The Accidental Creative

Oct 22 2020 22 mins 15.6k

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

3 Words Every Creative Pro Needs To Hear
Oct 22 2020 15 mins  
In the face of uncertainty, teams need good, effective leadership. Not just bold, brash, decisive leadership, but empathetic, focused, generous leadership. Is it possible to accomplish a lot of great work while simultaneously growing a great culture? Yes, but it requires that leaders routinely model for their team what a great culture looks like. There are three words that every creative pro needs to hear from their manager: "I'm for you." I want to see you thrive. I want to see you excel. I want to help you accomplish your goals. Here are three specific ways we can model this sentiment to our teams: * I believe in your abilities. I won't try to control your work, but will instead allow you to operate within clear principles and will give you the freedom you need to bring your best thought to the work. * I won't let you settle. I will hold you accountable to expectations and to a high standard of performance, not because of how it reflects on the team but because I believe you are capable of more than you think. * We are in this together. We will get to the other side in lock step, and I will fight to protect the resources, time, focus, and energy you need to do what I'm asking of you. If teams begin to operate in this fashion, it unlocks trust and deep engagement. On this episode, I dive into each of these three principles and how to implement them. This episode is sponsored by Patreon. Creators — are you tired of being paid in clicks and likes? Patreon lets you build real, sustainable income through the direct support of your fans. Sign up on now and start building the steady income stream you deserve.

Get Productive With Time Chunks
Sep 14 2020 15 mins  
The best way to ensure that your most important work gets done is to dedicate time to doing it. See if this scenario sounds familiar: you sit down to do your work with your coffee, and fire up your laptop. First, you check your e-mail, looking for any potential fires that have cropped up overnight, spend about ten minutes addressing those urgent matters, then set about actually doing the work you need to get done for the day. About five minutes later, someone pings you on email and asks for a few moments of your time to look at something over a video chat. You agree, and before you know it you have to run off to another video meeting with a colleague to talk about an important project. The same pattern repeats over and over throughout the day, and by the time you close down your laptop for the day, you realize that the big, important work you intended to tackle today has been pushed off until tomorrow, or worse, that you’ll have to do the work at home in order to meet your deadline. In truth, you didn’t really do anything wrong. You were responsive, responsible, and present in everything you did. The problem is that while you were busy responding to all of the urgent stimuli in your environment, you were neglecting the less urgent, but much more important work that will add true, long-term value. Whether you work in an office or on your own, it’s critical that you learn to build barriers around your time and dedicate focused efforts to your most important work. The best way I’ve discovered to do this is to establish chunks of time dedicated to specific tasks. What are time chunks? While I am a big fan of making lists for tasks (and am a big adherent to the GTD philosophy), I find that my calendar is often my friend when I’m trying to tackle large, complex projects. As such, whenever I have ongoing work that will require deep, focused effort I tend to block off time on my calendar to work on them. How do you set them? 1. Look at your current projects, and choose one that will take a lot of deep, focused effort over a period of a few weeks or months. 2. Look at your calendar for a few open slots this week, and choose one that will give you plenty of time to focus on the project. 3. Block off the time on the calendar, with the title of the event being the project name or problem you’ll be working on. This is important, because without something on your calendar your time will always be negotiable. 4. Stick with the plan. Don’t fall prey to temptation at the last minute, or compromise in order to squeeze in a meeting. Sure, there will be exceptions, but in general try to treat this time chunk just like you would a meeting with someone you respect. (It is, after all, a meeting with yourself.) 5. Spend the last five minutes of your time chunk determining where you’ll go next with the project. Make sure that you have a clear starting point the next time you pick up your work, as that will make it much easier to gain traction and use your time wisely. 6. At the end of every time chunk, set your next one. Look for an opening in your calendar when you can continue your progress, while you have some momentum. It may work best for you to have pre-established chunks of time on your calendar for specific tasks. (For example, I know that 6-7a each morning is my study time, that certain times are dedicated to developing content, and certain times are reserved for client calls. That prevents schedule whiplash from creeping into my weeks.) Many of us lack the kind of latitude over our schedule that we’d l...

