45 episodes

The Accidental Creative podcast shares how to build practical, everyday practices that help you stay prolific, brilliant and healthy in life and work. Host Todd Henry (author of the books The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, and Louder Than Words) interviews artists, authors and business leaders, and offers tips for how to thrive in life and work. Listen in and join the conversation at AccidentalCreative.com.

The Accidental Creative AccidentalCreative.com - Todd Henry

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The Accidental Creative podcast shares how to build practical, everyday practices that help you stay prolific, brilliant and healthy in life and work. Host Todd Henry (author of the books The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, and Louder Than Words) interviews artists, authors and business leaders, and offers tips for how to thrive in life and work. Listen in and join the conversation at AccidentalCreative.com.

    The Hero Myth

    The Hero Myth

    If I had to choose one gift to impart upon every person I meet - one master key that unlocks their potential - it would be bravery. We need radical bravery in our workplaces, our schools, our neighborhoods, and - God help us - in our politics. If more people committed to making brave choices daily, we would see stronger, more effective teams, less corruption, less unhealthy conflict, and more progress on the societal issues that truly matter.

    Organizations need leaders committed to cultivating a culture of bravery, and who themselves are making brave choices in the face of uncertainty. The marketplace needs more business owners who are willing to step up and do the right thing for their employees and their communities, even at the risk of personal cost. And, society needs more people to cultivate brave, empathetic relationships with people who think differently from them.

    My ambition with this manifesto is to inspire an epidemic of everyday bravery both in and out of the workplace.

    Bravery Is Not What You Think

    To begin, we need a good definition of what bravery actually ​is​. Most of our cultural reference points for bravery involve heroic actions like storming a beach, risking everything on an unlikely business deal, or casting caution to the wind on a massive career change.

    Yes, those actions ​can​ be brave, but the call to bravery is not just about mustering courage in the face of overwhelming odds.

    Bravery exists whenever someone a person engages in right action at the potential expense of their own comfort.​ Cowardice, on the other hand, exists when someone chooses self-protection at the expense of right action. It is possible to appear brave to others while actually behaving in a cowardly way, or to appear a coward to others while doing the brave thing. Others may not always know your internal considerations, and may filter your actions through their own biases.

    Bravery exists in an environment of high agency, and high optimism.​ When there is a lack of either agency (belief that individual actions can make a difference) or optimism (there’s a possible better future), the environment is ripe for potential cowardice.

    Leaders can help cultivate a culture of brave action by focusing on increasing both the level of perceived individual agency (by giving permission to speak and act), and the sense that a better future is possible for employees and for the organization as a whole (by tying decisions and actions back to core operating principles.)

    What bravery is:Bravery is doing the right thing, as best you know it, even when it’s the uncomfortable thing.​ It’s needed now more than ever in the marketplace, in the political realm, and in our schools and neighborhoods. Most bravery in the world is exhibited in small, everyday actions, not big efforts.

    Bravery is a choice, not a trait.​ People who choose to do the right thing in the face of personal cost are choosing to sacrifice their life and comfort for a better future. They are not superhuman. They are perhaps the most ​fully​ human.

    Bravery is always empathetic.​ It’s about the other, not about yourself. The other might be a person or a core principle, but the brave person is always looking outward when deciding. The coward looks inward and to his own interests.

    Bravery is action in spite of fear.​ People who act bravely feel fear and insecurity as much as everyone else. It’s just that they choose cause over comfort.

    Bravery is willingness to fail in the pursuit of what matters.

    • 16 min
    Protecting Your Mindset During This Season

    Protecting Your Mindset During This Season

    The biggest challenge that we’re facing right now as creative pros is not necessarily economic or physical, it’s psychological.

    I believe that those who come through this season not only having survived, but ready to thrive, will be those who are able to adopt a mindset that is realistic yet focused on possibilities and not limitations. Yes, current circumstances are hitting everyone in different ways and are much more challenging for some than others. And, I want us to focus today on a few beliefs that I find creeping into the mindset of many people I’m chatting with these days, and hopefully identify them and learn to counter them before they rob us of our focus, our goals, and our sense of curiosity and possibility. 

    I’m tired of not being tired.

    That sounds like a strange thing, no? But really, it’s very normal and natural.

