Scott Belsky

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Scott Belsky spoke with Debbie Millman about his career at Adobe, in VC, and writing The Messy Middle.

More than work. Belsky said he learned a lot from his grandfather, “things I wanted to emulate but not emulate as well.” For instance, “I think he struggled after the loss (sale) of that (his) company.”

Work keeps at bay three great evils; boredom, vice, and need concluded Voltaire. Michael Ovitz paid his dad’s employer to keep his dad employed. This was part of the warning Brynjolfsson and McAfee issued in their talks too. There’s more to work than work.

School. “Traditional schooling first failed us when it taught us to stay between the lines.” Schools reward ‘the one right answer. That’s fine for some things but less great for others. We’ve looked at how IDEO embraces a different model. We’ve also seen examples like Jerry Murrell, Peter Rahal, and Martine Rothblatt who demonstrate that entrepreneurial excellence doesn’t always fit in at school.

School, like other tools, is great for some things and less great for others. Our mistakes arrive thinking school is always the answer, like the hammer sees every problem as a nail.

Ignorant enough. “None of us knew what we were doing, but we shared a tremendous amount of initiative that overcompensated for our lack of experience.”

Enthusiasm, naivete, and optimism are essential for entrepreneurs. Sam Walton wrote, that it was a blessing to “be so green and ignorant” when he started in retail.

Communicate well. “To me, design was almost like a cheat to get something done better.”  “The (CIA) team I was asked to speak with was the team that merchandises information to people in the field. They had so much information that they wanted people to pay attention to but if they don’t use design practices no one is going to look at it.”

Belsky faced the same problem baseball teams and basketball teams face. How do you communicate data to practioners? Daryl Morey and Jeff Luhnow have some ideas too.

Aha moments “This (how disorganized the creative world was) was the frustration that inspired Behance.” Glitches in the matrix are moments to pause and ask how something could be better. Keith Rabois said, “Anomalies are giving you hints for things you don’t understand; they’re an opportunity to find a paradigm shift.”

Follow your curiosity, wrote Brian Grazer. Scratch your own itch, but also ask customers if they face those moments too.

Does the glove fit? “The exit scenario (for Behance) never came up. We loved what we were doing.” Millman added, “If you really love what you’re doing it’s just part of your overall life.”

Jobs aren’t perfect but they can be fulfilling. Josh Wolfe said, “On Sundays when my peers were watching American football I would be reading and learning something.” Belsky said, “The competitive advantage is doing work no one wants to do.”

That’s worked for James Higgins, “When you go down market there is a premium associated with rolling up your sleeves, and getting in the weeds and making things happen. That process is something we really enjoy.”

**Be different enough now, be right enough later. “Entrepreneurship is about identifying edges that will someday become the center and building and leading teams over the long haul to turn such a vision into reality despite the odds.”

Josh Wolfe said he hopes people agree with him, only later. Paul Johnson and Paul Sonkin say that good investment pitches include why the market will come around to an undervalued idea.

Meetings. “A mock-up is worth a thousand meetings.”

Media BS. “It’s easy to tie a bow around the Behance story and I found it interesting that it was anything but.” The media business isn’t always about telling the truth. Andre Agassi for example, was given the glasses and the line at the end of a photo shoot and it became his motif. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t him. But it took the narrative.


Argue well.  One of the most important part of an organization is good discussion. James Mattis said that if you don’t bring up your shortcomings internally, the enemy will point them out for you. We’ll leave with four more quotes from Scott.

“Is it permissible for people to talk to you and raising their hand and saying ‘I disagree.’”

“We were proud of the fact that we could go in a room, duke it out, and it was a very healthy process because we were exposing each other’s blind spots.”

“I’ve always kept an elephant list, the third rail things nobody wants to talk about and I try to interject one or two elephants whenever we’re together.”

“This is a key part of kind of eliminating the organizational debt that accrues in any organization. Organizational debt is the accumulation of decisions leaders should have made but didn’t.”


Thanks for reading.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.