Monthly Archives: September 2011

My Book of the Year//Book Review: The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry

Ok, by best, I mean non-fiction book (the best fiction book goes to the Steig Larson’s “Girl Who Kicked The Hornest’s Nest.”) The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, though, holds in it all the practices and principles that I could only hope every creative executive. The author Todd Henry and the complimenting web site are dedicated to “free[ing] creative teams to do brilliant work. We do this by equipping them with the proper mindset, the right tools, and the systems they need to thrive.” In fact if I had found the book and the site earlier this year, I may not have started this blog.

The author, a self-described “arms dealer for the creative revolution” provides tools for anyone to bring consistent brilliance into their daily lives. If there is a phrase that could trump “highly recommend” or “strongly urge” I would insert that now. Henry speaks to any individual who is called upon to generate ideas and solve problems–from artists to product managers–this book can change your life. I mean that.

Henry understands to the toxic habits and convoluted reasoning that plague many corporate environments. I smiled and shook my head several times as I read this book. I wondered if he ever walked the halls of my old office buildings seeing statements such as “a workplace in which rationalization and mediocrity become the norm. Innovation is often the rallying cry, but bunting for singles is the everyday ethic.”

From this vantage point he offers acute diagnosis for what prevents us from being consistently creative. Then he follows his analysis with cures that can be implemented immediately. Henry says, “To unleash your creative potential now and thrive over the long-term, you need to establish your own rhythm–one that is independent of the pressures and expectations you face each day.”

The most profound teaching for me was Henry imploring his readers to live with intentionality, choice and discipline. “…effective creating begins the moment you decide to reclaim the natural rhythms of your creative process and structure your life around them.” As with any “self-help” or instructional book, it’s some times hard to implement all the suggestions consistently and correctly. But living with intentionality, choice and discipline was the starting point I chose and it has infected my entire life.

Intentionality means I only go with the flow on vacation. I wake up every morning with purpose and focus. In my case, to be a great storyteller. More importantly, I check in with myself to make sure that I’m on track to accomplish my goals from time to time. Choice means I remind myself of each day’s opportunity cost. If choose to watch X amount of hours of television, that also means I choose not to spend that time reading, writing or working on my goals. “You can do almost anything you want, but not everything you want.” Discipline means getting the task done despite how I feel. “Comfort is frequently the enemy of greatness.”

My apologies for so many quotes, but the book is just that good. Henry hits the mark. If you are looking for a book to jumpstart a sluggish career or seeking methods to improve your creativity, this is the book for you. I’ll be referring to it regularly as I re-enter the workforce. (Read more on that here.)

Check out this video about the book. It’s just as good as my review. (wink)


Half-Time is Over: A Creatives Cultures Playbook for My Career

This is my first post in what seems like forever. I took a hiatus to focus on getting some ideas from my mind to paper. During that time I learned a lot about my creative process (as trite as that sounds), what triggers my imagination and habits that dampen it.

Writer's break at Barnes & Nobles, Town & Country Center.

But now my summer of leisurely reading and writing is over. My savings has been depleted. It’s time to get back to work. So I’m headed to Los Angeles, very much in the same manner I ventured off to New York City after college–without a job and without a plan b.

I know I want to work in scripted dramatic television and feature films. That is certain. What I don’t know is what position will be best for me at this point in my life and career. Do I try my hand as a freelance writer? Or do I get back on the corporate ladder as a development assistant? Or is there a hybrid position that will allow me to have one foot in the cubicle and the other in the coffee shop?

No matter where I end up playing the game again, I have to implement a new game plan–built on everything I’ve learned this summer. I can not go back to career as usual. I have to define and live out what it means to be the most consistent and productive creative individual no matter where I find employment.

Here are a few plays I’ve got to institute in the next chapter of my career. Feel free to borrow any that can help you in your cubicle or whatever corporate field you play on.

TAKE TIME ON THE SIDELINES It may seem counterproductive to approach re-entering the workforce by setting aside down time. Isn’t the way to success spending every waking moment dedicated to the job? Well, that could make me productive, but I wouldn’t be at my mental best. Creativity isn’t a wishing star that comes whenever it wants. It’s just that special. But not that random.

Like many people, I get creative when my conscious mind is at rest and my sub-conscious mind has a chance to peek her head out. So by purposely giving my conscious mind scheduled time outs, I allow my sub-conscious (aka my sub) mind to be active with ideas I can capture.

Practically, what does this mean? It means I’ll have to schedule breaks in my day to walk away from my desk and my computer. Give my mind a break and a chance to be brilliant. It means that instead of staring at a question or problem for hours. I’ll write my challenge down and do something mindless like wash dishes, listen to a favorite playlist or people watch.

Most senior executives have the luxury of taking mental breaks during the day. My new position may not allow it so easily. But I’ll have to find a way to sit on the sidelines for a breather should I end up in a cubicle again. I’ll sneak them if I have to. The truth is, if I want to stand out as a creative executive, I will have to.

HUDDLE AFTER EACH PLAY Remember when your parents or teachers used to ask you a million questions after you read a book or went on a field trip? It was annoying but it was an exercise in good thinking. In John Maxwell’s “Thinking For a Change“, he highlights “reflective thinking” as a habit of exceptional leaders. (Click the link for the other eleven habits.)

Sometimes we let brilliance pass us by because we are too busy to take time to analyze our daily experiences. We rush through meetings, finish one article–start another, watch a film classic without taking the time to figure out what we liked, disliked, what inspired us, infuriated us, etc.

I’ve found myself coming up with a slew of wonderful commentary this summer when I take the time to reflective on an experience. After a coffee date, a church service, my favorite television show–I take a few moments to jot my initial thoughts down in my notebook. I never intend to write a lot, but I always do.

And then comes the best part. Well, not right away. But some time in the future, in the middle of a conversation with someone, I pull a comment from my reflective thinking and sound wonderfully profound and intellectual. My comments are met with, “Wow! I never thought of that.” or “That is a really good point.”

This reservoir of insight will come in handy at department meetings or at awkward business cocktail parties. Not only will it brand me as a person of value on my team, it will also set me a part from my peers.

STAY WITH THE RIGHT TEAMMATES I’m a likeable person. I have a silly spirit that makes my conversations animated, whether I know you or not. I’m happy to make friends with almost everyone. But I will be making a special effort to find co-workers who place a premium on protecting and nourishing their creativity.

The funny part is that I knew individuals at past positions who did just that. They read a book during lunch. They took a stroll around the block after a meeting. These were often the same people that other executives went to review a draft of a power point presentation or ask to sit in on a brainstorm. I never put their relaxing work habits together with their exceptional performance.

It’s always good to have kindred spirits around you in any environment. At your job it’s particularly important to align yourself with people who will encourage your ambitions and push you to succeed. I usually find these persons at my church or in my family. But this go round, I’m going to look for them on the job.

Stay tuned for my journey to find employment in Los Angeles. I’ll be sure to share any adventures in my quest to be a stellar creative and a rising executive. If you have any, feel free to share them too.