Todd Henry is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a company that helps creative people and teams generate brilliant ideas. He regularly speaks and consults with companies, both large and small, about how to develop practices and systems that lead to everyday brilliance. Todd’s work has been featured by Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, HBR.org, US News & World Report, and many other major media outlets. His book, The Accidental Creative: How To Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, offers strategies for how to thrive in the creative marketplace and has been called “one of the best books to date on how to structure your ideas, and manage the creative process and work that comes out of it” by Jack Covert, author of The 100 Best Business Books of All Time and founder of 800-CEO-READ. You can connect with Todd here, or learn more about how to hire him to speak at your event or train your team.
Here is my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing The Accidental Creative, a few general questions. First, Who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth?
Henry: I have a counter-intuitive answer to this. Probably the biggest influence on my personal growth was a 20th-century mystic and monk named Thomas Merton. It seems strange that a man who lived the biggest part of the late years of his life in isolation and contemplation would have much to say to a 21st-century, tech-immersed creative, but I found his writings to be deeply reflective on the nature of humanity, and also an illumination on the mechanics of doing important work.
If I were talking only about contemporary influences, I would have to say that I’ve been incredibly blessed to be around a group of mentors who, over a period of several years, really made it a project to develop me and help me understand both my capacity and my limitations. It was in this virtual incubator for leadership that I first discovered my voice and began reflecting deeply on the creative process.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course that you continue to follow?
Henry: I was a leader in an organization trying to scale a team while helping them handle the pressures and demands we were facing, and in my effort to do so I reached out to several other creative directors who I knew would be dealing with the same issues. My biggest question for them was, “How do you serve your team, and help them do their best work without burning them out?” They stared at me like I was from another planet. “What you mean?” they almost unanimously asked. In other words, it had never occurred to them that it might be possible to exist in any create on-demand environment and be simultaneously healthy in the way you approach your work. This began a long journey for me of exploring whether or not it was possible to be prolific, brilliant, and healthy simultaneously in life and work. This research eventually led to my company, which now shares these insights with teams around the world, and then eventually to the book, The Accidental Creative.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education proven invaluable to what you have accomplished in your life thus far?
Henry: It may be cliché but I believe that the biggest contribution formal education made to my career accomplishments is that I learned how to structure my uncertainty and questions into a format that could be pursued and digested effectively. I learned to deal with ambiguity and suffer through process. When I was in school, information wasn’t so readily available, and there was more risk involved in pursuing a specific avenue of research. It was much more difficult (and costly!) to pivot mid-course, so it forced me to stay focused while going about my work. This allowed me to develop the capacity of deep, intermittent focus that has served me in my work as a professional creative.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between creativity and innovation?
Henry: The definition of innovation I use is “progressive and useful change” which typically involves (or at least begins with) a creative act. Creativity, at the heart of it, is problem solving. A designer might solve a problem visually, while a manager might do so by thinking up a new system. But that creative act is only innovation once it’s applied and creates useful change.
Morris: What do you say in response to someone who says, “I’m just not creative”?
Henry: I would say they are wrong. We are all creative, because we all have the ability to solve problems and create value with our mind. I think the biggest reason people say “I’m not creative” is because they confuse creativity with art. The very act of holding a conversation – which most of us can do – is a creative act, because it’s based on improvisation! Once we re-frame creativity as problem-solving, it helps people see their own creative capacity in new ways.
Morris: Isaac Asimov once observed, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not Eureka! (I found it!) but rather, ‘hmm… that’s funny…’” Do you agree with him?
Henry: Yes! Steven Johnson has called this the “slow hunch” and I agree. Brilliant work is most frequently the result of focused, laborious effort punctuated by moments of insight, all of which is driven by curiosity sourced in the slow hunch. It’s only when we stay with the problem long enough to recognize those anomalies that we are positioned for breakthroughs. To do this we must develop the ability to ask incisive questions. The questions are – in my opinion – far more important than the answers. Every answer must lead to a new question.
Morris: Here is another quotation, this time from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” By what process can one get to “the other side of complexity”?
