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The Messy Middle: Finding Your Way Through the Hardest and Most Crucial Part of Any Bold Venture

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The Messy Middle is the indispensable guide to navigating the volatility of new ventures and leading bold creative projects by Scott Belsky, bestselling author, entrepreneur, Chief Product Officer at Adobe, and product advisor to many of today's top start-ups.

Creating something from nothing is an unpredictable journey. The first mile births a new idea into existence, and the final mile is all about letting go. We love talking about starts and finishes, even though the middle stretch is the most important and often the most ignored and misunderstood. 
Broken into three sections with 100+ lessons, this no-nonsense book will help  

•   Endure the roller coaster of successes and failures by strengthening your resolve, embracing the long-game, and short-circuiting your reward system to get to the finish line.

• Optimize what’s working so you can improve the way you hire, better manage your team, and meet your customers’ needs.

• Finish strong and avoid the pitfalls many entrepreneurs make, so you can overcome resistance, exit gracefully, and continue onto your next creative endeavor with ease.

With insightful interviews from today’s leading entrepreneurs, artists, writers, and executives, as well as Belsky’s own experience working with companies like Airbnb, Pinterest, Uber, and sweetgreen, The Messy Middle will outfit you to find your way through the hardest parts of any bold project or new venture.

413 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 2, 2018

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Scott Belsky

10 books95 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 116 reviews
Profile Image for Maciej Nowicki.
74 reviews54 followers
May 9, 2019
The Messy Middle is about project management – specifically, the mysterious and volatile middle that nobody talks about. Scott Belsky, Chief Product Officer at Adobe, a product advisor and also an entrepreneur describes this part of the whole process as something extraordinarily bumpy that gets very little coverage on the news. No one really talks much about it, because it’s just a series of positive and negative bumps. On the other hand, everyone loves talking about the moment of conception, and everyone loves talking about what happens at the end. What can be so easily summed is celebrated.

Anyway, in order to gather first-hand data on the middle part of the project management he met with as many entrepreneurs, artists, writers, and others that have endured a very messy middle. Instead of stating about the classic questions, where did their idea come from? How did you get started? And so on… He tried to really delve deeply into the stuff that they probably choose to forget that happened in the middle.

It was interesting because it was his own sixth year of his own journey building Behance company (an online platform to showcase & discover creative work later acquired by Adobe). In order to retrospect his messy middle, he looked at his mobile phone and searched for messages he has shared with his teams. The first thing that immediately struck him were screenshots of bugs and things that didn’t look exactly right. The second thing he has found were screenshots of what customers were saying. Some of these messages weren’t in line with what he was feeling, nevertheless, the feedback he received was used as some kind of credibility of his judgement

There was also another reason for these screenshots in . He was trying to capture a form of reward when there was none. He was trying to also capture some of the things people said they were excited about, and he used this as a form of nonfinancial reward for himself and for the team. It was also a great proof that they were making progress. He also saw tons of pictures of his teams, meetings, hard times and fun times. This was another thing – when there was no product to be excited about, they were excited just to be with each other.

Finally, he got to the point where he could summarise the middle journey of project management by two words and this led him to the book which is broken down into two sections of insights reflected in the picture below... (if you like to read my full review please visit my blog https://leadersarereaders.blog/the-me...)
Profile Image for Devika.
132 reviews
August 6, 2023
After having read quite a few books on management and entrepreneurship, I'm slightly skeptical about picking up another such book on the off chance that it might be repurposing the same old advice. To be fair, a lot of things that Belsky mentions are common sense, however his examples are fresh.

The book deserves five stars because it's a complete psychological/emotional check list for current and would be entrepreneurs. More importantly, there are so many points where I felt he really hits the nail on the head. So why is the middle of any venture messy? Well, because a startup is great till it fails. No one wants to admit to the bad days as it feels like admitting defeat. However, every single founder goes through them.

If you don't have the time to read the entire book, then definitely read through his discussion on building digital products. Particularly noteworthy are the parts where he mentions the following:

1. Important to focus on the comparative advantage of your product, and make peace with your product being knowingly bad at some aspects as long as the core offering is extraordinary (Case Study: Southwestern Airlines choosing a specific operational geography and better pricing coupled with great service)

2. Make a subtraction for every addition & Ockham's razor your way through developing your product. Simplicity is what drives people to your product, and every additional feature only makes your product more complicated. Moreover, simplicity makes it easier to understand what is working and what isn't.(Case Study: Behance's philosophy of feature reduction - for example, removing long survey questions for new users)

3. Build a narrative before your dotting the i's and crossing the t's on your product. The narrative will help you through the postmortem confusion of "what should I do next?"