    As humans, we are wired for rhythm, which means that we thrive in cycles of tension and release. One of the dynamics that’s been causing grief among many friends and peers that I’ve been chatting with is that all of our days seem to run together. Every day is very similar to the last. There is no rhythm, no tension and release, no ups and downs.

    As a result, I want to challenge all of us to consider a few “lies” that I’ve been believing - or allowing to limit my thought process and approach to this season - and see if perhaps they might be affecting you as well. 

    Everything is subtraction. 

    This is a phrase I used with a friend who asked how things were going. What I meant was that, unlike in normal times, in the midst of this pandemic there is little opportunity for adding anything new and good to life. Instead, it’s mostly just subtraction. Good things are being taken away without the opportunity to add new things to the mix.

    This is a lie, but not obviously so. In fact, this is very much what it feels like. For example, in the core part of my business, which is traveling and working with clients and speaking to groups, I’ve only experienced the removal of opportunity, but not the possibility of new ones. In normal times, even when things were dry there was always the possibility of something good just around the corner. Now, it’s just subtraction.

    However, if I step back and look more holistically at life, it’s easy to see why this is a lie. So many wonderful things have been added to my life in the midst of this time that I didn’t even realize I was missing. We’ve been having very long family dinners each day where we get to re-connect with our kids without the rush of “I need to get to my homework.” My wife and I have been taking long walks in the evening. We’ve been able to connect with friends via virtual happy hours in a way that we just didn’t when everyone had so much going on. 

    So, when I say “everything is subtraction”, I really mean that only in a business sense. If I were to look at life as a whole, there have been many opportunities and gifts during this season. Yes, it’s hard, and I hope it ends as quickly as possible, and it’s certainly taking more of a toll on some than others, but it’s important that we be able to step back and consider the entire set of our experiences, and not just the painful ones.

    Where have you seen some semblance of good in the midst of this time? Spend a bit of time reflecting on it, even writing a few paragraphs about it, and see if you can find something to be grateful for even in these difficult times.

    This is the new normal

    We hear this all the time in the media, so much so that I’ve largely stopped paying attention to what they’re saying.

    • 18 min
    Avoiding The Advice Trap (with Michael Bungay Stanier)

    Avoiding The Advice Trap (with Michael Bungay Stanier)

    This week's Accidental Creative podcast features Michael Bungay Stanier discussing his book The Advice Trap.

    Have you ever been in a situation where someone offered unsolicited advice?

    "Let me tell you what you need to do..."

    How did it feel? If you're like me, you were probably grateful that they wanted to help, but it put you in the awkward position of either refusing their advice or, if they were your manager, acting on it just to avoid offending them in spite of your better instincts.

    It's tempting to fall into the "advice trap", which is when we lead with advice-giving instead of pausing to listen to the other person, to consider what they really need, and to ask questions that help them arrive at the answer on their own. Not only is this a better way to ensure that we are truly helping the other person, but it's also the best way to help them learn to solve problems on their own. Here are a few things I took away from my chat with Michael:

    Lead With Curiosity

    Ask a lot of questions. You should lead with your curiosity, not your advice. By asking a lot of questions, you will not only better understand what's truly going on, but you will also help the other person learn to think through their problems in a more guided way. This is how a great manager (or peer) can build into team members in a lasting manner.

    Ask questions first, and let the other person sort through the problem in conversation with you.

    Release The Control

    One of the biggest temptations of a manager is to clamp down and attempt to control the output of the team. Brilliant, driven creative pros need freedom to think for themselves and to try new methods for accomplishing their work. When you control your team, the work shrinks until it's only as big as your personal sphere of attention can bear. Instead, you should aim to allow your team freedom to operate within clear principles and boundaries that guide their decisions.

    Lead with influence, not control.

    Give Empathetic Advice

    The worst advice is always the "if I were you, this is what I'd do" type. Why? Because you are filtering your advice through your own lens, not the world of the other person. Instead, when you do give advice first put yourself in the other person's position and try to imagine how it would feel to be in their shoes. How might their feelings and concerns differ from what you'd be experiencing if you were in their situation?

    Before giving advice, imagine that you're in the other person's situtation.

    Once you learn to temper the "advice monster", you'll become the manager (or the peer) that everyone wants to work with.

