The Unofficial Part VII of Big Magic

We recently wrote a blog post about four things we learned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic. The truth is that we learned a lot more than we shared with readers, but we boiled it down to four takeaways because:

  1. There is not enough space in a blog to share everything one can learn from reading a book by a brilliant and successful woman; and
  2. It wouldn’t be fair to Elizabeth to give away her secrets.

Big Magic is a delight of a read that leaves you feeling fired up, passionate and ready to pursue your creative dreams. The question Big Magic leaves inspired readers wondering is, how? This blog post is for people who know they want to create (perhaps having been inspired by Big Magic) but don’t know how to execute.

We go through a host of methodologies in Studio/E and we’re not about to dive into them all right now, but we do want to share one of the most effective ways we know to navigate into the unknown, or into the fearful world of chasing your idea. That method is called Act-Learn-Build, and we learned it from the book Just Start: Take Action, Embrace Uncertainty, Create the Future by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer and Paul B. Brown. At the time of the book’s publication, Schlesinger was President of Babson College, the number one entrepreneurship school globally for over 20 years. As Babson is a partner and Studio/E champion, we took that book seriously, and in fact incorporated Act-Learn-Build into our methodology.

Put simply, Act-Learn-Build is the concept of repeating a process with the aim of growing your capacity to reach a desired goal or idea. Let’s break it down:


This is about taking small steps and acting with the mindset of a curious explorer as opposed to the mindset that many of us are used to – that of a manager. While a manager tends to plan and then act, a curious explorer will act in order to learn. Both tactics are good, but there is a time and a place for each. Let’s pretend your idea is to produce a bloody mary flavored beef jerky, for example. Instead of creating a brand, renting a space and doing a full-scale production, you could try making a small production and giving it to friends, family, co-workers, strangers – anyone who would give you an opinion. This small step will position you to:


After you take a baby step you are better suited to learn the needs, objectives and challenges of your customer and you can adjust accordingly. Did you learn after handing out your beef jerky that people prefer drinking their bloodies to eating them? Great! Now you know and you can build upon that valuable knowledge.


Now that you know your customers aren’t too keen on bloody mary flavored beef jerky, maybe you could try Sriracha flavor instead. That would be building. The point is, by taking a little step (making a small batch to test-drive your idea) and finding out that your great idea doesn’t resonate with your customer, you’ve saved yourself a lot of time and money.

The Act-Learn-Build concept is simple, but too often we get stifled by the desire for a big launch — a full-blown production. And when we get bogged down by big launches we miss out on important learnings, like what your customers’ needs and desires actually are.

We have many Act-Learn-Build examples that we will share in the coming months here on this blog. But before we write a whole case study about it – a big launch, if you will – we wanted to take a small action and share a little bit now.

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