4. The factors that excite us about a product can be bifurcated into 'engagement drivers' and 'interest drivers'. Former includes incremental tweaks that make your product easier to use, however it's the latter that (despite not being used regularly) get people excited about using your product in the first place. (Case Study: HBO Go's app downloads increased and beat their TV & laptop viewership when they offered Game of Thrones' fictional geography maps, which eventually the users hardly even looked at)

The charm of Belsky's writing is his ability to balance contrarian perspectives. After all, the 'best practices' are just the potential list of practices to choose from. Happy reading!
Profile Image for Scott Wozniak.
Author 5 books77 followers
October 19, 2018
I generally agree with everything in this book (minor quibbles on methods). But I was disappointed to find that it's pretty much a restatement of common leadership and entrepreneurial advice.

Endure through the tough times. Hire and onboard your people carefully. Build a diverse team. Focus on your best idea, don't try to do it all at the start. You get the idea. And it's not only been said before by others, it's been said better.
Profile Image for Andrus.
42 reviews30 followers
April 6, 2019
The author, founder of Behance clearly has stories to tell but, alas, he has opted for sharing his opinions (in the “teaching” style) instead. Also tries to cover too many topics and ends up just scratching lots of surfaces. Example: makes a point about calculated small bets, then claims that “but sometimes you gotta leap”, then moves on to the next topic. No examples, no stories.

All that said, the beginning of the book is very good and the last hour about exits was both good content and great storytelling. Just a bit ironic that the middle of this book was poor.
Profile Image for Gabriel Alan.
109 reviews9 followers
October 29, 2018
Aimed at anyone involved in a multi-year entrepreneurial business, Scott Belsky offers a critical and deeply reflection about the trappings and misguided strategies of, as the lingo has it, "failing forward." This book is a wonderfully practical, thoughtful and (dare I say) "spiritual" guide for anyone in its intended audience. So why the three-star review? Simply because my life and goals only have peripheral intersection with the life of a driven Silicon Valley entrepreneur. I took what I could from it (and that was beneficial too), but I'm so far outside the intended audience that despite the depth, clarity and thought of the writing, it can only be said to have a three-star impact on my life. That said, if you are the intended audience for this book, it would be hard to recommend a better guide to what (for all of us) is, indeed, the "messy middle."
Profile Image for Andrew Balyk.
117 reviews4 followers
April 21, 2021
Я щойно закінчив читати “Плутанина посередині”, і я все ще не зовсім “відійшов” від подорожі, яку пройшов.

Ця книга чудова! Вона прониклива, вдумлива, чесна, скромна і водночас досить цікава.

Тут повно порад і підказок, кожна з яких поєднується з переконливим анекдотом, прикладом чи особистим досвідом.

Я не можу перестати рекомендувати цю книгу :) Тим, хто створює продукти або послуги, очолює команди або керує великими довгостроковими проектами. В ній море інстайтів щодо найму, управління та мотивації людей практично в будь-якому контексті, а також багато всякох мудрості щодо брендингу, продажів, ведення переговорів та UX, а також хороші поради щодо self-management.
Profile Image for Pete.
136 reviews
September 24, 2020
A suitably worthwhile investment of your time

My sense is that Scott has done the startup community an immense service in writing this book. Why? Startups are hard, they appear sexy from the outside but the fact remains that there is a lot of plain grind, simple work to be done.

This book captures the reality of the middle years. The grind of trying to build interest in the business, the constant focus and iteration on improvement of the business offering, people and processes.

This is not a "How to" book, it is a "Think about these things" book. That in my opinion is why the book is so powerful, it gives you, the reader, a framework to consider, thus it allows you to observe your business enabling you to think about how you might improve it. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Zachary.
7 reviews
December 20, 2020
As a book to read from front to back, Messy Middle is not great. At times I found it quite boring and repetitive. As sort of operations manual for building business, products, and culture, Mess Middle is fantastic. When your car engine light comes on, you don’t read the whole manual - you skip right to the relevant chapter that addresses the problem you face in that moment. I’d advise leveraging this book in much the same way.

Some chapters are only applicable to small scale startups, some only applicable to large companies, and some applicable to both. The same extends across other dimensions such as about how many competitors you have, what personalities you have on your team, and even what product you are building. The few chapters that I found especially relevant to my current business challenges were extremely insightful and well written — but as stated before, there were just so many chapters that did not meet that bar.