Dealing With a Crushing Workload
Sep 08 2020 16 mins  
Workloads and expectations are increasing. It’s not a cliché, it’s a fact. It’s the single biggest (confidential) complaint that I hear when spending time with companies. Before the COVID shutdown, I was speaking at a conference in Florida, and in the short Q&A at the end of my talk a man stood and said “We are doing more with less. We have fewer people than ever, but our project load continues to increase. However, the quality of our work is not allowed to suffer. What should I do?” Great question. Tough question. The first thing to realize is that if this is how you feel, you’re not alone. At all. In fact, you’re the norm. Many recent studies have explored the increasing workload and simultaneously decreasing engagement of employees, and the trend is frightening. Creative pros have never been more busy, and simultaneously less engaged with their work. One study found that 75% of creatives believe they are not living up to their full creative potential. Some say the fastest growing contingency in the workplace is a group being dubbed “malicious cooperatives”. They do what they need to in order to keep their job, but they secretly harbor hope that their company will fail. Huh? So what are some practical ways to deal with the increasing workload expectations and decreasing resources? Know when to celebrate. It’s hard to be thrilled at the completion of a project when the very next instant your manager unloads a new pile of expectations on you. When super busy, celebration is often the first thing to go because it seems so… unnecessary. But it’s not! It’s crucial to have milestones that you can point to both for your own sense of accomplishment and for the sake of your team’s sense of progress. It also helps keep your work and your days from blending together into one long, run-on sentence. Tip: Establish when you will celebrate the work that you’ve accomplished, and stick to your plan. Know where you’ll begin. When dealing with creative work – turning your thoughts into value – it’s sometimes difficult to find the edges. It’s hard to know exactly when something is good enough, because there’s always room for improvement. Similarly, it’s challenging to get started on your work, because you’re often making it up as you go along. Thus, I’d encourage you (and your team) to always end your work each day with a clear understanding of where you’ll pick it up the next. That way you have a natural point of traction to help you get started. Tip: Choose at the end of each work day where and how you’ll begin the work tomorrow. Don’t be afraid to talk about the pressure. No one likes to be seen as a whiner, so sometimes these unseen (but strongly felt) pressures can stay locked up inside because we don’t want to burden others. However, simply creating an environment of permission to talk about the pressure can help mitigate it. No, the work isn’t going to go away, but if everyone (including your manager) is looped in on the team dynamic then it can sometimes help provide context for how to overcome it. Tip: Have frequent conversations about how you feel about the work and the pressure, and be brutally honest. The workload isn’t going away. This isn’t just a temporary artifact of a struggling economy, it’s mass-scale experimentation with a new way to do business remotely in the connected economy. To thrive moving forward, you and I need to develop some tools to deal with the pressure. This episode is sponsored by Indeed. Right now, Indeed is offering our listeners a free seventy-five dollar credit to boost your job post – which means more quality candidates will see it, fast.

