Create Your Own Epiphany: Todd Henry, 'The Accidental Creative'

July 10, 2011


We’d all love to be the brains behind the next iPad. But dreaming up big money-making ideas isn’t the only way to be creative. In his new book “The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice” (Portfolio/Penguin, $26), consultant Todd Henry shares his tips for effective brainstorming. We spoke with Henry to learn how to embrace our inner Steve Jobs.

What is an accidental creative?
Managers, consultants and strategists are faced with problems that they have to solve on demand, but they don’t necessarily have formal training on how to be creative. I consider them accidental creatives.

The other definition is that creativity tends to be something that we think of as mystical and elusive. But you can instill processes into your life that lead to those creative accidents more consistently.

You say in the book that structure and creativity are two sides of the same coin, which some people might find surprising.
If you look at some of the greatest artists throughout history, they had intense work ethics and set times when they would sit down and do their work. I believe we need to do the same thing if we want to experience that kind of “accidental” creativity.


Why are relationships some of the most valuable creative resources?
We’re hyperconnected to everybody in our networks today but we do so from a distance. What face-to-face, real relationships do is cause us to come out of that zone and confront people who have different opinions and perspectives who can point out our blind spots.

You talk about certain “assassins of creativity.” What are they?
They’re dissonance, fear and expectation escalation. Dissonance is when there’s a break between the why and the what at an organization, why it says it’s doing something versus what it actually does day to day. Fear can be rooted in one of two things: fear of failure and fear of success. Expectation escalation is when you’re constantly comparing the work you’re doing right now to either peak projects in the past or the work of your heroes or people you admire.

How can we be sure to fill our heads with what’s going to be truly valuable to us?
I always encourage people to think about it like you’re eating your mental vegetables. It’s not about cutting out every bit of trash TV or tabloid magazines. Structure into your life a significant percentage of things that maybe you’re not thrilled about reading, but you know they’re probably going to be good for you. Make it about 40 percent mental vegetables and 30 percent things that are going to be useful to your work, like trade magazines or books related to your work. Then you have the freedom to go watch “Jersey Shore.”

Does everyone need to be creative at times?
Absolutely. The way I define creativity is problem solving. You have to come up with ideas and pull them together to form solutions. If you ask a lot of people if they’re creative, they say no. But if you ask if they have to solve problems every day, everybody would say yes. It’s simply a matter of reframing what creativity is. Instead of thinking about it as fine art, we need to reframe it as problem solving and realize that it’s imperative upon all of us to be creative.

Just how important is creativity in the business world today?
The ability to think creatively on demand is probably one of the most critical skills in the marketplace today. We’re all being forced to deal with increasing amounts of information and workloads that are becoming more complex. You don’t just go to work and crank out widgets all day; you have to deal with a constantly shifting marketplace. I believe that the ability to think creatively is going to become much more important to people who want to thrive in a shifting landscape.

Written by Express contributor Beth Luberecki

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