The rub is, for such a design-focused author, the book was designed in a way that makes manual-like reading a challenge. The chapter titles are mostly catchy headlines that hide the content of what’s inside, making it hard to quickly scan through the table of contents and find the section you need. This means you probably need to read it all the way through at least once in order to be able to leverage it down the road, which again, is kind of a slog.
Profile Image for Mengyi.
55 reviews4 followers
February 5, 2021
The middle part of any adventure is messy and tends to blend together, yet it is where most events happen. Although the book is written in the context of a startup journey, I found it a helpful reference for general projects and life experiences as well. Taking 3 quotes each from one of the sections:
- Endure: "The easy path will only take you to a crowded space."
- Optimise: "Invest in yourself as businesses, leveraging the best tools and knowledge to run ourselves as a modern-day enterprise."
- The final mile: "A great finish is on your own terms, and it starts with that fully satisfied feeling that you want to hold on to." and "You are not your work."
Profile Image for Jacek Bartczak.
196 reviews61 followers
December 24, 2019
Something like a mix of "Rework" and "What you do is who you are". Observations from this book don't blow the mind but:
- some of them are quite unique - despite the fact I consume tons of business content some observations were new for me,
- if you implement them systematically on the daily basis it will help you a lot. Because of the same reason the risk that they will be treated like "I knew it, I just didn't implement it yet" is big
Profile Image for Natella.
7 reviews
May 8, 2023
One of the best books I've read on entrepreneurship. Definitely recommend if you have or plan to start a company, work at a startup, or are interested in business.

The author candidly expresses the hurdles of turning a strong idea into a successful exit. The book covers managerial, communicative, financial, psychological, and all other important steps that startup owners face, overlook, beat, and fail.

As someone who worked on over 6 startup projects, I have seen those challenges and mistakes in all of my previous and current teams. Apart from mentioning the unspoken truth of startup making, Belsky is also a great writer and you actually enjoy reading the book. That is something many business authors fail, in my opinion.

Profile Image for Matthew  John.
8 reviews13 followers
July 28, 2019
Note: this review is a lot more influenced by the content in the book than the eloquence or the way it's structured for consumption (in fact I felt the short sub-sections structure sometimes end up disrupting your flow of reading).

As a startup founder who has spent more than 3 years into building a company, The Messy Middle is the most useful and relatable founder book I've read of late. I think some of the reasons would be that
1. Scott was fortunate to bootstrap his first company that became a brand among creators for 6 years before getting VCs on board (a year before the acquisition). I think this helped him wander and explore enough (like Jeff Bezos recommends) and take decisions that were not just focused on short term growth but the long term reason for why Behance exists - and all of this while pushing aggressively against the odds as a startup founder every day.
2. After his Behance exit, Scott spent a good amount of time as a leader with Adobe, a publicly listed incumbent company who's the biggest name when it comes to designer and creative tools. This experience appears to have given him the opportunity to appreciate what happens on the other side of the wall - how big companies operate and innovate.
3. He worked with 80+ startups as a seed investor, learning from them and advising them (some of them being Pinterest, Uber, Warby Parker). This was Scott's way, as per the book, to keep learning from amazing founders with very different ways to solving problems around them - a gold mine for someone who prioritises learning.

The book came out to me as reflections from a life long learner who doesn't shy away from being vulnerable. This is evident in every section of the book where he takes you though the challenges a founder faces in different parts of the journey and with anecdotes on how he confronted them (or failed to). I'd recommend this to all startup founders.

Note: If you are looking for an instructional book to get to 100M ARR or optimise your product to have 20% conversion rate, this is clearly not that.
Profile Image for Mina.
367 reviews7 followers
July 11, 2019
"The lack of a map for the voyage ahead caused an existential angst that meant I felt the need to live and sleep with one eye on the compass."

"Attribute your wins to those around you, and be the first to take responsibility for losses."

"But comfort also breeds complacency. Periodic disruptions of various kinds provide perspective and make people stay fresh and alert. The only way to stay strong is therefore to keep shaking things up."

“Keep reminding yourself that success doesn’t mean you know what you’re doing. Success means that many forces aligned in your favour, that your team outperformed itself, and that you kept yourself from screwing it up. When you feel yourself becoming headstrong and invincible, shift your focus away from yourself and onto your team."
Profile Image for Diego Parada Herrera.
62 reviews2 followers
March 6, 2021
The Messy Middle is a stage every startup and company goes through at some point of their existence. This book acknowledges just that and takes you through the steps to thrive on a personal, organizational and product level. Great insights and tips for every entrepreneur. The author uses personal stories as well as other known examples to get his points across. It is a good read for entrepreneurs and leaders that want to advance their companies or organizations to the next level.


