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Making Ideas Happen by Scott Blesky
Behance : Surviving The Project Plateau

Surviving The Project Plateau

By Scott Belsky

When an idea hits, a rush of excitement compels you to capture it and roll up your sleeves. The first steps of implementation are easy, thanks to the honeymoon period that accompanies fresh ideas. However, as your initial excitement subsides, you will start to feel the burden of execution. Running lists of tasks, meetings, and late night drafting sessions will cause anxiety and sheer exhaustion.

Ideas are sexy and fun until they become projects.

As soon as you commit yourself to pursue an idea, it becomes a project. As you start down the path of execution, you will enter the project's plateau.

The project plateau is like an expansive desert, void of any oasis of inspiration or excitement. It is the pure drudgery in the middle stages of a project; ceaseless follow-ups and a lot of hard work with no clear end in sight.

It is no surprise that most bold ideas-turned-projects are abandoned in the project plateau. As we trudge our way through, we get easily distracted by life's demands. As creative minds, we also come up with new ideas which entice us to escape the doldrums of the project plateau and start all over again with something new and shiny. The project plateau is especially difficult to endure without the usual short-term rewards that keep us motivated. The usual financial reward and fanfare won't be there for you mid project. If you're starting a business, you won't have any clients or customers yet. If you're writing a book, you may not even have a publisher yet.

You know you're in a project's plateau when you feel isolated and uncertain if your idea will ever see the light of day.

Everyone has their own approach to idea generation. There's no "best way" to be creative. But when it comes to the process of executing an idea, surviving the project plateau is a common challenge we all face.

Do not fret! The project plateau can be conquered. It takes a new approach to projects and tweaking how you manage your energy. It also involves short-circuiting the ingrained reward system that governs your motivation and focus. For example, along the way I met with Ji Lee, a Creative Director for Google, who uses games as a way to engage his team (and himself) during long-term projects. Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, harnessed the power of happiness to create powerful non-financial rewards that fueled his company. And many other leaders and project managers that I met recognized the importance of breaking projects down into tangible, celebratory milestones.

Over the course of writing MAKING IDEAS HAPPEN, I had the opportunity to meet with especially prolific leaders and teams that consistently "finish" their ideas. The good news is that they are no more brilliant than the rest of us. Their expertise is their ability to traverse the project plateau. •

© 2010 Scott Belsky. All rights reserved.

Scott Belsky studies exceptionally productive people and teams in the creative world. He is the Founder and CEO of Behance, oversees The 99% think tank, and is the author of Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming The Obstacles Between Vision & Reality (Portfolio, April 2010).