Be Brilliant in a Moment’s Notice: Interview with Todd Henry

4 min read • Jul 07, 2011 • Dan Bischoff

The book “Accidental Creative — How To Be Brilliant At a Moment’s Notice” hits bookstores today. Before it went out, author Todd Henry answered a few questions for us on how business owners can tap into their creative power:

“You go to work each day tasked with (1) inventing brilliant solutions that (2) meet specific objectives by (3) defined deadlines. If you do this successfully you get to keep your job. If you don’t, you get to work on your résumé. The moment you exchange your creative efforts for money, you enter a world where you will have to be brilliant at a moment’s notice. (no pressure, right?)” — Front jacket of ‘The Accidental Creative’

How does a business owner, who’s swamped in the many details of running a business, open up his/her mind to creativity?

“I think the real key is in creating space for new ideas to emerge. Often business owners are overwhelmed with the activities required to keep the doors open, and it seems very inefficient to spend time doing things like generating ideas or building stimulating relationships. But in the long-term, these “effective, but not necessary efficient” activities can open opportunities that would have otherwise been overlooked.”

How can a business owner create ideas that can make his/her company stand out?

“Great creative ideas are the combination of two factors: they are novel, meaning unique in some way, and they are appropriate to the situation at hand. Many people confuse creativity with novelty and spend a lot of time chasing ideas that are simply not useful in the marketplace. It’s the other side of the equation — appropriateness — that determines whether or not an idea is really a good fit. So my advice is almost always to spend a lot of time generating novel ideas and dwelling on possibility, then make sure that the idea truly solves the problem before falling in love with it.”

How can someone tap into creativity in a stressful environment? Why is it important for him/her to do so?

“The most critical thing that anyone in a stressful job can do is establish practices in their life that ensure that the important things — those that enhance creative capacity and effectiveness — are getting done. These include things like effectively defining the work to gain focus, building into critical relationships, managing energy not just time, ensuring that the right diet of ‘stimuli’ are getting into their head, and spending hours on effective activity not just efficient tasks. Doing this provides a kind of undergirding rhythm that supports the creative process, even in times of extreme stress.”

How can your strategies help people find creative ways to secure funding?

“I think that it’s important to look laterally and to not just fall into the trap of looking where everyone else is. It’s easy to swim with the current, but that’s also where everyone else is likely to be. Spending time to think strategically and explore options — even when it’s uncomfortable to do so or seems inefficient — can yield lots of opportunities. It’s also important to surround the problem rather than just stare at it head-on. This can mean doing things like questioning existing assumptions, identifying potential enemies that stand in the way, or drawing comparisons from similar solutions in other spaces. This kind of sideways thinking can ensure that no potentially useful ideas are being left on the table.”

When you get these creative ideas, how do you act on them? How do you know which ones to act upon?

“It’s important to make sure that you understand the scope and expectations of your idea, and also what your next actions are. If you’re within an organization you also need a champion for every project. Efforts without champions die in large, unwieldy organizations, so it’s important to make sure that someone is acutely accountable for driving results. The lack of clear ownership is one of the biggest factors in projects — even really great ones — dying on the vine.”

RELATED: 3 Secrets to Creative Problem Solving

What are some tools to help the creative process?

“Though tools aren’t necessary to generate ideas, I think sometimes it’s helpful to have something to help structure your process. Accidental Creative developed a tool called the Personal Idea Pad (PIP) that helps you surround creative challenges and think peripherally about the problem at hand. It’s designed to get all potentially useful ideas on the table before making decisions about next actions. But the most important tool in my creative quiver is a simple notebook or stack of index cards. I write obsessively about what I’m observing and about potentially useful ideas that flit through my head. Without recording these observations, it’s likely that they would be gone within minutes. “

When should business owners leave the creative ideas to someone else?

“Creativity is everyone’s responsibility, but we only have so much bandwidth to focus on generating ideas. With that in mind, I’d recommend that business owners define the problems that they are going to be fully vested in — probably not more than a handful at a time — then audit other ideas recommended by the team to ensure they are on-target for the objectives of the business. In this way they are able to bring their full creative energy to the most pressing issues but not get burned out by trying to spread themselves over too many priorities.”

About Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Todd Henry

Todd is the founder and CEO of Accidental Creative, a consultancy that helps organizations generate brilliant ideas. In 2006, he started The Accidental Creative, one of the top business podcasts. He is a sought-after speaker, consultant, and coach. Follow him on Twitter at @toddhenry


Dan Bischoff