The Messy Middle es una etapa por la que cada startup y empresa atraviesa en algún momento (o varios) de su existencia. Este libro lo reconoce y te lleva a través de los pasos para prosperar a nivel personal, organizacional y de producto. Grandes ideas y consejos para cualquier emprendedor. El autor utiliza historias personales, así como otros ejemplos conocidos para transmitir sus puntos y perspectiva. Gran recomendación para emprendedores y líderes que desean hacer avanzar a sus empresas u organizaciones al próximo nivel.
Profile Image for Natalía Papadopoúlou.
88 reviews22 followers
November 12, 2018
I pre-ordered this book and I was waiting to answer a question I have had for a while: should I discontinue my company or not? This book is almost 400 pages and it has so many stories that whatever review I leave, it wouldn’t make justice. As a researcher I found it inspiring, packed with many things to think through. I didn’t find my answer and I think now that was never the purpose or intention behind it, there is nothing easy or simple in the messy middle!
9 reviews
April 27, 2021
Favorite quotes/ideas so far:

"While Julie's life is complicated to be sure, a childhood with a disabled sibling also comes with a set of complications. One one hand, I felt immeasurable guilt. M possibilities and potential seemed endless compared to julie's and the opportunities and fanfare I received from family always carried a sense of sadness and inequality with it. One the other hand, while I might not like to admit it, I was angry. By no fault of her own, Julie had robbed me of normalcy. Looking back on my childhood and a lifetime of reconciling my relationship with Julie, I recognize how that combustive mixture of guilt and anger motivated me, made me self-reliant, and influenced how I work with and lead others. No doubt, adversity matures you." (111)

"If you avoid folks who are polarizing, you avoid bold outcomes." (p. 114)

"Closing the confidence gap of your newest hires is more important than closing the skills gap. You can always provide more formal skills training over time, but building confidence up front is a critical ingredient in unleashing someone's potential in a new team." (p. 121)

"...the best teams were willing to admit and discuss their mistakes more often than other teams. Psychological safety, Amy Edmonson wrote, "is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up...It describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves." (122)

"To be fully present at work, to feel 'psychologically safe', we must know that we can be free enough sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations...We can't be focused just on efficiency. Rather, when we start the morning by collaborating with a team of engineers and then send emails to our marketing colleagues and then jump on a conference call, we want to know that those people really hear us. We want to know that work is more than just labor." (122)

"Unexpected movement on the team empowered new people to step into role they and I hadn't thought they had the capacity to fill. Had the original team just stayed where they were, as I wanted them to, we would have failed to evolve." (p. 130)

"...proactive changes that feel premature are far better than reactive changes that feel inflicted upon you. As my friend Tim Ferris once said, 'The more voluntary suffering you build into your life, the less involuntary suffering will affect your life.'" (p. 131)

"Be frugal with everything except your bed, your chair, your space, and your team." (140)

"A mock-up > Any other method of sharing your vision" (161) (YES, death to .pptx)

"A good team does a lot of friendly front stabbing instead of backstabbing. Issues are resolved by knowing what they are. Straightforward conflict happens when people care enough about their work and bring tensions, ambiguities, and tough realities to the surface. Confrontation tends to be most needed when it is most uncomfortable." (186)

Paul Graham on Mark Zuckerberg: "It's easier to tell Zuck that he's wrong than to tell the average noob founder. He's not threatened by it. If he's wrong, he wants to know. What distinguishes great founders is not their adherence to some vision but their humility to face the truth."

"Be open, humble, and eager to learn that you're wrong -- before someone else does." (193)

"Conviction > Consensus. Herein lies the most important nuance of leading with conviction: You must surround yourself with others who also have conviction. Strong gut instincts surrounded by weak people or people afraid to speak up are bound to leave you astray."

_____PART 3 ______________________
Moving fast is great so long as you slow down at every turn. "Ambitious teams often struggle with speed -- but being too fast, not too slow. Indeed speed brings you to inevitable realizations more quickly...but for all the benefits of rapidly testing ideas, iterating quickly, and optimizing for efficiency, sometimes you need to force yourself to slow down. The creative aspects of some projects are best cooked slowly.

In a relentless effort to get a minimum viable product to market, many teams cut or compromise on the key attributes that are likely to differentiate it from their competitors. Speed through the generic stuff, but take the time you need to perfect the few things that you're most proud of. Remember customers don't engage with functionality. They engaged with experiences...Moving a mile a minute is great as long as you slow down when crafting something that will ultimately be your competitive advantage." (195)

"'It's really a very new adaptation in the animal kingdom and we don't do it all that weel. We don't respond to long-term threats with nearly as much vigor and venom as we do to clear and present dangers.'" (197, quoting psychologist Daniel Gilbert)

Ask for forgiveness, not permission. You'll make "a lot more right [decisions] than we would have if we'd waited for sign-ff on everything we did." (200)

Don't give those resistant to change false hope. "Hesitation breeds incrementalism -- the tendency to make changes too muted, too slowly, and too late. You need to attack the hesitation and galvanize the troops to move forward without looking back...When you make a bold decision that changes your strategy and day to day responsibilities of your team, your job is to foster alignment." (206-7)

Identify what you're willing to be bad at. "To be a great psychologist, you need to be great with patients and just fair with paperwork. Productivity and performance are too often conflated. Instead you need to decide what aspects of your team and product distinguish you most -- and what you'er willing to be bad at. Your competitive advantage is a conscious admission and acceptance of your weaknesses as well as a recognition of your strengths; it's as much about what you focus on as it is about what you choose to let go." (214)

Make one subtraction for every addition. "Products that retain their greatness over time tend to hold simplicity as a core design tenet...Why is it so hard to keep a product simple? A big part of the problem is that you become intimately familiar with your power users -- the small number of customers who use your product the most. This group of customers is also often referred to as the 'vocal minority.' Power users have so much to say about the product you're responsible for, and as a result, you will start to consider their complaints and requests...instead focus on opportunities to engage the customers you have yet to reach." (217)

Kill your darlings.

