5 Things I learned from The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice by Todd Henry
I’ll be honest. When I opened to the first chapter of this book and Todd started talking about organizations, creative teams, managers and CEOs, I started having doubts as to whether it held any value for me personally.
This is in spite of the fact that I’ve been a long-time listener of the Accidental Creative podcast, which I initially discovered because of Henry’s interview with Seth Godin. After hearing that interview, I promptly subscribed to the podcast, and have been listening to it ever since. I’m sure that speaks to how much the show resonates with me.
But the reason I wasn’t connecting with the first part of the book is because I’m not a creative in a corporate environment. I’m more of a freelancer/entrepreneur.
This doesn’t mean that I always work alone, nor does it mean that I’m not interested in building a team. I guess the setup of the book just felt wrong somehow. It wasn’t quite resonating with me.
But Todd himself says that your inclination might be to skip over the first three chapters, so I pushed on in spite of my doubt. And yes, I did finish the book.
As I got to part two (chapter four and onwards), sure enough, everything started falling into place. This was the content I’d been expecting and looking forward to! This book was for me after all.
The Accidental Creative is packed with a lot of great tidbits for creatives in any industry, but here were some of my main takeaways from it.
1. The Big 3
Todd encourages us to define our individual “Big 3”. What are they exactly?
The Big 3 are things you’re trying to gain creative traction on right now. Though your Big 3 could be considered priorities, they aren’t so much projects to be completed as they are open loops. They are questions you are looking to gain more clarity on.
Just as an example, my current Big 3 are as follows:
- What is the problem I’m solving?
- How do I add more value to the world?
- How do I unify my efforts?
Todd says that when he reads books, watches movies or engages in stimuli of any kind, he’s always looking for insights into his Big 3. This practice sets us up for more intentionality in how we consume content.
By keeping your Big 3 in front of you, you can draw meaningful connections between the information you consume and the open loops you’re trying to understand better. This has a way of helping us be more purposeful in the stimuli we choose to engage in too.
In a sense, we all know that we need more buffer time in our lives. Things come up. We can’t plan everything down to the last minute, no matter how much we’d like to.
But buffer time isn’t just about that. It’s about making sure that we’re getting rest, reading books, going for walks, listening to music, and doing things that add to our wellbeing. If this were Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I think what Todd is referring to is essentially quadrant two activities.
Todd gets into some reasons why buffer in your schedule is so important later on in the book, but the key point he drives home is that we can be far more effective creatively by regularly stepping away from our work and coming back to it refreshed.
Us creatives are known to book up our schedules and commit ourselves to a lot of different projects (don’t I know it). But it doesn’t do us much good to keep pushing when we’re already burned out. By implementing buffer time into our daily lives, we can be more effective as opposed to merely efficient.
Ideation is something I already do, mainly because I took James Altucher’s suggestion to generate 10 new ideas every single day seriously. These days, I usually end up doing it right before I go to bed, though that may not be the best time for it.
The difference between James and Todd is that Todd talks about doing it in a more structured manner. He gives us guidelines for ideation that allow us to put disparate concepts together and come away with unique insights.
Clearly, ideas are important to our work as creatives, and we should be sitting down regularly to come up with more. I’m glad that this is already something I do, but I think I should give The Accidental Creative method a try as well.
4. Unnecessary Creative Time
Todd suggests booking an hour a week (one hour every two weeks at minimum) for unnecessary creative time. The reasons are quite simple. When you take the time to engage in something that you’re passionate about, you feel invigorated, and you start to bring more of that energy back to your other creative work.
If you have a running project list (like I do), it’s easy to select from that queue and begin working on a project in that weekly 60 minute time slot.
This is not a current habit of mine, but one I’m looking to adopt. Building the right practices into our lives can support the long-term effectiveness we desire to achieve. If working on something you love can bring more joy and passion to your day job, it’s a win for everyone involved.
I love this idea.
5. The Quarterly Dream List
This is something Todd talked a little bit about towards the end of the book. In effect, it’s where you sit down every quarter to write down the things that would blow your mind if they became a reality.
Todd shares that these dreams have a way of coming to fruition when we take the time to think about them and put them down on paper.
I guess this is a lot like goal-setting or making up to-do lists. Brian Tracy says when you make to-do lists, 80% of them will be completed every single time. It’s amazing what putting a pen to paper can do for you.
I think making a quarterly dream list is something I want to be doing. I want to be thinking about the things I would love to see happen, and who I would love to be collaborating with.
Final Thoughts on The Accidental Creative
So, is The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice worth the price of entry? Yes, if you are a creative, this book is a must-read. Even if the concepts discussed only serve as reminders (and that would be a fairly conservative and narrow assessment of the book), chances are they are the very reminders you need to start building practices that enable your creativity to be more sustainable over the long haul.