Book Review: The Accidental Creative, How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice

By Todd Henry

Portfolio Books, 2011, 240 pages

Softcover: $10.95, E-read edition: $9.99

Reviewed by Chris Wendel

For many, we live in an age filled with grand plans, good intentions and, inevitably, not enough time. If getting through the work week leaves little creative juice at the end, then “The Accidental Creative” by Todd Henry may be the ticket. The challenge according to Henry is to cut through the workplace rigors that prevent us from doing the work that we enjoy and are usually paid for.

There are plenty of books of late that have touched on this issue of doing creative work. In his book “Lynchpins,” entrepreneur Seth Godin takes a good swipe with advice for channeling our time toward work that really counts. “The 4-Hour Workweek” by Timothy Ferris turned the business world on its ear by suggesting that we can fit our creative work into smaller designated clusters of time as long as we were vigilant about eliminating useless workplace meetings, emails and distractions.

With “The Accidental Creative” author Henry takes a holistic approach to time management, forcing readers to take a comprehensive look at their own work habits. The intended result is a refined game plan for managing your life and leaving plenty of mind space and energy for the creativity that brings each of us value.

The first step is to assess the dynamics of your work situation. Henry believes that most of us are so focused on the daily “to do” list that we do not designate time away from our computers and sometimes even the office to come up with inspirational ideas. There are plenty of directives for dealing with “the assassins of creativity,” including solid techniques to make both individual and team work more efficient.

Henry talks a lot about “creative rhythm,” which includes a pattern of daily and weekly times to focus on what is really creative, enriching personal relationships and working within your body’s energy ebbs and flows. If this all sounds a bit airy-fairly, it’s not. What is required is the time to work through the recommended material and recognize how it can fit into your own situation. There also needs to be an acceptance of Henry’s pet phrases that read out of context (meaning read don’t scan) might seem a bit odd.

Recognizing time sucks and pushing those distractions away is discussed at length. Henry’s analysis of the “ping” or the calculation of the time an average worker wastes when diverted by the ping (or the anticipation) of an incoming email is a real eye opener.

Using a football analogy, several “Red Zone” daily activities should be given a high priority because they are critical for producing inspired work. For example, if you have a specific area of expertise then you are in the unique position to quickly move a project forward. Another “Red Zone” example would be “activities that increase your personal capacity to generate ideas, such as study, purposeful ideation, or intelligence gathering.” Non work activities such as adequate sleep, exercise, and spiritual practices are also classified by Henry as “Red Zone.”

In the end “The Accidental Creative” brings all of these concepts together with a “Checkpoint System” to build a supporting infrastructure “that will provide stability and increased creative capacity.” What results is a process that Henry believes is how highly successful entrepreneurs and business people function at a hyper high level. There’s always time for the important things, it’s more of a matter of recognizing, prioritizing and eliminating activities of little value.

Most of us would agree that being creative is the fun part of what we do every day. “The Accidental Creative” is a combination of common sense and a workable framework for making sure this part of our life is not put off until tomorrow. Although Henry’s approach is more involved than simply reading the book, his philosophy will be welcomed by those stuck in a perpetual time-work rut.

Chris Wendel is with Northern Initiative in Traverse City. Based in Marquette, Mich., Northern Initiatives provides entrepreneurs with access to capital, information and new markets.