If you don't think it's awesome, stop making it.

Break incrementalism by questioning core assumptions. "On a smaller scale, I see the same challenges eng teams that with to invest in infrastructure at the expense of near-term and easier-to-measure improvements that advance product and business objectives. If you measure an eng team by the number of features they release or the speed at which they achieve measurable milestones, then you're disincentivizing any long-term investments that could, over time, truly distinguish your product.
The key to breaking incrementalism and escaping your local maxima is to swap out your underlying assumptions. For example, if your product was founded in the age of social media and mobile apps, what assumptions did you have then that you would now question as voice-activated devices enter our homes and AR transforms our mobile devices?" (243)

"Old assumptions don't get questioned enough ebcause we're used to them, and new ideas get dismissed too quickly because they're foreign and challenge conventions. Engaging and empowering new talent is a reliable way to break old patterns. As the leader of a team with new and old talent, your challenge is to balance the need to incrementally optimize alongside the need to change and question everything. Knowing the tendency to be limited by a local maxima, challenge yourself to welcome disruptive forces when you find yourself defensive. Strong denial is a signal for a hard truth." (244)

Empathy and humility before passion. "'We knew what we wanted to do -- organisze news by interested and eliminate the noise in the news space -- but didn't confirm whether people were really suffering from this. We focused too much on ourselves, our interests, and our intuition, rather than testing the broader market. Even though we found a bunch of other people like us, our interests were not a proxy for everyone else.' Had he spent a couple of weeks focused solely on customer needs and problems first, Clement believes that he would have started something different."

"The consequence of starting a project out of sheer passion is making decisions without considering those you're serving. Empathy for those suffering the problem must come before your passion for the solution." (249)

"When pursuing a new idea or solution to a problem, run it through 3 filters:
(1) EMPATHY WITH A NEED AND FRUSTRATION. 'It's very important to know what you don't like. A big part of innovation is saying 'you know what i'm really sick of? What am I really sick of?' is where innovation begins.' -Jerry Seinfeld. What frustrates you likely frustrates many others.
(3) PASSION FOR THE SOLUTION... If you're not willing to spend day and night, year after year, solving the problem, then you'er likely to fall short or quit before you figure it out." (250)

Engaging the right customers at the right time. Willing > Forgiving > Viral > Valuable > Profitable.
(1) Willing customers: most willing to try your product, and try again.
(2) Forgiving customers: most forgiving of your MVP.
(3) Viral customers: most viral about your product.
(4) Valuable customers: most valuable over their lifetime
(5) Profitable customers: most profitable over time.

Build your narrative before your product. "As you embark on your next project, consider developing your narrative and building your brand first. If you're already midstream, invest time in it. Doing so will answer questions and help you make better decisions along the way. The narrative should always be framed in the context of life itself. How does your product empower people? Does it help people save time or make them forget tine? How does it take natural human tendencies into account, like the desire to look good or make fewer, better decisions? And most important, what about your creation will eventually be taken for granted?" (257)

The leaders of thriving communities (offline and off-) act as stewards not owners. "Every network is ultimately made possible by its participants. If every LinkedIn member or eBay participant deleted their profile tomorrow, these companies would have no business...I like to equate serving a network to being in the hospitality business." (258-259)

--Optimizing Yourself--
---Planning and Making Decision---

Success fails to scale when we fail to focus. "Choosing your projects based on the skills and relationships you will develop." "I now look at nearly everything through the lens of a question: 'Will I develop relationships and skills that will persist beyond this project and help me even if this project fails?' That is really the hurdle for me saying yes to new options and opportunities.'"(283)

Don't optimize for the best deal now at the expense of long-term outcome. "So the next time you enter a negotiation, think beyond the number. Remember that the end of a negotiation is the start of a relationship -- one with the potential to create a tremendous value beyond whatever is invoiced." (287)

