innovation — keeping those windows of non-simulation open so you can churn through what’s in front of you and allow your mind to just wander
- In this hyperconnected age where you’re constantly keeping up with your inbox and you’re overwhelmed and managing inflow, maybe being disconnected is a competitive advantage. Taking the time to disconnect and have original thought is becoming the real scarce resource.
On Celebrating Small Wins
- Supplement your short term rewards with incremental rewards you make out of the blue. Celebrate small wins, but don’t celebrate fake wins at the expense of hard truths (eg. not media mentions).
- An essential trait of a leader, that’s not as common as it should be, is to give their people context as to where they are in the journey.
On Resourcefulness and Raising Capital
- You should get more nervous when managing investor money because you’re now pregnant and all in
- Resourcefulness is more important than resources.
- Scarce resources is a forcing function for ingenuity, for hiring people for the right reasons, for great operations, for creativity.
On Self-Awareness and Radical Transparency
- Self-awareness is the only true sustainable competitive advantage
- Become obsessed with seeking out negative feedback — it’s gold for your career — every little dose of it can change the trajectory of whatever it is you’re about to do
- Your longevity over time will be determined by an awareness of your weaknesses as much as your strengths
- Have a policy of ‘sharing what’s on your mind’
- We’re all playing a game of the emperor has no clothes where nobody tells each other what they really think, and the more you lean forward and declare what it is you’re seeing and what doesn’t make sense to you, you’re doing everyone else a favor and catapulting the product.
On Teams, Decision-Making and Productivity
- When you’re inexperienced, you have to over-index and overcompensate for the things you will inevitably do wrong. This means long hours, and working weekends.
- Sometimes we overintellectualize business plans and strategies when at the end of the day, it’s about people who want to work together.
- You can get a team of all-stars together and still fail, and a team of neophytes together and still succeed. The difference comes down to the relationships amongst your people.
- Tension is crucial to progress — and you need to hire people that are comfortable with tension.
- Nothing kills a team faster than apathy.
- If you’re having a conversation that doesn’t have disagreement, you’re wasting your time because it’s a nice to have, not a need to have. Get the debate out to the front and center fast, and have the disagreement — that’s a big part of success.
- Organizational debt is one of the biggest productivity killers. It is the accumulation of decisions that should’ve have been made but weren’t. There is a benefit to decisiveness.
- If you make the wrong decision, you learn faster than forever agonizing over what the right decision is.
- Make decisions quickly, so long as your organization is tuned to reverse the wrong decision quickly. It clears cobwebs, keeps people engaged and it clears organizational debt.
- Find and limit the things you are repetitively doing that aren’t moving the needle forward, but you keep doing just to assure yourself that everything is okay. This extends to checking your mentions, social, analytics, sales, email, etc.
On Fighting Complacency
- In order to fight complacency, be optimistic about the future but paranoid about the present.
On Large Organizations and Startup Acquisitions
- You can have a dream job in a large organization, providing it’s with the right company. And the beauty of that is that if you get something right, you can push it to millions of customers immediately.
- Organizational self-awareness is critical when it comes to acquiring smaller organizations.
- The worst acquirer is one that doesn’t know what it’s bad at.