Henry: The trouble is that we get to the other side of complexity for a moment, only to find that there’s far more complexity to be conquered. The creative process is the perpetual assault on the beachhead of apathy, which means that we must fight a daily battle against our natural desire to stay in our comfort zone. Steven Pressfield calls this battling “Resistance” and I’m in 100% agreement. To get to those flashes of clarity – simplicity – requires persistent daily, and sometimes seemingly fruitless effort. At the same time, I don’t know that the illusion of simplicity lasts for long. Most creatives I know experience a brief, shining moment of satisfaction before they begin to see holes in their work. That’s what propels us to keep striving – the promise of greater clarity and simplicity.
Morris: Many major breakthroughs in creativity and innovation are the result of counter-intuitive thinking. For example, combining a wine press with separable type (Gutenberg and the printing press), removal of burrs from a pet’s hair with an attachment (George de Mestral and VELCRO), and leather softener with skin care (Mark Kay Cosmetics).
Here is my two-part question: What are the major differences between intuition and counter-intuition? What (if anything) do intuition and counter-intuition share in common?
Henry: I think intuition and counter-intuition are all about framing. A problem framed in a certain way leads to an intuitive solution. When framed in a different way, the same solution appears counter-intuitive. I believe that so much of this is determined by the focus of the individual solving the problem, and the stimuli that prompt their search for a solution. That’s why I believe it’s critical to maintain a proper level of focus on the true problems you’re trying to solve. If you don’t regularly define your work, you’re likely to drift and you’re less likely to notice those moments of intuitive or counter-intuitive serendipity.
Morris: Of all the books you have read, from which one have you learned the most about creativity and innovation? Please explain.
Henry: From an innovation standpoint, it’s really hard to top The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen. He thoroughly nailed the dynamics of living and working in a marketplace that requires perpetual reinvention, and I believe also unintentionally defined the single biggest factors that cause creative professionals to feel frustrated, under-utilized, and disengaged in their daily work. Purely from a “mechanics of creativity” standpoint, I’d say that I learned the most from Lateral Thinking by Edward de Bono. I also greatly enjoyed Creativity by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, which is a synthesis of his research into creativity across multiple domains.
Morris: Within the last few years, there have been several excellent books published in which thought leaders such as Roger Martin, Chris Brown, and Roberto Verganti discuss the design of business. In your opinion, why has this subject attracted so much attention?
Henry: Over the past many years it’s become obvious that design can’t be an after-thought, because it’s actually good business as well. We are in an age where ideas flow freely and with less friction, and many of the traditional means of creating and distributing goods were based on creating friction rather than eliminating it. Great design is about eliminating friction so that consumers can identify, connect with, and consume what they want when they want it. Good design, from operations all the way through the final point-of-sale communication, is critical in eliminating that friction, especially now that consumers have so many choices.
Morris: What are the defining characteristics of a workplace environment within which creativity and innovation are most stimulated, nourished, and when necessary, protected?
Henry: There is no one-size-fits-all solution, though many still try to find it. In my experience, the most innovative and productive workplace environments have less to do with physical space than psychological space. Is there clarity of purpose? Are we rewarded for the things that move the needle, such as taking measured risks, asking good questions, and spending ourselves on behalf of the work? Do we foster an environment of conversation, or of secrecy? No one goes to work in the morning hoping to crank out a mediocre pile of misery, yet over time our work environments either reward continual growth, or encourage systemic mediocrity. You’re either growing or dying, there is no stagnancy. But growth is difficult and messy, and requires persistent effort. Many give up when it’s “good enough.” (One of the best examinations I’ve read of teams who accomplished great, innovative things is Organizing Genius by Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman.)
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Todd cordially invites you to check out the resources at The Accidental Creative website by clicking here.
Here is a brief excerpt from an article written by Carrie Hindmarsh and featured by the Wall Street Journal‘s blog, “The Source.” To read the complete article, check out other resources, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
She is CEO of M&C Saatchi Group’s advertising agency. Also, she is a judge at the Veuve Clicquot Business Women of the Year Awards in London.
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Here are two (of five) lessons about women in business that she has learned from her extensive experiences in the advertising industry over the 21 years she has been in the sector and from her journey to the boardroom.
Lesson One: Difference Matters
At the beginning of my career, there were only a few women in senior positions in advertising where I have built my career. The industry had a deserved reputation as a boys-only club, and I’d often find myself to be the lone female in meetings.
As a woman in business then, you did need to be a little more persistent, a little more vocal. Change had been slow until five or so years ago, when suddenly, it seemed, women were everywhere.