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Boni Aditya.
313 reviews885 followers
August 8, 2019
I have read a book similar to this one, How to build a Billion Dollar App from the founder of Hailo Cabs. This book is written by the founder of Behance, detailing all the important milestones that he has gone though while building the app. This is a good book about how to deal with various dilemmas that a founder would face from founding to the exit, and everything in between. The book is extremely impressive, only towards the end it become a bit philosophical, and thereby a bit boring, when the author talks about life and time, and how people lived their lives etc... Many of the ideas in Billion Dollar app match with the Ideas in the Messy Middle, Customer Acquisition Stages for example have an eerie similarity albeit with different tags. But this book is more nuanced, and more variable than the Billion Dollar App book, never the less these two books are very important reads for product managers. They add a lot of value by means of experience, there is a lot of philosophical thought involved at every stage of the book, where the founder has to decide between alternatives and the author decisively picks one option over the other and does a good job of explaining how one option is more relevant than the others. For example the discussion about non-scaleable art and its importance hit a chord. Where to compromise with features and where not to and getting the right customers at the right development stage of the start up all of them have an experienced ring attached to them.


Making ideas happen

The entrepreneurial instinct



Option B

Ben thompson - stratechery 

Turn the ship around


Smarter faster better


Stumbling on happiness

The three musketeers

The paradox of choice

Gut feelings

Ray dhalio - principles


Free radicals, facilities planning, internal tools, communications and environment, effective attribution, pairing people with projects, internal marketing, mockups and visualisation for decision making, delegation and DRIs directly responsible individual, Medium is the message, right medium for a message, explicit use cases, organisational debt, easy problems vs difficult problems, boulders and pebbles, making bosses make decisions, challenge peace, don't emulate competitors, understand competitor strategies, don't compromise on differentiating features, cook slowly,

All products save time or spend time, remove friction. Excellence in one area at the expense of the other. Minority power users, one feature in - one feature out. Focused creativity vs more creativity, Disney 3 room process, 

Reversible vs irreversible decisions

Analog muscle memory, cognitive friction, creativity that compromises familiarity, cohesion horizon, maximizers vs satisfisers - over scrutinizing,  10 principles of canonical design, scrutinize system rather than parts, navel gazing, first mile of product experience, ego analytics, first 30 secs - laziness, vanity, selfishness, the hook - Window dressing, 

Novelty precedes utility, bold changes vs incrementalism, local maximization, inbred innovation, inbred innovation, 

Empathy before passion, market Dynamics before passion, 

Right customer at the right time

Willing > forgiving > viral >valuable> profitable > 

Narrative before product, develop brand before product, product market fit, product founder fit, brand product fit, concept and brand before team, narrative and story, ethos of a product, serving networks - hospitality business, transparent and fair networks, sales, sharing and persuading, periscope vs meerkat, best in the market vs first, hate vs tortoise, interest vs engagement drivers, 

George lowenstein - information gap theory. Curiosity triggers - questions, riddles, violated expectations, unknown resolutions, reminders of forgotten things, access to information about others. Don't play to the middle,

The art of declining - Tim ferries, first or category killer? Litmus test. Scott Adams - based on skills and relationships developed. Standins, return on Time invested metric, art is unscaleable and a key differentiator, active vs passive commitments, signal vs noise, surface area vs depth, full schedule - margin, 

23 reviews1 follower
August 18, 2019
90% of startups fail and a small 10% make up for a majority of the generated market value (otherwise referred to as 10x growth). What do the 10% possess that the remaining 90% fail to do or recognize? There are a lot of factors at play but the middle of the startup journey is a very good predictor. In "The Messy Middle", Scott Belsky who founded Behance (a creative community that was eventually sold it to Adobe in 2012 for $150M) jots down all of his learnings while enduring the messy middle of Behance.

The start of a new product journey is pure joy and invigorating and the end is captured with much fanfare; the middle is often the most important, misunderstood and missed part of the product journey. The middle is where we see ups on a Monday and downs on a Tuesday. The middle is where our hypotheses get invalidated multiple times that pushes us back to the drawing board. The middle is where we as a team hang in there with the slightest instinctive feeling of light in sight. The middle involves endurance, determination, grit, and persistence until we attain our vision.

In any 0->1 project, teams go through myriad decisions, pivots, strategy shifts and a significant number of successes and failures before reaching a successful end state - this is the untold messy middle of a product journey. Scott provides us with tools and mechanisms to maneuver the tortuous events in a product's journey.

Scott organizes the book into bite-sized chapters where each one articulates a specific principle or a mechanism that can be applied; some of them were more tactical while others felt strategic. The book is segmented into 3 main sections: Endure, Optimize and the Final Mile. There are a ton of insights and learnings that Scott absorbed from running Behance and they seem generally applicable; a few of them did resonate with me that are worth calling out.

Just because you have product-market fit doesn’t mean you’re going to keep product-market fit: Product teams become complacent and start optimizing the same set of levers when the world changes in front of them.

