Read: May 2023

Inspiration: Read as preparation ahead of moderating a Q&A conversation with Scott Belsky


Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.

“The Messy Middle”, published in 2018 by author, entrepreneur, investor, and Head of Strategy at Adobe Scott Belsky, is a guidebook for entrepreneurs and creative professionals navigating the challenging and often chaotic middle stages of a project or venture. Belsky acknowledges that the journey from initial idea to successful outcome is filled with uncertainty, setbacks, and unexpected obstacles. The book provides practical strategies and insights for managing the messy middle, emphasizing the importance of resilience, adaptability, and embracing the iterative nature of the creative process. Belsky explores topics such as decision-making, team dynamics, staying focused, and dealing with failure. The book encourages readers to reframe challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, and to persist in the face of adversity. Ultimately, “The Messy Middle” offers valuable advice and inspiration for those seeking to navigate the messy, but crucial, stages of any creative endeavor or business venture.

Unedited Notes

Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.

Scott Belsky founded Behance 2006, acquired by Adobe 2012, no linear journey to success, journey of creation is about “relative joy”—endure the lows and optimize the highs to withstand volatility, obsession with starts and finishes but that misrepresents the reality and key moments but less good for headlines, Behance desgined to connect and empower creative professionals (bootstrapped for 5 years with no VC, founded Behance in 2006 with little traction at first, need to short circuit reward system but also do not celebrate false positives to mask hard truths—be cognizant of what deserves celebration, financing should not be celebratory—means responsible for more, not the goal, goal is having customers use new features effectively, etc, adapt to parallel processing to progress with omnipresent anxiety, balance of self awareness as well as comfort with being outside societal standard/weirdness, “insecurity work” is work that has no intended outcome, does not move the ball forward, quick that can do unconsciously multiple times per day—need to be aware and minimize time here (self assuring but not actionable), structuring an organization for long-term patience and strategy is important—not just saying patience (Bezos specialty), see out long term vision and not just make decision for short term transactions/gains as may be missing out, conventional advice is learn most from failures but also learn a lot from successes—million reasons why something failed but few reasons why things go well, find strengths, why study best runners/athletes when want to improve, nothing disrupts resourcefulness more than a sudden infusion of resources (e.g. VC money), culture is not 1 happy hour, it is the stories people tell, “the products you use influence the products you create”—adobe realize their tools determine fate of designers creations (adobe designs the design tools), boulders and pebbles are 2 types of problems encounter in a project and people tend to tackle pebbles for sake of completion and “progress” when avoid more consequential issues, good teams are not conflict avoidant—front stabbing is good (vs backstabbing), straightforward conflict is when people care and want to resolve realities, hardest part of product iteration is maintaining simplicity—simple products drive success but hard to balance and seek to add new features and optimize, “first mile” of your product experience is critical to gaining users (particularly those past early adopters), users need to know why they’re there, what they can accomplish, and what to do next, first 30 seconds must be the hook but recognize people are lazy (tours are good) and what to see how benefits self (not bad thing, just nature of people engaging with new apps—ego centric), also key is not explaining product—doing is best/engage immediately, sequencing of customers is very important at start—from those willing to try/test to those testing but forgiving for bugs then those who can take it viral/share, there are valuable customers (highest LTV) and there are profitable customers—these follow viral cohort in terms of stages of customer engagement as biz matures, behance’s narrative was about the plight of creative professionals—felt like not getting proper credit, wanted to empower—upload portfolios for exposure and attribution (without need for agency or other leg ups), important to understand you serve a network not own it (you are a steward), best to market>first to market, curiosity is a form of deprivation, an information gap (not removed from primal instincts), invest in teams who are riding tailwinds to make something happen in better way—not a team trying to defy a likely outcome, “do remarkably unscalable things” at the start of a business to differentiate (“the art” that will build a brand), maintain this art as you grow

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Welcome to JeffReads, where I share summaries of the best books I’ve read on business, politics, science, technology and more.




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