The Accidental Creative: A book review by Bob Morris

The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice
Todd Henry
Portfolio/The Penguin Group (2011)

How and why almost anyone can learn to survive and (perhaps) thrive in a create-on-demand world

Contrary to what this book’s subtitle suggests, even people who are highly renowned for being “brilliant” cannot turn it on ”at a moment’s notice.” The great value of this book is to be found in Todd Henry’s explanation of how “purposeful preparation and training using the tools in this book will directly increase [his reader’s] capacity to do brilliant work,” and do so more often, if not (as he claims) “day after day, year after year.” I agree with him that, with appropriate guidance and what Anders Ericsson characterizes as “deliberate” practice, almost anyone can be more creative (make something new or create a new combination) or more innovative (make something better, or improve with a new combination). Those are worthy objectives, to be sure, but gaining the skills needed is best viewed as a process rather than as a destination.

This is what Henry has in mind when observing, “If you want to deliver the right idea at the right moment, you must begin the process far upstream from when you need the idea.” Also, he urges his reader to adopt the goal of being prolific, brilliant, and healthy in order to produce “great work consistently and in a sustainable way.” All three are essential. Tony Schwartz would add that energy renewal is essential to being healthy, as are proper nutrition and systematic physical exercise. Burnout remains a serious problem, especially during an economy such as the current one. Recent research indicates that, on average in a U.S. workplace, fewer than 30% of employees are actively and productively engaged. More than 70% are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, doing whatever they can to undermine operations.

Throughout two Parts (i.e. “The Dynamics” and “Creative Rhythm”) Henry examines business issues such as these, discussing each in a pragmatic rather than theoretical context:

o  The dynamics of creative work and of team work
o  Their side effects (explaining how to deal with the “assassins of creativity”)
o  Focusing on what is most important
o  Building and sustaining important relations between and among individuals as well as organizations
o  Collaborative brilliance
o  Energy allocation, conservation, and renewal
o  Creative stimulation (if not inspiration)
o  Time allocation and efficiency
o  “Checkpoints” for cohesion of creative initiatives
o  Coordinating the “natural rhythms” of intentionality, choice, and discipline

The earlier reference to Anders Ericsson supports Henry’s acknowledgement that although creativity may seem accidental, spontaneous, situational, etc, it is almost always the result of an on-going process during which skills are strengthened through disciplined practice under expert supervision. Creative capability is vulnerable at all times to “assassins” that include dissonance, fear, and expectation escalation. Meanwhile, there are tensions to be managed, such as time/value, predictable/rhythmic, and product/process.

I agree with Henry that how we define greatness defines who we are. I also think that how we define greatness clarifies who and what we can become. This is what Henry Ford had in mind long ago when observing, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” What do you think? Todd Henry suggests, “In the end, it’s probably the single biggest determinant of the course of our life.”

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