Chasing Ghost Rules
Sep 04 2020 18 mins  
Parts of this episode are excerpted from Herding Tigers: Be The Leader That Creative People Need Have you ever walked into a company’s headquarters and passed an enormous marble wall engraved with the company’s values? There it is, in all its permanence and glory, greeting employees each day and reminding them: “THIS IS WHO WE ARE!” Except, it’s not always. It’s who they were, once. Most people walk right past that wall without even paying it a moment of notice. They’re numb to it, and it doesn’t really hold any sway over their everyday behavior. Your culture isn’t defined by a set of tenets or a plaque on the wall. It’s defined by what you do. If you say that you value boldness but always make the most comfortable decision, then people will cease to be bold. If you say that you value customer service, but you are always snickering and telling stories about how annoying your customers are, then you will train your culture to devalue its customers. If you say that you value truth telling, but you get defensive every time someone attempts to offer a piece of constructive feedback, you will cultivate a reactive, closed-minded culture. This kind of hypocrisy is demoralizing. However, with clear ground rules and a stable culture around your team, people know they have the support they need to take risks. Your team’s experience of you is its experience of the company. Period. Full stop. When cultural expectations aren’t well defined, people tend to be very conservative out of a fear of getting it wrong. Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of Visa, once said, “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.” However, you cannot impose a culture on a team. Great cultures are grown from the ground up. A culture mandated from on high will fit like a suit that’s three sizes too large, never quite cut to size. Because cultures are grown, you must treat yours like a garden. Just like a good gardener, you aggressively fertilize the aspects of your team’s culture that you want in abundance and diligently prune the things you want to get rid of. This requires constant attention on your part, because if you allow a few errant behaviors to slide, you will eventually find your entire garden choked with weeds. Prune the “Ghost Rules” Ella was a successful manager at a very large company. I was challenging her to think in a new way about a tricky problem she was attempting to solve, but when I offered my thought, she quickly responded, “Nope—that won’t work here.” I paused, a little stunned at her abruptness, and asked, “Why not?” She looked at me as if collecting her thoughts, and after a few moments she replied, “Hmm. Good question.” After further dissection, we realized that Ella’s response had been hardwired into her by a previous manager, who often had strong, fear-based opinions about new ideas. “That won’t work here” was a common reaction to many of Ella’s fresh thoughts, and over time she began to adopt these opinions as hard fact. “Simple, clear purpose and principles give rise to complex and intelligent behavior. Complex rules and regulations give rise to simple and stupid behavior.” – Dee Hock What Ella had come up against are what I call ghost rules, or invisible limitations that people or teams place upon themselves for no good reason. Sometimes these rules become baked-in organizational assumptions about what is and isn’t possible,

Unleashing The Power Of Motivation
Aug 24 2020 21 mins  
My new book releases October 6th. Below, learn how to get the full MCODE assessment when you pre-order the book. There are things we experience our entire life, but never really have words to describe. For example, there are probably certain easy tasks that you simply can't seem to get motivated to do, but others - that are much more difficult and less attractive - you are willing to tackle at a moment's notice. Similarly, there are probably certain people in your life or on your team that you simply can't seem to get along with, while other relationships just "click". I've come to learn that many of these unseen, yet routinely experienced dynamics are due to how you and everyone around you are uniquely motivated. About four years ago, my friend Rod asked me to take a motivation assessment he'd been working on. I was not excited. I've seen plenty of assessments, and frankly, most of them were not very useful to me. However, Rod promised me this would be different. And, in short, he was right. I was blown away. The assessment that Rod and an entire ream of researchers had developed was founded upon over 50 years of research and over a million achievement stories. They had discovered that there are twenty-seven unique themes of motivation, and that depending on a person's top handful of themes, certain work or relationships might bring them to life or make them wish they were dead. It was through this assessment that I discovered that my top motivaitonal themes are: * Make An Impact* Meet The Challenge* Influence Behavior So, when I can't see the impact of my work, or when I don't have a discrete and pressing challenge to tackle, or when I can't see the direct influence of my work on the thoughts and behavior of others, I disengage. However, when these three things are present, I completely come alive and do some of my best work. Because of this knowledge, I've been able to resolve recurring conflict in relationships, re-structure some of my tasks so they are more engaging, and change the way I think about outcomes so that they are more aligned with what naturally drives me. In short, it's been life-changing. I want you to have the same experience I had, so I've arranged to allow anyone who pre-orders The Motivation Code (before October 6th) to have access to the full MCODE assessment! All you have to do is pre-order the book through your favorite retailer, then register your pre-order so that we can send you a code to take the full assessment. I believe understanding what uniquely drives you will unlock untold potential, engagement, and deep productivity in your life, your relationships, your family, and your community. I can't wait to share the book with you. This episode is sponsored by Indeed. Right now, Indeed is offering our listeners a free seventy-five dollar credit to boost your job post - which means more quality candidates will see it, fast. Learn more at

