Graduate Management News
Q & A

Five Questions on Creativity for … Todd Henry

Consultant and author Todd Henry understands what it takes to “create-on-demand” in today’s fast-paced work environment. The founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a consultancy that helps people and teams generate brilliant ideas, Henry is an expert on the dynamics of organizational creativity. He also develops insights on how individuals can unlock ideas and establish a personal rhythm that sustains creativity.

Todd Henry

The author of The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, Henry will deliver the closing keynote at GMAC’s 2012 Annual Conference, June 20-22 in Chicago. He spoke recently with Graduate Management News.


Q: Can you briefly frame what you mean by the term “accidental creative”?

A: The term has two meanings. The first is that many of us have to generate ideas every day as part of our job. We didn’t necessarily expect to have to play this creative role in our career, yet here we are, having to be creative on a daily basis in order to create value for our organizations. Thus, many of us are “accidental creatives.”

But the deeper meaning of the term is that if we want to experience moments of creative serendipity in our lives—if we want to encourage creative accidents—we need to be purposeful in how we structure our lives so that we experience those flashes of insights frequently.

Q: The subtitle of your book is “how to be brilliant at a moment’s notice.” Can you share a technique or two that would help someone do that?

A: If you want to be brilliant at a moment’s notice, you need to begin far upstream from the moment you need a brilliant idea. You do that by building processes into your life that prepare you for moments when you need an idea. In my book, I focus on five areas that can help us be creative that I bundle under the acronym FRESH: focus, relationships, energy, stimuli, and hours. For example, one practice that people often don’t think about is related to stimuli. That is, what you put in your head affects the creative process. Many of us snack indiscriminately on the junk food equivalent of stimuli. But if we’re more purposeful about the kind of things we put in our minds, that can lead us to see the world in new ways and trigger creative thoughts.

Another practice relates to relationships. Contrary to the myth of the lone innovator, the reality is that innovation is a team sport. So we need to be putting ourselves in positions where we’re interacting with other people who are pursuing similar projects, or having conversations that challenge us to see problems through a new lens.

Q: Are there natural rhythms in personal creativity, and if so, how can those be managed?

A: Creativity is rhythmic. There is an ebb and flow to idea generation. In the create-on-demand world, however, work is naturally arrhythmic. We’re constantly dealing with evolving pressures on a daily basis, including the pressure to generate ideas even when we’re not feeling especially creative. Building practices in the five FRESH areas provides an infrastructure for our creative process and helps us develop a kind of natural rhythm that supports our creativity. When we develop our capacity to be creative using tools under the FRESH umbrella, we position ourselves to be able to respond when we need a new idea.

Q: You believe that we ought to focus less on efficiency and more on effectiveness. Can you talk to that difference?

A: Some of the things that make us feel efficient may not be the ways in which we can be optimally effective in contributing value to our organization. At work, we tend to gravitate naturally toward efficiency type of activities—responding to email or phone messages, having meetings, rehashing problems—rather than toward activities that I would argue make us more effective as employees, such as dedicating time on our calendar to creative pursuits like generating ideas to solve problems. We’ll always default to efficiency, so we have to make the choice to spend our time in places that make us effective and help us contribute the value that our organizations expect of us.

Q: When you speak to the GMAC conference, what do you intend to say about putting creativity into action?

A: No. 1 would be to be intentional and purposeful about how you structure your days and treat your creative process. Don’t expect it to happen by default. It only happens by design. The most brilliant and effective people recognize that. Especially in the face of potential distractions like the technological acceleration that we’re seeing today, we need to learn how to keep our focus on important problems.

No. 2, don’t neglect the great work that you are on this earth to do. Nobody aspires to systemic mediocrity, and yet that’s where we can find ourselves when we’re not intentional. Everybody is wired uniquely to excel at certain kinds of tasks and activities. You need to figure that out and structure your life around that, because otherwise you’re abdicating your contributions to society and humanity, and shortchanging yourself, as well. By being intentional, you can do the great work that you are wired to do.

Henry will discuss more about calling up your creativity at GMAC’s Annual Conference, June 20-22 in Chicago. Registration is now open.


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