Steal Like An Artist: Aug 2015 PM Book Club Review

Steal Like An Artist
Steal Like An Artist

Title: Steal Like An Artist
Author: Austin Kleon
Year: 2012 Book Club Review: August 2015

A book about artists for a project management book club? Really? Well, sort of. Steal Like An Artist is really about creativity, a necessity for any project. Projects are intended to deliver some unmet need via a set of limited time, money, staff, equipment, etc. An interesting thing happens when you ask people to achieve a goal with limited resources…they must be creative.

If you’ve read Steal Like An Artist, you know it isn’t laid out like most books. So, in the spirit of the title, the format for this month’s review will be stolen from the book.

1. Recognize the genealogy of ideas.

Creativity isn’t coming up with a new idea. Creativity is applying an idea in a new way. It may seem depressing at first, but when you break down any “new idea” it is really composed of many previously known ideas, just applied in a new way or given new focus. For example, let’s consider the iPhone. The iPhone is recognized as one of the most creative products of all time, but when you break down what the iPhone really is, the vast majority of the ideas (cell phone, touch screen, WiFi, icons, camera, etc.) are not new ideas at all. The creative genius was in the vision to combine those existing ideas and technologies in new ways.

PM Takeaway: Recognize the genealogy of your project. What historical ideas and events combined to drive the need for this project? Consider how past experiences of your team members could be applied in new ways for your current project. What lessons learned from previous projects should drive creativity for doing things differently on this project?

2. Build your “idea family tree.” 

Garbage In/Garbage Out. Our ideas are only as good as those ideas to which we are exposed. Actively seek out not only the different and unique ideas, but find the sources of those ideas. When you find a source of ideas which resonates with you, make it a part of your “idea family tree.”

These sources could be your mentors, favorite websites/blogs, authors, teachers, peers, friends, etc. These are your go to resources. As your tree grows in size and quality, the quality of your ideas will grow as well. Always be seeking new ideas and new members of your idea family tree.

PM Takeaway: The Internet provides a seemingly limitless offering of project management templates. Advice for managing projects seems even more limitless. Find resources which resonate with you and check in with them regularly. When you have a specific need for a new idea, such as a challenging team communication dynamic, use your go to resources as a first step.

3. Learn what’s valuable to you. 

We all change throughout our lives, but we only grow as we learn. The first step to growing is to get to know yourself better. What are you really good at today vs what do you really like to do? What inspires you vs what can you do to pay the bills? Over time, not only do our answers change, but so do the questions.

Knowing yourself…your talents, abilities and weaknesses…gives you a better lens for interpreting the value of a given idea to you.

PM Takeaway: Understand not only yourself, but your project’s dynamics. The team you have for this project may react differently to the communication style you used on the last project. The better you understand your project’s dynamics, the better you’ll be at choosing which ideas will be effective for a given project.

4. Share your creative ideas. 

Don’t let your “idea family tree” end with you. As you share your ideas with others, you’ll find that their feedback will give you insights that allow you to refine and improve your ideas. Repeat this process.

PM Takeaway: Share what you’ve learned with your fellow project managers. Go to local PMI Chapter events and talk with your peers. Find an online PM community and join the discussion!

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