There are many women in senior positions at M&C Saatchi these days, and increasingly in other large, traditionally male-dominated agencies. The most successful senior women I’ve worked with over the years, however, aren’t wannabe men, rather they are just really talented women.
I’ve learned that trying to be like someone else, because of a perceived advantage, doesn’t work in any part of life, least of all in business. There is no room for imposters in any part of a successful enterprise.
Women should be celebrating their different skills, their unique view and using their different life experiences to enhance their contribution in business.
Women aren’t a homogenous, one-size-fits-all group with a single voice. We are all different and valued whatever our gender. This ethos stretches across everything — we demand diversity in approach and thinking and a forum where all views are heard.
It’s not tokenistic or politically correct; in fact, it’s much more prosaic – different people, with opposing views, working to a common goal, to produce the best, most tested, challenged and robust work.
Lesson Two: Identify What Should change and What Should Stay the Same
Well-known advertising brands need to apply the same principles to their own business as they do to their clients’ brands — same thinking, same flexibility, same creativity. Knowing what to keep and what to change is really important to any business, and had a particular impact on advertising agencies as digital marketing began to boom, for instance.
I think what most of us miss, is that this is true of people as well as brands. I have spent most of my life in the same organisation, and change can feel overwhelming. But an honest appraisal of what’s working and what’s not is the key to success.
You need to be an expert in what you do, but understand and embrace where you need help, need to re-evaluate and change course. Success for brands, agencies and people means constantly checking that you are holding fast to your basic principles, whilst embracing a constantly evolving communications world.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
He was the incandescent man. Phil Graham walked into a room and took it over, charming and seducing whomever he wished, men and women alike. No one in Washington could match him at all, not even, in the days before he became President, John F. Kennedy.
Everyone adored Phil Graham.
David Halberstam, The Powers that Be (Phil Graham married Katharine Meyer, whose father owned the Washington Post. She is, of course, better known as Katharine Graham).
We now understand charisma as a set of behaviors.
Olivia Fox Cabane, The Charisma Myth
I’ve been thinking about charisma. Bob Morris does not steer us (me) wrong on books, and he is high on the new book The Charisma Myth. (read his review here). So, I am reading it in parts, in brief moments. I like it. It has a lot of great, practical advice. I am looking forward to working through the specific suggestions about how to develop a charismatic presence, how to make a charismatic impact.
But, I suspect that this is like so many other things. We can all get better; maybe noticeably better. We can all develop some/many of these traits. We can work on intentionally learning how to leave an impression, how to have “charisma” (the book talks about what to wear, how to develop a good handshake… practical steps). All of these are useful, good, helpful… and they do and will lead to greater presence, greater charisma.
But I suspect that we could work really hard at this for years and we will still not turn ourselves into a Phil Graham. And therein lies the frustration. We read a title like The Charisma Myth, and we inevitably start comparing ourselves to the genuine superstars.
So, here is my counsel. Yes, you can learn to be noticed in a room. You can learn the behaviors that will make an impact on others. (And don’t forget to be sincere in such a pursuit, as Bob Morris warns us in his review).
But when a Phil Graham shows up, chances are he will still take the room over. So, in the presence of a superstar, just relax and enjoy the show.
A side note: I am asked “what is the best book you have ever read?” more times that I can count. I find that question impossible to answer. There are so many variables; the “place” I was in at the time of the reading; the purpose of the book, and my purpose for reading the book. But The Powers that Be by David Halberstam would go on my short list for a book that is absolutely worth the money and time.
How and why reverse innovation can help to reverse the negative trends and tendencies that can weaken an organization
Those who have read one or more of Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble’s previously published books (notably Ten Rules for Strategic Innovators and, more recently, The Other Side of Innovation) already know that they share a unique talent for recognizing and then explaining previously unrecognized – or under-appreciated — business trends and their implications. In this instance, the fact that the dynamics of global innovation are not only changing, they are shifting from rich countries with incumbent economies to meeting unmet needs in developing countries.