If you measure an engineering team by the number of features they release or the speed at which they achieve measurable milestones, then you’re disincentivizing any long-term investments that could, over time, truly distinguish your product. Jeff Bezos had to say this about the long term: If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you're competing against a lot of people. But if you're willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you're now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.

In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.: As the learnings and data flow in, our assumptions might change and teams have to pivot/shift armed with the new learnings ignoring sunk costs regardless.

The truly differentiating factors of your project are the ones most likely to be different, misunderstood, or underestimated by everyone else. Sometimes, teams rely too much on data to make decisions. A famous saying goes: Don't let common sense trump data

Make one subtraction for every addition: My favorite one in the book. What's paramount is to deliver a tight product with the right set of features that solves a pain point than delivering a bloated product which does not solve any problem holistically.

Scott's book can be even considered as a product leader's manual and a set of best practices to keep in mind while delivering ambiguous 0->1 products. Scott's experience running Behance and him being a venture capital advisor in various successful startups (Meetup, Pinterest, Airtable, Periscope) increases the coverage area of the issues that he has personally seen. The book is narrated in textbook style with examples and anecdotes interspersed throughout that makes the read a bit easier and less connected to other chapters. In summary, this is an excellent book that brings out the real hurdles teams go through during a new product journey and there is no gain without any pain the middle.
Profile Image for Brian Sachetta.
Author 2 books63 followers
December 30, 2019
Success is never a straight line. News outlets love to talk about overnight victories and catastrophic downfalls, but such triumphs and failures rarely happen in an instant. Instead, they take place during the messy, confusing middle of a journey — the part this book focuses on.

Personally, I found the subject of this book to be very relevant. I also think it's extremely important on a societal level. The media LOVES sensationalism because it sells. But most stories and journeys rarely follow fairy-tale paths. Instead, they're often mired in confusion, uncertainty, and doubt.

Throughout this title, Belsky works to bring these concepts to light. He uses his own story of building his company (Behance) and eventually selling it to Adobe to show the reader that things are often extremely messy and confusing in the middle of any journey. He specifically focuses on the middle of Behance's journey to give it purposeful weight; he shows the reader how important it is and explains that it's okay, even normal, to be uncertain and afraid during such times.

It's a very good read, one that's full of great entrepreneurial wisdom. Heck, the parallels between life and business are often quite strong, so even someone not in the tech or investment spaces could benefit from it as well.

-Brian Sachetta
Author of "Get Out of Your Head"
5 reviews7 followers
December 3, 2018
I’d read his Make Ideas Happen, and I think this one is sharper, with lots of helpful nuggets, highly recommend. It’s the story of the often challenging time between launching a startup and an exit, where the path and process isn’t always clear. A story not often told (well), and packed full of insights from his time taking Behance from start to Adobe acquisition. Highlights for me:
- Simple is hard: “It is very hard to make a product—or any customer experience—simple. It is even harder to keep it simple. The more obvious and intuitive a product is, the harder it is to optimize it without adding complication.”
- Great product management involves subtraction, not just addition. “Great products don’t stay simple by not evolving; they stay simple by continually improving their core value while removing features and paring back aspects that aren’t central to the core.
- Continue to do things that aren’t scalable, the things that got you to where you are. “The best companies are profitable from their science yet known for their art.”
The last point that struck me most personally, “There is no better measure of your values than how you spend your time. When it comes to values, so much of what we tell ourselves is different from what we actually do.”
Profile Image for Oana Filip.
57 reviews13 followers
March 8, 2020
I dare to say that I came across this book right on time. Therefore, no wonder why I genuinely resonate with most of the ideas presented by Scott Belsky. This read is more like a handbook that offers you the chance to come back and read certain chapters again and less like a chronological narrative. I admire that the author highlights this way of approaching it from the preface.

''Nothing should resonate more loudly than your own intuition'' is a line that sticks with me. In a world where we are hungry after data, where gathering information to make decisions seems to be compulsory, where hyper analyzing is the must-have attitude, this piece of advice appears naive and ubiquitous at the same time. However, the messy middle is not only organic, ordinary, even common in every single organization out there, but it's also a sign of maturity and growth. Sometimes, it's more about trusting your gut feeling and act with persistence and consistency than finding a new way to hack something.