How To Give Good Feedback
Aug 17 2020 13 mins  
One key element of any healthy culture is that people understand how to give effective feedback to one another. Because creative work can feel a bit subjective, feedback can be a difficult thing to navigate, so many people default to being overly prescriptive or controlling. However, while specific, tactical feedback might achieve short-term results, it often creates bigger problems over the long-term. Instead, we need to learn how to offer feedback in a way that helps the team (or our clients) think in new and better ways about the work. On this episode, we share three core principles for offering better feedback: Honor the process The end result of a project is just the final piece of a very long process. When you offer suggestions without first understanding how someone arrived at that result, you are negating their entire process, and the decision-making that went into it. You have to allow them the opportunity to share not only the end result of their thinking, but their thought process itself. Ask better questions Instead of being prescriptive, ask questions that help the other person articulate why they made the decisions they did. Also, ask questions that help them think about other pathways they could have taken, and where those pathways may have led. "Why did you choose to..." or "How did you arrive at..." are wonderful conversation starters to get them talking about the why behind what you are seeing or experiencing. Invite them to re-direct Once you've had a thorough conversation about the process, begin asking them questions that nudge them in what you think might be a more helpful direction. For example, "what if instead of doing X, you chose Y? How might that change your process?" or "Can you think of a way that we could...?" These are open-ended questions that value the other person and also invite them into the process of re-directing the work in a meaningful way. Yes, we're all pros and we need to be able to deal with difficult feedback. And, it doesn't serve anyone when we are overly-prescriptive and lack empathy in how we interact with the work of others. Be a pro, and be intentional about giving feedback that helps them think not only about what to do, but why they should do it that way. This episode is sponsored by Freshly. Get $40 off your first two orders at

Six Principles For Cutting Through The Noise
Aug 13 2020 16 mins  
As a leader, your voice speaks much louder than your actual words. Your voice isn’t just what you say, it’s how your team hears you, and the collective tone your actions and communication take. Does your voice represent you and your message as well as it could? Over time, the best leaders are able to make their ideas and influence resonate far outside their own ambits. Here are six ways to get your voice to carry throughout your entire organization. BE AUTHENTICYes, it’s an overused word, but I think that’s because our idea of what’s “authentic” is too narrow. It’s not just about transparency or vulnerability, it’s also about letting the people you lead see what you truly care about. Resonant leaders are genuinely invested in their work, and it shows. It’s easy for team members to see that they truly have “skin in the game” and care not only about short-term results, but also about long-term impact. As Tim Schigel, cofounder of the social sharing platform ShareThis, told me, “Authenticity doesn’t have to amplify.” When you’re truly invested in your message, you don’t have to shout. It’s apparent to others, and it lends credibility to your leadership. To begin cultivating authenticity, ask yourself, “Can the people on my team see what I stand for, or do they have to guess?” BE UNIQUEAuthenticity alone isn’t sufficient. Resonant leaders have the courage to make clear decisions, even in the face of uncertainty. The word “decide” comes from the Latin word that means “to cut off.” You’re choosing to cut off other options and commit to one direction, even when you’re uncertain. However, many leaders prefer to keep their options open for as long as possible out of fear of getting it wrong and failing. But you have to be willing to commit to a path by following your intuition and making bold, unique decisions with the best information you have available. This isn’t a license to be foolish or rash, but a recognition that every needlessly delayed decision has a trickle-down effect on your team’s focus and productivity. You need to stand apart from those seeking safety over impact. To begin cultivating uniqueness, ask, “Where am I being ambiguous about a decision, and how might it be affecting my team?” BE PRECISEWhen faced with a difficult choice, some leaders go into “protect mode” rather than being precise with their language. In order to make your ideas resonate, you can’t leave room for misinterpretation about where you stand on an issue or what you expect from team members. Be like a laser, not a lighthouse. A lighthouse tells ships where not to go, but provides no navigational guidance beyond helping them avoid danger areas. A laser, on the other hand, is precise, cutting, and directional. Your team needs to know what you expect of them, even when they don’t like it. Precise leaders can be polarizing, but in the end they make everyone’s job easier to navigate. To begin cultivating precision, ask, “Where are my instructions vague, and where am I being defensive rather than forthright with my ideas?” BE CONSISTENTYour voice won’t resonate if it isn’t consistent. Again, this sounds obvious on the surface, but meeting day-to-day challenges can make it difficult. If your work lacks a strong through-line, it can become easy to treat projects as one-off events rather than as a part of a bigger strategy. If you regularly send dissonant messages, it might be difficult for team members to anticipate how you’ll respond in a given situation. And that in turn can lead to paralysis. There should be consistency in the choices you make and a consonance to the way you communicate them. To cultivate consonance, ask, “Where am I being inconsistent,

