The Accidental Creative - Todd Henry

Every once in a while, I invite cool people who have written books to share their knowledge with my readers. Todd is a very bright guy, and I think you’ll enjoy his personal notes on the key ideas in [The Accidental Creative](

- Josh

About Todd Henry

Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas.

Here are 10 big ideas from Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative:

1: We now live and work in a create on demand world.

Most workers today have to go to work each day and invent brilliant solutions that meet specific objectives by defined deadlines in order to keep their job. This creates a unique kind of pressure for creative workers because the process by which ideas are generated often seems mystical and elusive. However, there are methods that can increase the likelihood of having good ideas when they are most needed.

To deal with the create on demand dynamic, creative workers must establish practices in the areas of Focus, Relationships, Energy, Stimuli and Hours that support their creative process and keeps them engaged even when things get chaotic.

2: Creatives should strive to be prolific, brilliant and healthy by establishing practices to support their creative process.

Many workers burn out on the altar of short-term productivity, but in today’s marketplace it’s not enough to be prolific for a short time then burn out. To sustain over the long-term, creatives should strive to be prolific (producing a good quantity of work), brilliant (producing good work) and healthy (doing it in a sustainable way). Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of systemic mediocrity or to play organizational political games rather than doing great work. Many creatives get two of these three things right, but it’s difficult to do all three. The only way to do so is to be more purposeful about the way in which they engage work.

3: Creatives deal with a fundamental tension between possibilities and pragmatics.

While most creatives are wired to take ground, many organizations are set up to protect the ground that’s already been taken. This tension between the pursuit of the possible and the protection of already-created value can cause creatives to lose their passion for their work. This tension appears in three forms: process versus product (the tension between how the work gets done and the end product itself), rhythmic versus predictable (the tension between organizational expectations and the true dynamics of creativity) and time versus value (the tension between the value-creating role of creatives that is often de-coupled from the amount of time they put in.)

4: Dissonance, fear and expectation escalation are forces that work against the creative process.

There are three “assassins" that affect the creative process in organizations. Dissonance is a general break between the “why" and the “what" of work. When it is rampant within an organization, creatives are forced to decipher the true expectations of the organization and it zaps creative cycles that could be used for work. Fear causes creatives to limit their engagement and the result is less-than-effective work. Expectation escalation is the result of unwarranted comparison with past work or the work of peers or other companies. It can cause creatives to give up on projects pre-maturely if they don’t appear to have the potential for huge impact.

5: Focus is required to create effectively.

In order to generate brilliant ideas, creatives must effectively define their work. “Challenges" are short problem statements that summarize the key issues of a problem and help focus the mind on the heart of the matter. Additionally, creatives must refine their creative priorities so that their top open loops are perpetually top of mind. Utilizing Challenges and a refined list of creative priorities (the “Big 3") will allow creatives to have a better sense of the problems they’re really trying to solve and help them recognize potential solutions as they appear in daily life.

6: Relationships can be a source of creative insight.

Many people only have relationships as a matter of obligation or convenience. In order to create effectively and sustainably it’s important to build relationships that can reveal opportunities, blind spots and points of potential collaboration. Engaging consistently with a Circle of 4-6 like-minded creatives that’s designed to share new insights, personal projects and potential sources of information is an effective way to jump-start creative thought.

It’s also important to have a “core team" of individuals who can help with important decisions. This core team should consist of people you respect and who are willing to speak difficult truth even when it’s inconvenient to do so. This will ensure that you you have the best possible perspective on problems you are facing.

6: Energy management is crucial to a thriving creative process.

Many creatives manage time very well, but struggle with having the energy to do their best work. A machine without energy is useless, and a creative without energy will struggle to do great work. One method of energy management is to regularly prune out new ideas and opportunities so that critical energy resources are getting to the most important work. Another important method is to make sure that you are not separating personal and work commitments, but are recognizing that every commitment in your life requires energy. By thinking seasonally about personal and work life, it’s often possible to synchronize commitments so that you are not over-extending yourself.

8: Stimuli, or the things that come into your head, affect your capacity to do great work.

The phrase “you are what you eat" applies to your mind as well. The information and experiences creatives absorb affect their capacity to create. One effective way to ensure that creatives are eating their “mental vegetables" is to establish a study plan that incorporates mind-stretching works as well as items designed to cultivate curiosity.

Another effective strategy is to build experiences into your life that are out of the ordinary. For example, seek out opportunities to attend a lecture that runs counter to your beliefs, or visit an environment that makes you a little uncomfortable. This can be an effective way to jump the rails of your mental ruts and jog new kinds of thinking about projects.

9: Hours should be spend effectively, not just efficiently.

Many workers tend to default to an efficiency mindset with their time, meaning cramming every spare moment with activity in order to feel productive. This kind of frantic work can actually harm our capacity to generate ideas and fake work can often be less productive than no work at all. One effective practice (that may seem inefficient) is to regularly carve out time to generate new ideas for projects. While the results may be hit-or-miss at times, brilliant new ideas resulting from this strategy can yield tremendous value to the organization and more than make up for the time spent generating them.

Another effective strategy is to utilize “Unnecessary Creating." This means building time into your life or schedule to make something for the joy of it rather than only utilizing creative energy for pay. This practice allows for experimentation, skill development and growth in a low-risk environment and can often yield tremendous benefits in the on-demand environment as well.

10: Cover bands don’t change the world.

A cover band is one that plays other peoples’ music. While they may fill music clubs and even make a little money in the process, it is ultimately the music that people remember. In order to create an impact it’s important to move beyond imitation and to discover the unique contribution that you have to make to life and work. This means not allowing the expectations of others or the logical tide of others in the marketplace to pull you into a life of complacency and comfort. Rather, by establishing practices to support the creative process, it becomes possible to apply time and attention to new ideas, new endeavors and opportunities for fresh expression.

The ultimate goal for creatives should be to “die empty". This means not leaving unfulfilled ideas, dreams and projects on the table because of a lack of intentional effort.

Did you enjoy Todd’s notes? Pick up your copy of The Accidental Creative now.

Read more essays by Josh Kaufman →

Published: July 8, 2011Last updated: July 8, 2011

Books by Josh Kaufman