If you’re a visual creative, you need to be on Behance. The professional social platform lets artists, designers, and other creators share their work in high resolution and build a shareable portfolio. We talked to Behance founder Scott Belsky, now Adobe’s Chief Product Officer, about his work, his personal shortcuts, and his books on entrepreneurship and creativity.
Location: NY / SF
Current Gig: Chief Product Officer, Adobe; Author & Seed Investor
Current mobile device: Apple iPhone X
Current computer: MacBook Pro
One word that best describes how you work: Persistent
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve always had a love for both design and business, and have found ways to blend both throughout my career. In 2005 I founded Behance, a platform to showcase and discover work. Behance was a long journey that consisted of five years of bootstrapping and a little over a year as a venture backed company before we were acquired by Adobe in late 2012. The hardships we endured and the team we gathered helped develop me as a leader.
Our first product was actually an organizational product for creative teams called the “Action Book.” We literally sold paper products and tickets to events like the 99U Conference to pay the bills as we built the Behance Network! Today, Behance has over 15 million members, and I serve as Adobe’s Chief Product Officer, building products for creative people.
I am also an early stage investor and product advisor for companies like Pinterest, Uber, and Cheddar among others. Over the years, I have become fascinated by the stories of other entrepreneurs and leaders of big turnarounds, notably how they managed the volatility of their journeys. Five years ago this fascination became a book project called The Messy Middle, which just launched.
Take us through a recent workday.
I am obsessive about how I manage my tasks, how I keep track of longer-term priorities, and how I spend my time. I profess that I schedule every minute, but some blocks are scheduled for “clearing & follow-up” and “family.” I also challenge myself to be present wherever I am and prepare in advance to make time with others more productive.
My typical day begins with a breakfast with a mentor, friend, or a founder I am advising. Then I have a series of product reviews with teams, check-ins with my staff, and the occasional call with partners or entrepreneurs I work with or was introduced to. When I’m in New York, I try to get home for dinner with my family. When I’m in San Francisco, I typically have work dinners or bring a few fellow product-minded friends together for an industry conversation with no agenda.
Finally, at the end of every day, I take some time to clear urgent items in email, my action list (powered by Wunderlist), and in Slack. I hate being a bottleneck and consider “being decisive and not holding others up” one of the most important jobs of a leader.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I’ve been tracking my sleep lately with the Oura ring, because I want to better understand my habits. I love my DJI Mavic drone for weekend fun. Also, after trying so many different humidifiers, I must give a shout-out to my Dyson humidifier; it is the most reliable, silent, and effective one I have tried.
What’s your workspace setup like?
Like many of you, I am a mobile warrior! Sometimes I limit myself to my iPad so I can sketch as well as write. When I am in extreme productivity mode, I’m on my MacBook Pro.
I tend to outline my ideas and make slides using Adobe XD, one of my team’s new products for experience designers, which I have hacked to be an alternative to Powerpoint or Keynote. What I like about using Adobe XD is that I can make any number of “artboards” to show a story rather than tell it, and then I can quickly turn them into a prototype and share with a web URL that people can comment on. It’s smooth.
But I am also a note-taker and still use [Behance-produced notebooks] Dot Grid Books and the Action Book Mini for capturing tasks on the run.
What’s your favourite lesson about working with and for creative professionals?
Creative teams are visual and thrive off of the realisation that progress is being made. The greatest leaders of creative teams and projects are good narrators of the journey. They find ways to merchandise the vision using graphic representations of goals and team experiences so people really “get it”. Magic happens when a creative team is fully aligned with the goal as opposed to just doing the work.
It’s also important to manufacture milestones along the way in a long-term creative project. Unfortunately, we all need short-term rewards to feel motivated. So, when you’re making your way through a long journey with no end in sight, get creative and identify some achievable goals along the way that you can celebrate.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
I create keyboard shortcuts on my iPhone so I can send common messages to people with an acronym. For example, I have a sentence-long description for Uber drivers for where to pick me up in NYC, and all I need to type is “uberd” and that pulls in the entire sentence. I also use canned responses in Gmail.
I am constantly trying to parallel process monotonous work with something else. I try to read or watch something while I brush my teeth. When I am mindlessly organising, I am listening to a podcast. I schedule calls during transit to the airport, etc. When I’m in work mode, I want to feel fully utilised.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
Aside from my list of actions in Wunderlist, I keep a document I call “Active Tracking” in Evernote that lists the bigger issues and objectives I have for my teams and products. I try to review it quickly at least once every day, and doing so often prompts me to send some check-in messages to team members or change my schedule. These items are not “tasks.” Instead, they are priorities that I want to keep adding energy to.
I also try to audit myself at the end of every week by quickly reviewing my calendar and asking myself: “How much of what I did moved the ball forward?” Doing so helps me identify certain meetings that were a waste of time, and other conversations that were especially productive.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
My longtime assistant Nina knows my priorities and helps me achieve a balance between work and family time. She also has great instincts about which meetings and conversations need to happen sooner. We try to sit down and review the calendar ahead every couple of weeks, and we almost always make a few tweaks by talking through it.
I am also very reliant on my Chief of Staff, Emmy, whose skills are a great complement to mine. For example, Emmy is great at tracking processes and making sure the right people are involved with the right decisions, while I can sometimes be a bit process-intolerant. If it weren’t for Emmy, I would struggle to stay coordinated with many of the people I work with.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
Wunderlist for tasks, Evernote for objectives.
How do you recharge or take a break?
I try to take walks on the beach every month, even in the off-season. The waves clear my mind. And Netflix.
What’s your favourite side project?
For the last five or so years, my side project has been capturing all the insights for leading creative projects and teams that I hear, observe, or think about during board meetings or other moments of strife or resolution. Over time, my Evernote file amassed over 830 insights. A couple years ago I decided to organise them into three groups: Endurance, Optimization, and The Final Mile. After a lot of culling and aggregating, I ended up having ~120 insights that became the core content for The Messy Middle.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
This summer I read Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing and loved it. When I get a chance I am planning to read a new book by my friend Todd Henry about managing creative teams called Herding Tigers. Love that title too.
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
I want to know more about the people that design Cirque du Soleil—they are among the most creative and productive organisations in the world.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Keep making a ruckus” from one of my mentors, Seth Godin.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
How do you make creative products powerful enough for professionals but easy and accessible enough for anyone to use? As labour is increasingly commoditized and automated, creativity becomes a more important form of literacy that the next generation must have to be successful, yet alone solvent in the modern world. I want to help more people express themselves creatively, but doing so requires new approaches to building creative products and bringing them to market. It’s an exciting problem to solve.