Navigating Through Failure
Aug 10 2020 15 mins  
This episode is about how to deal with moments of failure. Everyone loves to win. The accolades, attention, and rewards are addictive. However, if you’re trying to do the work you’re capable of doing, you’ll eventually fail. If you’re leading a team of capable, driven people who are stretching themselves creatively, you’re probably going to fail often to hit your mark. You will eventually fail. If you’re not failing every so often, you’re probably not trying hard enough.  After a failed project, many teams simply move forward to the next one, without a postmortem. This is a huge mistake. It’s important that you seize those failures and mistakes and turn them into growth moments for your team. Otherwise, people are likely to commit the same mistakes again. Some of the biggest coaching opportunities you’ll have are in the moments when an individual or the team has failed. Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary head basketball coach for Duke University, said in an interview: “My defining moments have usually been something where I’ve lost or where I’ve been knocked back.” At the end of the 1983 season, Duke lost by 43 in the ACC tournament. The program was in disarray and many thought that Coach K’s career was over. At dinner that night, someone raised his glass and said, “Here’s to forgetting about tonight.” Coach K stopped him and ordered him to put his glass down. Then he raised his own glass and said, “Here’s to never forgetting about tonight.” The following season, when the team arrived on October 15 for the first practice, the scoreboard over the court read 109–66, the final score of the tournament loss to Virginia. Players recounted that Coach K wanted them to never forget how it felt to get beat so thoroughly and to use it as fuel to give their best every day. Since that day, Duke has emerged as a premier basketball program, and Coach K largely points to that defining moment as the turning point. If you’re not failing every so often, you’re probably not trying hard enough. Here are a few questions to ask shortly after experiencing a failure. It’s very important that you couch this conversation as a desire to learn from the experience and grow, not as a trial of competence: Why do you think you/we fell short of our objectives? Stop to consider what happened, and strive to ensure that the team is telling a consistent story about what actually happened. Often, team members will have different perspectives on what led to the failure. Make certain that there is a common understanding of what contributed to the failure to hit the mark. What did we learn from this experience? Try to capture whatever was learned from the shortcoming so that you are able to institutionalize that learning and prevent the same mistakes next time. Were there any assumptions that were limiting your thinking? Were there any faulty lines of logic that led to miscommunication? Whatever the problems, make certain that the team understand where things went off the rails. What will you do different next time? Failure is only a huge problem if (a) it takes you out of the game, or (b) it’s repeated in the same way more than once. Strive to never fail twice in the same way. Failure the first time is inevitable, failure twice in the same way is a function of poor leadership. Was the failure one of effort, decision making, or skill? How can you avoid it again? (By the way, failures of effort require special treatment, because it’s the one kind of failure that is completely avoidable.) If you were me, what would you do to prevent these mistakes in the future? Solicit input from your team members about how you can prevent the same...

