The Accidental Creative:
How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice
By Todd Henry
When I mentioned in three It’s Monday! What I’m Reading! posts that I was (slowly) reading a book about being accidentally creative, several commenters echoed my own thoughts when they said they would benefit from learning how to be creative at a moment’s notice. Todd Henry knew that, and wrote a good book to help everyone be as brilliant as possible. The book provides a lot of ideas and suggestions to maximize creativity. While I wish there could be a magic formula (a pinch of this and a dash of that), being creative takes effort. Some people can just ooze creativity (or an odd brand of weirdness), but for others it seems to be more of a struggle.
Henry’s approach to being spontaneously creative can be separated into three categories: Preparing for Creativity, Harnessing Creativity and Recognizing Threats to Your Creativity.
Preparing for Creativity
The most prominent way in which someone can learn to become accidentally creative is to prepare for brilliant moments of insight. This basic premise is born out of the idea that, “If you want to deliver the right idea at the right moment, you must begin the process far upstream from when you need that idea.” (p 9) Henry recommends that everyday includes quality stimuli. In my post on finding inspiration, I shared a similar concept. I try to regularly read websites, magazines and blogs that inspire and/or inform me. I may not always take away something that I believe is important from each article or post, but over time, I’ve come to realize that the information and ideas I’ve stored away (in the back of my mind, in my notebooks or on Pinterest) has come forward to benefit me when I’m trying to think of solutions or articulate ideas. This is really the Minute Maid of ideas to promote your creativity.
The second way to prepare for creativity is to be purposeful about what you do and how you approach the creative process. Henry recommends planning out your life by considering the projects, plans and goals you have by focusing on the coming day, week, month, quarter and year. “Whole-life planning recognizes that your creative process is the result of the merging of all your experiences and passions.” (p 96) I think the idea of clustering, or intelligent adjacency, is also a way to be purposeful about your work. Basically, clustering is doing similar tasks next to each other without interruptions. Like most efficiency experts, Henry recommends limiting phone calls and e-mails to specific times of the day. The benefits of clustering include limiting focus shifts, experiencing unexpected breakthroughs and improving flow.
Finally, Henry recommends note taking. Obviously, I’m a big fan of taking notes. I’m never quite sure what I’ll remember later or what will be important later. Throughout history, thought leaders, movers and shakers have taken voracious notes. In fact, John Adams, who was an especially prolific note taker, took many notes in his book. “[John] Adams was not taking notes the way that many of us have been taught…Rather, he was recording his own thoughts and reactions to the claims of the author. He treated books as a conversation rather than a monologue.” (p 112)
How do you harness those insights and all that creativity you’re supposed to glean from notes and the like? Henry recommends establishing a rhythm to your work that manages “the pressures and expectations you face each day.” (p 122) Henry continues that, “When you begin to treat idea generation as a rhythmic practice, you begin to experience growth in your ability to generate ideas when you need them.” (p 125)
Recognizing Threats to Your Creativity
Now that you’ve spent all of that time preparing for and harnessing your creativity, you need to learn to recognize threats to that creativity.
While it’s not a magic formula, Henry did share a formula to achieving creative brilliance:
To maintain a certain level of work, you must remember to stay healthy. Do what you need to do to stay healthy–exercise, eat healthy, etc. Use routines to maintain your prolific nature.
Henry believes there are three assassins to the creative process: dissonance, fear and expectation escalation.
Dissonance is a disagreement or incongruity. The human mind craves resolution of unresolved things and patterns. One of the main functions of creative thought is the resolution of this dissonance; however, if out of control, it can be a threat to your creativity.
People fear plenty of things: success, failure, cats, dogs. As Henry states, “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety. Paranoia undoes greatness.” (p47)
Finally, expectation escalation is a threat. Once you’ve done something great, the expectations continue to rise. Sometimes that escalation can lead to the inability to be creative.
Writing 4 out of 5 stars
The writing in this book was strong. Henry clearly made his points and backed them up with knowledge gained as a consultant.
Topic Knowledge 4 out of 5 stars
As I mentioned, Henry is a creativity consultant, so he does have a lot of knowledge on this topic, including an understanding of how to teach people to be creative.
Research 3.5 out of 5 stars
This book didn’t really require formal research because of Henry’s vast knowledge on the topic.
Cultural/Personal Impact 3.5 out of 5 stars
I didn’t read a lot of new information, so the personal impact is a bit limited for me. Affirming my understanding, though, does count for something for me and validates the time I spend reading a LOT of books and articles online. If this doesn’t validate your blog/Twitter/Digg/Stumple Upon/Whatever content habit you have, then I don’t know what will.
Organization/Presentation of Information 5 out of 5 stars
The information is presented in an organized, easy-to-follow fashion. I hate when a nonfiction book jumps around and doesn’t present the information is a logical way. Flashbacks and flashforwards are for fiction; they have NO place in nonfiction. (I have to emphasize this because I don’t think some people understand.)
Total 4 out of 5 stars
Overall, I found this book helpful, but mostly as an affirmation of what I already believed about being creative.
What do you think about the suggestions Henry made? Do you have a content reading habit like mine?
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