    • 28 min
    Think Like A Rocket Scientist (with Ozan Varol)

    Think Like A Rocket Scientist (with Ozan Varol)

    Albert Einstein once wrote "The world we have created today as a result of our thinking thus far has problems which cannot be solved by thinking the way we thought when we created them." In order to go to new places in life and work, we need to expand our thinking beyond the confines of our assumptions.

    But how do we do that?

    This week's podcast episode features Ozan Varol, who has just released a book called Think Like A Rocket Scientist. In it, he articulates several strategies for breaking through assumptive ruts and taking your work to a new level. Here are a few of my takeaways from the conversation:

    You Must Question Your Assumptions

    In the past, I've frustrated many managers and peers for my annoying tendency to ask lots of "why?" questions. I've never been able to simply accept the way things are, and that can be very inconvenient when you're trying to make quick progress on a project. However, this tendency has also served me well, because it's frequently allowed me to circumvent norms that are preventing others from seeing possibilities.

    As you think about your current situation, your work, your life goals, what you are pursuing, are there assumptions that need to be challenged? They are often guidelines that have been in place for a number of years, or industry norms that others assume are hard and fast rules. Spend a bit of time this week challenging an assumption or two, and see where your thoughts lead you. Ask "What if...?"

    Return To First Principles

    Over time, it's easy to get distracted with tactics and to forget what you're actually trying to do. In the interview, Ozan shared the story of Steve Martin, who challenged the very conventions of what it means to be a comedian. In traditional comedy, the comedian will create tension and then relieve it by delivering a punchline, hopefully generating a laugh. Martin, however, wasn't distracted by the tactics, and instead realized that the first principle was simply to make people laugh. He would create tension, but not relieve it with a punchline. At first, critics were apalled by his strategy, but audiences warmed up to it, and he became one of the most popular acts in the world, selling out arenas wherever he performed.

    What are the first principles of your work? What are you really trying to do, and how can you return to them and develop new tactics for accomplishing your goals?

    Have A Moonshot

    Right now, many people are simply focused on survival. I understand this necessity. However, I also think this is the perfect time to begin working on your personal "moonshot", or the idea so big that no one else would dare try to compete with you. Physicist Max Planck once said, "At the initial stages of idea formation, the pure rationalist has no place." Many of the world's greatest accomplishments were met with skepticism and scorn at their inception, only to be accepted later.

    What is your personal moonshot? What could you aim for that seems scarily big to you, but that would completely change the trajectory of your life and work?

    To make progress on the other side of the pandemic, we will need to think in new ways. I hope this interview and Ozan's book will expand your perspective and grant you a renewed enthusiasm for what's possible.

    This episode is sponsored by Lightstream. Apply today to get a special interest rate at LightStream.com/accidental.

    • 25 min
    A Beautiful Anarchy (with David duChemin)

    A Beautiful Anarchy (with David duChemin)

    This week's podcast episode features David duChemin talking about his book and podcast A Beautiful Anarchy.

    When most of us tell the story of our career journey, it's often a very linear tale. "And then, I left that job and took this one. Then, I decided to step away for a bit and start something new. Then, I took a role with a marketing firm." However, the reality is much more complex.

    Most of our lives and our career journeys are much more circuitous in nature. My friend Mitch Joel calls it "the squiggly path", meaning that it veers left and right and doesn't seem to have a rhyme or reason looking forward, but looking back it all begins to make sense.

    My career path was definitely "squiggly". As I discuss with David duChemin in this week's episode about his book and podcast A Beautiful Anarchy, twenty years ago I could never have imagined the career I'm in now. However, looking back, the clues were there all along. (There weren't many early-twenty-something musicians dragging personal development books along to gigs or tracking creative productivity in notebooks...)

    Careers Usually Only Make Sense Looking Backward

    There are two dynamics present early in your career: (1) there are clues all around you as to what you might be great at and enjoy, and (2) you lack the wisdom, self-knowledge, and foresight to be able to put those clues together. So as you move forward, you do your best to navigate according to what you know. Many people eventually figure out the pieces some time in their early to mid thirties, and are able to begin assembling a life and career that brings more meaning and opportunity to contribute. However, by that point many people are often more encumbered by things like mortgages and family responsibilities, making shifting a career more of a challenge.

    If you find yourself in a place where you might be ready for a change, I challenge you to take a hard look at the clues in your past successes and try to identify any patterns that stand out to you. Where were you (a) fully competent, (b) deeply driven, and (c) well-received by others? That's the very definition of a "sweet spot".