Entrepreneurs of all kinds who succeed in making peace by embracing the journey will gain skills that will improve their personal lives too. In the end, life it's not about spikes; it's more like a long-term dance that you need to understand and feel.
539 reviews16 followers
July 10, 2019
The management team of my company read this book together and discussed it as a group. This book is particularly well suited for this type of activity, because it is a collection of 2-3 page essays on management, leadership, and business topics. The essays are loosely grouped, but the author comes back to common themes through out. The author is a startup founder who got his company acquired, did some time at the acquiring big company and then moved into venture capital, so he has some good experience to draw on. Many of the stories offered have to do with the startup experience, but they are easily applicable to working in teams within a large company or organization. The information here is very broad but very shallow, so this book is a very good introduction to a wide range of topics and other books that readers can dig into if they want to learn more on any one topic. I highly recommend this book for people at startups or managers early in their careers. There is a lot to learn here.
24 reviews
January 2, 2020
With the irony fully recognized, it took me awhile to get through this book. I'd pick it up and put it down and pick it up and... That said, I think I have a good excuse for it. This book is clearly aimed towards the for profit world and I work for a nonprofit. I'd say that about a quarter of what Belsky wrote could - with a little stretching - apply to the nonprofit realm with some absolute nonprofit gems here and there. The other third was still helpful for getting in an encouraging mindset for experimentation and the final third I either didn't understand or didn't apply.

All that said, those gems for nonprofits were really great and helpful. In particular, they helped explain some of the gaps in understanding between board members who come from nonprofit and for profit backgrounds. As someone who is in an ED sort of seat, it will help me make some helpful translations, too. I'd love to see a book or pamphlet from Belsky just about that. If you're aware of something like this by him, please message me.
Profile Image for Chandra Halim.
33 reviews
November 25, 2018
I just read this book for like 5 minutes, and I just know that the author himself was rarely reading books. It’s so ugly, unrelatable, wordy, and full of insignificant phrase without the essence. I think he’s just trying to practice what he thought he perceived when he read one book, so that this book (his book) will look like the real book that was sold on the bookstore, that was read by the reader—I mean this book is trying to normalize itself and keep it real.
Believe me, I’m not that kind of judgemental person. So I went out to check on the table of content, and yeah, it appeared the same; no essence, all plain.
Now, I dont wanna engage on an activity that would only cause me pain. So I closed the book, and not reading it. Despite of the fact that this book is still new. And the author is well lets say a success entrepreneur. Nonetheless he is a rookie writer. I couldnt stand it a little bit longer.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
659 reviews16 followers
February 6, 2019
So many people are starting new things - new companies, new projects, new side hustles. Everyone gets excited about starting something, and finishing it, but what about what happens between those milestones? This book addresses that messy middle.

The book is divided into sections about enduring, optimizing, and approaching the finish line. Within each of those sections, there’s a series of “chapters,” which are typically not more than 2-3 pages long. Each chapter addresses a principle or lesson learned from the author in going through his own project or company efforts. I was about a third of the way through the book before I realized it wasn’t really meant to be read start to finish.

While the tidbits were mostly useful, if you read a lot of business or entrepreneurial books, you will probably find a good bit of repetition from those. However, this book collects them all into a thorough, if somewhat wordy, collection.
Profile Image for Ervin Ebalo.
1 review
May 21, 2021
The Messy Middle was a great read. It opens your eyes about the often-skipped over parts of the journey of a startup. It provides perspective, motivation, and practical advice to stay persistent.

Here's a few items that resonated with me

"When you feel lost in ambiguity, ask a different question"
Sometimes we may get stuck in a challenge and can't find the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe, you're trying to answer the wrong question.

"The easy path will only take you to a crowded place"
Really digging deep to understand where we can have a competitive advantage, a bigger moat. It may take a bit longer to get there but if we all share the same vision and work in unison, we will get get there. "Progress takes time. Patience and persistence can be a competitive advantage."

"Comfort breeds complacency"
"Periodic disruptions of various kinds provide perspective. They make people stay fresh and alert"
Profile Image for Matthew Finlayson.
28 reviews8 followers
February 8, 2019
The Messy Middle caught my eye in the bookstore. The introduction is compelling, the middle of running a company is an exercise is enduring and optimizing. I’m living that right now, so I was intrigued. Unfortunately, I didn’t read more of the book. Each section has a common topic, but the sections are composed of 2 or 3 page essays. It’s effectively like reading a series of blog posts and I hate the format.
That said there were gems throughout, I particularly liked his perspective on organizations and process. There was just too much down time and filler. The author does recommend not reading it through but instead skimming over it and dipping in as topics are relevant to you. At the end of the day I can’t recommend that folks pick up this book. I think that time may be better spent on other things.
Profile Image for William Anderson.
134 reviews23 followers
June 4, 2019
The Messy Middle is in fact not about the middle. Its a sharing of anecdotes and experience from the founder of Behance about running a company and how to deal with its end. While written with a target audience of startup founders, they will find its enduring advice invaluable, and hopefully grounding, as a book of this nature is unique to that demographic.

For those in the business world at large you will find this to be a much more standard book focused on the learnings from a single persons success and anecdotes from those whom they have mentored along the way.

Overall it is positive, well written and highly quotable, definitely worth a read, as it will inspire, question, and reinforce.
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