You’re reading What They Said, a project by Chris Gallo since 2014.

Scott Belsky


Scott Belsky shares some wise words on the Tim Ferriss show. Tim asks Scott a pair of questions, and Scott shares bad advice to avoid and good advice to follow.

Scott built Behance, which was later acquired by Adobe. He manages product for Adobe’s Creative Cloud. The interview starts at around the 37-minute mark, listen to it here.

What are bad recommendations you hear in your industry or area of expertise?

The first thing that came to mind was that industries are led by experts. We idolize the experts in our industry. We often forget industries are often transformed by neophytes, right?

I mean look at bold transformations. Uber disrupting transportation. Or Airbnb disrupting hospitality. These are all plays that were led by outsiders.

I remember talking to Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, who was saying that he didn’t even know common hotel industry terms when he started Airbnb. He had no background in the business. And as such, a concept that so many hotel executives discounted as ridiculous, that the customer would never want, they were more open to.

Which begs the question, perhaps, the playbook to change an industry is to be naive enough at the start to question these basic assumptions and stay alive long enough to employ skills that are unique and advantages to the space that you seek to change.

Perhaps, this unique excitement and pragmatic expertise are equally important traits, but just at different times.

The second bad recommendation you hear in your profession is that customers know best. The only focus group I ever ran at Behance was at the very beginning in 2007, when we were debating a number of different approaches towards our mission, which was to organize the creative world.

We presented to this focus group five or six different ideas and asked them to complete a survey. Because we were really trying to triangulate what we’d be doing first in our business.

Universally, participants said that the last thing that they wanted was yet another social network to connect with creative peers. They figured MySpace was sufficient for this purpose, but when they were asked by us about their greatest struggles, participants talked about the expense and inefficiencies of maintaining an online portfolio and how difficult it was to get attribution for the creative work they have made.

So we were faced with the classic example of don’t ask customers what they want, figure out what they need. We ultimately built a social network for creative professionals that is now the world’s leading creative professional community with over 12 million members. And six years later, it was acquired by Adobe.

So there was an important message there, you do always have to be seeking empathy with your customer. You can’t always necessarily expect them to know what you’re supposed to do for them.


What advice would you give to the smart, driven college student about to enter the real world? What advice do you think they should they ignore?

I started out with the fact that they should not hold out for the perfect job or title. Don’t optimize for the slightly higher salary. Instead focus on the two things that really matter early on in a career.

Number one, every step in your early career must get you incrementally closer to whatever genially interests you. And the most promising pass to success is pursuing genuine interests and setting yourself up for the circumstantial relationships, collaborations, experiences, or mystiques of the eye that will make all the difference in your life.

I like to say a labor of love always pays off, just not how and when you always expect.

So you want to set yourself up to succeed by taking new jobs and roles that get you incrementally closer to the things that generally interest you.

I think we often fall into that spotlight of seduction, where we are offered a great opportunity that sounds great, but isn’t getting us closer to what interests in the longterm. And that is what I think where we get off the rails of a great career.

And number two is the fact that the greatest lessons you learn in the beginning of a career are about people. How to work with people. Be managed by people. Manage expectations with people. And lead other people.

And as such, the team you choose to join and your boss, are huge factors in the value of a professional experience early in your career. And again, I see so many people optimizing for higher salary or a cooler sounding job without doing the diligence of who they’re actually working for or with.


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