Book Summary

The Accidental creative By TODD HENRY

Todd provides a much-needed revision to the perception of the creative worker. He says the tag ‘creative’ sometimes conjures up images of SOHO advertising gurus fleeting about in $500 designer- jeans. But the term creative in today’s workforce could easily be replaced by strategist or manager.

He adds, “call yourself anything you want, but if you’re responsible for solving problems, developing strategies or otherwise straining your brain for new ideas, I’m going to call you a creative, even if you end up being one accidentally.” 

The creative in today’s workforce is expected to have a consistent output of good ideas but if your work requires a generation of new ideas you’ve probably noticed that coming up with creative ideas is hard and unpredictable. Most of us, including myself, have flashes of brilliance followed by long stretches of frustrating mediocrity. Todd tells us that we can develop a predictable rhythm of creative ideas and experience a sustained level of brilliance in our work but to do so we’ll need to continually fight off the three creative assassins.

The first assassin is dissonance. Our minds naturally want to resolve tension and connect the dots. We love stories because we can’t wait to see how the protagonists will resolve the conflict. Our compulsion to resolve tension and find solutions can be a distraction when doing creative work. Because creative work is filled with uncertainty, we often direct our dissonance-reducing mind to resolving the inefficiencies in our day-to-day activities regardless of how effective they are getting us to the intended outcome.

Dissonance leads us to create elaborate spreadsheets when a simple spreadsheet would do just fine. It urges us to develop advanced automated software programs to complete tasks when most of those tasks aren’t essential to achieve the outcome in the first place. Todd says, “I tend to complicate things when I feel uncomfortable or insecure. It’s a defense measure. A few years ago, a co-worker called me out on my complexity addiction and ever since then I’ve kept a printout of a following on the office door.”

1 + 1= [ (9 * 3 ) / 3 ) / 3 ] = 1

The first assassin; dissonance, kills our creativity because it leads us down a path where we have a disconnect between what we do and why we are doing it. The need to constantly resolve conflict leads us to create increasingly complicated systems and ultimately squanders our creative energy.

The second assassin is fear. Todd says we are hard-wired to stay close to the herd and blend in as much as possible. After all, in the animal world, the members of a tribe that stand out are often eaten first. Our herd mentality creates a fear of failure and a fear of success.

Take this scenario. If we try to pitch a creative idea to a group of people and it isn’t well-received we fear falling out of favor with that group and risk being left alone and vulnerable. On the other hand, if we have a successful, creative idea that moves us ahead of the pack, we fear that we won’t be able to find another tribe to fit in or worse be unable to sustain our progress and fall back to the tribe we’re currently in only to find out they no longer want us.

This second assassin; fear, kills creativity by urging us to maintain the status quo and avoid pitching creative ideas that might put our reputation at stake.

The third assassin comes in the form of escalating expectations. Our expectations naturally rise when we start a creative project. We reflect on past performances or we have aspirations to be like our heroes but these rising expectations make the creative process difficult to initiate. Why? Well your expectations act as a filter for your next idea. When your expectations are too high very few ideas are able to pass that bar.

Since creativity often involves combining several mediocre ideas in order to find a great idea, the creative process gets killed long before it gets a chance to develop. The third assassin; fear, kills creativity by making us overly critical of new ideas and stopping the creative process before it has a chance to begin.

These three creative assassins are powerful and destructive. So how do we defeat them? Well, we need to take a lesson from the Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi. You see at the beginning of each season, Vince would gather his team of pro-football players around him and start by holding a football up in the air and saying, “this is a football boys.”

Vince started each season by bring it back to the fundamentals. Like Vince we need to constantly approach our creative work by going back to the fundamentals. However, unlike football, our season needs to restart every week not every year. To hold off the three creative assassins we need to start each week with a F.R.E.S.H. approach.


  1. F in F.R.E.S.H. stands for focus.

At the beginning of each week identify your big three. Todd says the big three are the three most important items that you’re looking for critical insight on. They are items that weigh heavily on your mind, keep you up at night or incite the most conversations among the members of your team. Use these three items as a filter for your experience throughout the week.

Todd says, “when I read a book, I’m looking for connections or concepts that are relevant to my big three. When I have a conversation I check it against my big three, for possible new insights.

  1. R in F.R.E.S.H. stands for

Todd says that when you neglect your relationships, you limit yourself to your own experiences but when you approach your relationships with purpose you will be able to draw on many lifetime’s worth of experience for insight and inspiration.

By actively making time to discuss experiences and gain new perspectives with a circle of people that have valuable experience, you can keep yourself creatively charged.

  1. The E in F.R.E.S.H. stands for energy.

Holding off the three assassins requires a sustained level of energy throughout the week. To ensure our energy remains high, you need healthy rituals in place that cultivate a high level of mental energy. I suggest starting with the fundamentals develop a plan to exercise, eat well and get adequate sleep each week.

Creative thinking is an energy intensive activity. Ensure that you have the support of key rituals to sustain your brilliance.

  1. The S in F.R.E.S.H. stands for stimuli.

The information we consume becomes the raw material for our curd of output. Garbage in equals garbage out so seriously consider the books you’ll be reading this week and the media you’ll be consuming as these resources can either fertilize your creative goals or kill them.

  1. H in F.R.E.S.H. stands for hours.

At the beginning of each week you need to look at your schedule and ask yourself, “do the hours in my schedule this week reflect the four areas covered above i.e. Focus, Relationships, Energy and Stimuli. Have I scheduled time for the big three?”

If you start your week off F.R.E.S.H. you have better odds of holding off the three assassins. Without the three creative assassins in your life, you’ll experience sustained brilliance and have the ability to create on demand.

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