Infographic design by Matias Corea

The DNA Of Idea Execution: How Creatives Are Working Today


What are the core ingredients of great idea executions? How are our workspaces impacting our creative output? And why do we waste almost 40% of our productivity each day? To answer these questions and more, we polled the creative community, crunched the data, and transformed it into a beautiful, poster-size infographic – otherwise known as the 99U’s annual Idea Execution Audit.

Sponsored by the Kauffman Foundation, the Idea Execution Audit premiered at our annual 99U Conference in early May. The results present a fascinating window into our particular productivity struggles ichn the year 2012. That is, when we’re working in open-plan workspaces with Twitter chattering in the corner of our screens; have the choice of working on a desktop, laptop, or tablet computer at any given moment; and possess the drive (and the power) to launch our own businesses from anywhere in the world…

1. Other People’s Priorities Are Stealing Our Attention, and Draining Our Productivity

Everyone is struggling with how to balance others’ demands with being productive in the things that matter most. When we asked the creative community how much time they spend on “reactionary work” – aka responding to other people’s emails, calls, etc rather than tending to their own goals – over half said they spent more than 50% of the day on reactionary work.info_1_550

It’s not surprising then that while creatives are working 9 hours a day on average, only 5.5 of those hours are truly productive. In short, we’re spending about 40% of our time on activities that are not moving the ball forward.


2. Face-to-Face Conversations Are Productive, Interruptions Are Not

So what are the time-sucks that are eating up 40% of our day? In last year’s Execution Audit, creatives said that email was their biggest distraction. I’m guessing that’s still true as this year’s survey reported that in-person communication is, by far, the most efficient way to get things done. 56% of creatives preferred a face-to-face conversation for productivity, while only 27% prefer email.


I’d also wager that the trend toward “open” offices is causing some problems. According to a recent study cited in the NY Times, more than 70% of workers now inhabit open-plan workspaces. Such offices are great at facilitating productive face-to-face conversations, but awful at preventing the interruptions that break our concentration.

Which might be why the majority of us (42%) are getting our best work done on our laptops, rather than when we’re sitting at our desktop (36%). It’s also worth noting that a full fifth of creatives said that they’re doing their best work on paper – a strong argument for the power of sketching out ideas.


3. Great Executions Require Iteration

We also learned – surprise! – that nobody is perfect. More than half of creatives said that they typically rework their ideas at least 5 times during execution, reaffirming our belief that iteration is essential to making great ideas happen. And that it’s more important to push out of our comfort zones than to achieve perfection.


Of course, iterating is hard, and so is dealing with the inevitable missteps that come when you’re exploring uncharted territory. Which is likely why the biggest challenge of idea execution is staying accountable and keeping motivated during the long haul.


4. We Are All Entrepreneurs Now

The good news is we’re taking control of our careers. A full 62% of creatives said that they would describe themselves as entrepreneurs, which means they’re taking the lead in organizing, managing, and driving their businesses. As LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman said recently, we have to “find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs, it’s differentiate or die – that now goes for all of us.”


In keeping with the trend toward entrepreneurial thinking, creatives are looking to develop their tolerance for risk-taking. It’s a topic we’ve been obsessed with here at 99U of late, digging into why success always starts with failure, learning how to encourage “smart mistakes“, and understanding how to make big decisions without sweating it.


To check out the full results of our annual survey, download the audit below.

–> Download the 99U Idea Execution Audit infographic

More insights on: Focus, Iteration, Risk-Taking

Jocelyn K. Glei

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A writer and the founding editor of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei is obsessed with understanding how work gives our lives meaning. She has authored three books about work, creativity, and business, including the Amazon bestsellers Manage Your Day-to-Day and Make Your Mark. Follow her @jkglei.
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