How To Plan For Uncertainty
Aug 06 2020 19 mins  
We live in uncertain times. My friend Andy posted a photo of a sign from 2015 today that asked "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" Well, I seriously doubt that any of us would have answered "living through a global pandemic with an uncertain ending." No matter what your role, it's important that you learn to plan for uncertainty. You can't predict what will happen, but you can prepare yourself to deal with unexpected events in a more productive way. On this episode, we share three core principles for planning for uncertainty: * Ask better questions. Many people don't ask questions because they don't want to know the answer. However, it's only when things go awry that you fully realize the quality of the questions you've been asking. In this episode, I share how to ask the "what's the pin in the grenade?" question to help you prepare for unexpected negative events.* Build your runway. You need to know that you have the resources needed to bridge from here to there. Many businesses will go under during this pandemic because they weren't able to survive the downturn, but those who make it through will be far better positioned on the other side to take advantage of the rebound. * Protect the main thing. Mission is king. You need to adjust and adapt in whatever way is necessary to protect your mission and abide by your values. Uncertainty is inevitable, but how we deal with it makes all the difference between a successful outcome and a disastrous one. This episode is sponsored by Givewell. Get your first donation matched - up to $100 - when you select [Podcast] and [The Accidental Creative] at

The New Corner Office (with Laura Vanderkam)
Jul 27 2020 24 mins  
On this episode, Laura Vanderkam shares insights from her new book The New Corner Office. We are all learning a new way of working. In truth, this transition has been coming for a while, but was dramatically accelerated by the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Most of us are now working from home, or at least working in remote locations away from our co-workers, which means that we need to develop a new set of habits and rituals to help us thrive. Laura Vanderkam has just published a book called The New Corner Office in which she shares best practices gleaned from years of research into productivity habits. In our interview, she shared a few key insights that can help you be more focused, more productive, and more energetic throughout your day. Here are a few of my key takeaways from our conversation: Manage by task, not by time. When you are in the habit of going to an office every day, there are some external prompts for what constitutes a full day of work. (Is it 5:30PM yet?) However, when you work from home, your schedule might be different every day depending on what's happening in your household. Laura suggests that, instead of focusing on time as the key metric for a full day of work, we focus on the accomplishment of tasks. Once we've checked those tasks off, we've completed our work for the day. Make sure your virtual meetings have a focus and a "why". When everyone was first working from home, virtual meetings sprouted on the calendar like weeds. We were trying desperately to make sure we were all connected and "in the loop". However, now that we are settling into a new rhythm, it's time to start pruning some of those non-essential meetings from the calendar and curating the set of meetings that are truly helpful and meaningful. Do all of your meetings have an apparent "why?", and is there a clear agenda? Work on transitions. When your desk is ten feet from your breakfast table, it can be a challenge to feel like there are any true "transitions" in your day. Laura says it's critically important to develop some transitional rituals to signal to yourself that you are moving into a new mode of work. For example, maybe it's having a coffee ritual that signals it's time to start the workday, or maybe you need to change into different clothes to signal that the "professional" part of your day is beginning. Whatever your method, having transitions in place can be a strong signal to your brain that you are now in "focus mode". These are just a few of the key insights I took from our conversation. Whatever your job, make sure that your systems and rituals are set up to ensure that you're spending your most productive hours doing your most important work, and that you are marking your days so that you have a sense of rhythm about your work. This episode is sponsored by Freshly. Join almost one and a half million satisfied customers and skip the shopping, prepping, cooking, and clean up. Get forty dollars off your first two orders at

Do You Know Your “Red Zone” Activities?
Jul 21 2020 17 mins  
In American football, the red zone is the area on each end of the field inside the twenty yard line. What happens in this area is a key determining factor in a team's success or failure. Teams that easily advance the ball down the field but can't score in the red zone will lose games. Teams that play great open-field defense but can't prevent scores in the red zone will lose. Performance in this very small sliver of the field often determines the overall success or failure of the team. As you examine your life, and especially your creative work, it's important to be able to identify the red-zone activities that will really make a difference and generate forward momentum during the particular season you're in. Some qualities that mark red-zone activities are the following: Activities that you can uniquely do or add value to because of your position or expertise. While there are a lot of ways you could be spending your time, there are a certain number of activities that you are probably the best person for. Which of these activities should you engage in every day? Activities that increase your personal capacity to generate ideas, such as study, purposeful ideation, or intelligence gathering. These are typically the first to go during a busy or stressful season. Are you taking the time to sharpen your mind and your creative intuition? Activities that provide cohesion or creative traction for your team and increase future capacity. For leaders, these include activities such as clarifying objectives and encouraging your team members. Are you taking time every single day to do the small things that make a big difference? Activities that feed your energy, such as adequate sleep, exercise, or spiritual practice. These are most often neglected during busy or stressful times. You must take care of yourself. Which activities do you need to focus on during this season to ensure that you are prepared for the uncertainty and challenges you will face? Your "red zone" activities are likely to be made up of some combination of these qualities. Take some time this week to consider what activities you are uniquely positioned to engage in, and that - if done daily - will generate significant momentum in your life and work. The most accomplished people aren't always the smartest or the most talented. Rather, they are the ones who do small, important things every single day for long periods of time. They succeed in the red zone.