Leaders in companies that aspire to accommodate those needs must develop a mindset that is radically different, one whose core concept is reverse innovation. That is, “any innovation that is adopted first in the developing world.” To develop that mindset, leaders must understand the significant differences between rich-country and poor-country needs. “Reverse innovation does not begin with inventing, but with forgetting. You must let go of what you’ve learned, what you’ve seen, and what has brought you your greatest successes. You must let go of the dominant logic that has served you well in rich countries. If you want to use today’s science and technology to address unmet needs in the developing world, then you must start with humility and curiosity.”
In short, think “far from home” before attempting to do business there.
Govindarajan and Trimble identify and explore five need gaps that can serve as paths to success with reverse innovation in macro markets of micro consumers. Understanding the nature, extent, and perils as well as opportunities of these need gaps will serve as the foundation of the radically different mindset to which I referred earlier. With both uncommon rigor and precision, Govindarajan and Chris Trimble explain
o What the reverse innovation challenge requires
o How to develop the reverse innovation mindset
o How to formulate an appropriate strategy based the five paths
o How to create “clean slate” innovation in emerging markets
o “The Reverse Innovation Playbook” (Nine rules to guide and inform strategy, global organization, and project organization
In Part 2, Reverse Innovation in Action,” Govindarajan and Trimble shift their attention to mini-case studies of eight major companies (Chapters 5-12, Pages 75-188), citing real-world situations that demonstrate an abundance of do’s and don’ts during initiatives to develop macromarkets with products that appeal to microconsumers. For example, in Chapter Six, Govindarajan and Trimble explain how Procter & Gamble realized that its success in emerging markets required it to innovate the “Un-P&G Way” because unfamiliar customer needs “trump” leading-edge technology. In Chapter Eleven, “PepsiCo’s Brand-New Bag,” this major multi-national company had to learn how to “think globally but snack locally”
Readers will also appreciate the provision of a “Reverse Innovation Toolkit” in Appendix A. Govindarajan and Trimble include several practical diagnostics and templates that will help business leaders expedite their reverse innovation efforts. In fact, they make brilliant use of reader-friendly devices throughout the book, notably “Playbook Lessons” and “Questions for Reflection. Here in a single volume is probably about as much as any business leader needs to help her or his global company to use reverse innovation to avoid or reverse the negative trends and tendencies that can weaken an organization when it attempts to do business in emerging markets.
The Center for the Edge, part of Deloitte LLP, helps senior executives make sense of and profit from emerging opportunities on the edge of business and technology. What is created on the edge of the competitive landscape—in terms of technology, geography, demographics, markets—inevitably strikes at the very heart of a business. Its mission is to identify and explore emerging opportunities related to big shifts that aren’t yet on the senior management agenda, but ought to be. While focused on long-term trends and opportunities, it continues to be equally focused on implications for near-term action, the day-to-day environment of executives.
To learn more about the Center and its unique perspective, please click here.
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In The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, published by Basic Books (2010), John Hagel III, John Seely Brown, and Lang Davison explain how small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. Their book provides a key to how all of us —individually and collectively—can turn challenge and stress into opportunity and reward as digital technology remakes our lives.
Simply put, our institutions are fundamentally broken.
They achieved enormous success by harnessing 20th century infrastructures. Only a few institutions are beginning to discover the potential residing in newer infrastructures and technologies like social media.
By harnessing new pull practices and developing new institutional arrangements to support these practices, we have an opportunity to turn growing stress into expanding opportunity.
As individuals, we truly now have the potential to remake our world, not in a way that simply serves our needs, but in a way that deeply honors the potential of all of those around us as well as our own potential.
To harness the potential of pull, we must begin with ourselves as individuals and join together in the long march required to transform our institutions. On the way, we will discover that small moves, smartly made, can set big things in motion. To learn more, please click here.
Click here to see a video of John Hagel III and John Seely Brown discussing The Power of Pull.
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John Hagel, III serves as Co-Chairman of Strategy and Technology Center of Deloitte & Touche USA LLP. His distinctive expertise involves perspectives on the emergence and evolution of new business models enabled by the Internet, restructuring opportunities created by e-commerce and new approaches to strategy under high uncertainty. John Seely Brown is a visiting scholar and advisor to the Provost at University of Southern California (USC) and the Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge. Prior to that he was the Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—a position he held for nearly two decades. Lang Davison is the former editor-in-chief of The McKinsey Quarterly and is the executive director of the Deloitte LLP Center for the Edge. The Silicon Valley-based Center conducts original research and develops substantive points of view for new corporate growth.