    You Need To Bring Stakeholders Along

    In any career or life move, you must ensure that your stakeholders are fully considered. The general rule of thumb for family decisions is that the least risk averse person gets to determine the threshold for action. In other words, if one person is ready to leap, but the other says "we need six months of savings in the bank first", the more risk-averse person gets to call the shots. That way, everyone feels good about the move.

    Are there any stakeholders you need to include in your planning? Are they aware of your present thinking?

    Be Responsive, Not Reactive

    Many people are reacting to the present circumstances without fully absorbing the implications of their actions. In any stressful moment, I find it best to take a pause, consider everything that's happening, consider the all of the possible consequences of my actions (first, second, and potential third order consequences), consider my values, and then act in a meaningful way. I find that by taking this approach, I am much less likely to jump into something I'll regret later. Be responsive, not reactive.

    As you consider all of the effects of our present situation on your life and work, where are you tempted to react instead of meaningfully responding? Take some time to pause, to reflect on the consequences, to consider your values, then to craft a strategic plan of action that moves you forward.

    • 28 min
    Chopped, Creativity, and (Not) Thinking Big (with Dave Noll)

    Chopped, Creativity, and (Not) Thinking Big (with Dave Noll)

    Dave Noll and his business partner are the creators of the hit TV series Chopped, as well as a number of other popular television programs. Every day they bounce ideas off of one another, combining themes and smashing old concepts together to form new possible programs.

    In our conversation, Dave and I engaged in a little “idea bouncing” as well. Here are a few of the practical tips that emerged in our chat:

    Keep A Queue Of Old Ideas

    When you engage in a project, you probably end up with a lot of discarded ideas that didn’t quite work out. What happens to those ideas? Many people simply discard them on the trash heap and start fresh with the next project. However, it’s wise to keep a queue of these old, but not quite right ideas. Keep them in a notebook, or on index cards, or someplace where you can browse them later. Often, an idea that’s not right now is the perfect idea for a later project, but you would never have remembered it unless you had a system to help you do so.

    At the completion of each project, transfer the ideas or hunches that didn’t work out to a queue, and review it regularly so that you keep those ideas top of mind.

    Don’t Think Big. Think Bigger.

    In the interview, Dave told the story of pitching a “dream scenario” show to Barry Diller, the iconic TV executive, only to have him toss it back in his face as being too small. Dave said he learned that no matter how big you think, there is always someone who will think bigger. You’d might as well aim as high as you can with your career and decisions, because if you don’t, one of your competitors certainly will.

    Will Smith didn’t want to be a movie star, he wanted to be the biggest movie star in the world. As you think about your life and your career, where are you playing too small? Where are you settling for what you can get instead of dreaming about possibility?

    Consider New Media, New Formats

    Given the economic shakeup caused by the pandemic, it’s time for many of us to reconsider how we are delivering our ideas to market. Dave and his business partner, having only made TV shows in the past, have just launched their first ever podcast called Factorious. While they certainly could simply focus on making TV shows, they decided to explore a new medium that would offer a different kind of challenge as well as the ability to reach a new audience with their work.

    As you think about the work you do, how could you re-package or re-position it to reach a new audience? Is there a way to add a new form of media to the mix? A different distribution channel?

    I found this conversation with Dave to be both inspiring and a lot of fun. It sparked some great ideas for how to take my business to a new place. As we deal with the current health and economic crisis, this is a great time to begin dreaming again about what might be possible for you on the other side.

    This episode is sponsored by Literati. For a limited time, go to Literati.com/creative and get 25% off your first two orders.

    • 38 min

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Todd Henry’s Accidental Creative podcast has been like a trusted friend and mentor to me for the past ten years or so. When I first discovered it, I was managing a graphic design studio, and it helped me to understand the various dynamics in play within my own team and the organisation as a whole. It’s been just as useful – more so, probably – since I struck out on my own five years ago, in terms of regulating my own work habits and maintaining a happy, creative, balanced existence. A wealth of experience, wisdom and insight from Todd and his guests to ensure you’re prolific, brilliant and healthy over the long term. Essential stuff. NOTE FOR UK LISTENERS: It’s quite American in tone. You’ll get used to it!

Conrad bluth ,


Thanks for the great podcasts Todd, super inspiring and always packed full of practical tools to help take creativity to the next level!

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