Why Rituals Matter In Life and Work
Jul 13 2020 17 mins  
This week's episode is about the impotance of rituals. You make your rituals, then your rituals make you. What is the first thing you do in the morning? The last thing you do at night? Your first action when taking on a new project? Your impulse when receiving good (or bad) news? If you asked those questions to many highly productive people, they’ll have immediate answers. Not because they are micro-obsessive about their schedules, but because over time they’ve developed predictable rituals around key areas of their life and work. Over time, they’ve learned that the messiness of creative work requires a supportive structure, lest everything devolve into chaos.  According to Orson Welles, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” Rituals provide necessary limitation on your focus, time, and energy so that you can delve deeply into the disorder of creative problem solving. Rituals are important for several reasons. First, they provide solid ground when facing the uncertainty of your daily work. A ritual is like a bucket you can fill over and over again rather than trying to decide which bucket you should use. A good, solid set of rituals provide context for your work so that you can spend the majority of your energy focusing on the problems you’re trying to solve. Second, rituals help you forge healthy habits. When you return to the same ritual over and over, you are reinforcing the kinds of behavior you want to see manifested in your life and work, which creates a kind of infrastructure or supporting scaffolding for your creative process. Be mindless about the non-essentials so you can be mindful about the essentials. Finally, ritual helps you achieve flow in your work. Just like your body adapts to a regular bedtime and a predictable sleep ritual, your mind will also learn to settle into regular rhythms and rituals related to your work. If you always focus on specific activities at certain times of the day, or if you dedicate blocks of time and energy for your ritual, you are far more likely to settle into a state of immersion in your work. You make your rituals, then your rituals make you. Here are a few rituals that have served me well over time: – The first thing I do when I wake in the morning is prep my coffee and breakfast - the same thing every day, by the way - and spend an hour reading, thinking, and writing. It’s become such a ritual that it’s now a habit. Most of my best ideas for my work come out of this time. I couldn’t function without it. So, how do you begin your day? Maybe your ritual includes immediately putting on your running shoes and getting in a workout. Maybe it’s sitting in your favorite chair and meditating with a cup of coffee. Maybe it’s hitting the floor and doing ten pushups before you leave your bedroom. Having some structure to the start of your day immediately sends a signal to your mind that it’s time to get moving. It helps demarcate your time, especially when so many of us are living and working in the same space. – I listen to the same music over and over when I’m writing. In fact, I’ve written all of my books while listening to Ambient Music Therapy’s Deep Meditation Experience. When that album kicks on, my brain knows it’s time to start writing. I also light a candle when I write and only when I write. Again, it’s a small ritual that signals that this is deep, important work and that this moment is important. What small things can you ritualize to infuse meaning into the mundane tasks you engage in every day? It could be sitting in a certain chair when you do a specific kind of work, or using a certain pen only when you are brainstorming.

Bravery In The Workplace
Jun 30 2020 16 mins  
This is part four of a series on everyday bravery. If there is one place where bravery is most needed (and often most lacking) it’s in the workplace. Brave people create brave workplaces, and brave workplaces ultimately change the world around them. However, in order for a culture to operate by principles of bravery, individuals must be willing to engage in brave actions every day. Here are a few principles for engaging bravely in your workplace: Own your words and actions. ​Be an individual with a backbone. If you say or do something, accept the consequences, whether good or bad, for your choices. Never throw a teammate under the bus. Taking accountability for your actions does a few things. First, it signals to others that they can trust you to shoulder responsibility, and to do the right thing. This is no small matter. If others sense that you’re playing games and that your primary interest is in protecting yourself and your reputation above actually performing, they will tolerate you but will never trust you. Second, it removes the stigma of falling short. If we are doing difficult things, we are going to fail occasionally. A workplace culture in which nothing difficult is attempted requires no bravery. Only teams on a mission to do difficult things need to be brave. Taking accountability for poor results, and attempting to fix them, is a signal of authenticity and courage, and it pushes others to do the same. This is the essence of good leadership. We can never tolerate blame shifting.   Is there something you need to take accountability for today? Encourage​.This literally means to “put courage into” others. Brave people embolden the people around them, speak words of affirmation to them, and cheer them on to be their best. They are not threatened by the successes of others.  Cowards hold back encouragement because they believe that life is a zero-sum game, and that if someone else gets attention for something it will only tarnish their own standing with the group. However, brave people willingly and truthfully put courage into others, recognizing that we need one another in order to succeed. Brave people are outward focused. Cowards are obsessed with themselves and their own needs and feelings.  Who can you encourage today? Be proactive about putting courage into others.  Embrace personal growth, even when you look foolish.​Some people fear trying new things, learning new skills, or tackling new kinds of projects because they fear that if they fail they will be “found out”. Brave people know that occasional failure is simply a part of doing hard things. To grow, you have to stretch yourself to the point of failure. Now, you have to balance this with wisdom, meaning that you shouldn’t attempt things that are obviously well beyond your present ability. (Just because I’ve climbed rocks in an indoor, controlled facility doesn’t mean I’m ready to free climb half-dome.) Intentionally stretch yourself, have uncomfortable but necessary conversations, and push yourself to learn new skills even when you will appear foolish to those around you for a while. What do you need to do in order to grow yourself? Share your ideas, even when they aren’t received.​You cannot control whether someone else likes your ideas, but you can control whether or not you share them. The regret over inaction is too high a price to pay. If you are in a meeting and you have an intuition that something might work, share it. Share your insights with a peer who is struggling with a difficult problem.

Qualities of Brave Leadership
Jun 09 2020 16 mins  
This week's episode of The Accidental Creative Podcast is about the qualities that brave leaders exhibit. As I mentioned a few episodes ago, 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. More than almost any other place, our workplaces need brave leaders. We need people who are committed to standing in the gap, protecting their people, and fighting for the mission of the organization even at personal expense.  Here are a few principles that brave leaders abide by: Brave leaders assume accountability for their actions. Many leaders revel in the glory that comes with success, but brave leaders are also willing to put themselves on the line and be accountable when their actions fail. Many are familiar with Dwight Eisenhower’s letter to the Allied troops on the eve of the D-Day invasion in June 1944. It begins, “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” Inspiring leadership, for sure. However, fewer people are aware that Eisenhower wrote a second letter, only to be delivered in the event of an unsuccessful landing. "Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone." Brave leaders are willing to accept responsibility for their actions, including their failures. Are you avoiding accountability for your actions, or pointing fingers at others when you fall short? Brave leaders have the uncomfortable conversation.​ It’s far easier to avoid difficult chats with direct reports, but brave leaders recognize that it’s more important to be effective than to be liked. It’s never comfortable to discuss performance issues, to deliver uncomfortable news, or to challenge someone’s attitude, but these are the kinds of conversations that brave leaders (cautiously and wisely) step into because they know that their position demands it. Is there an uncomfortable conversation you need to have, but have been avoiding? Brave leader speak truth to power. ​As a leader, you must be willing to defend important principles when you perceive they are being “ground up” in the organizational gears. Cowards “go with the flow”, especially when speaking up might mean losing their organizational standing, but brave leaders are willing to abide by their principles even at personal cost. As my friend riCardo Crespo often says, “you can’t lie to the person in the mirror.” Brave leaders can look themselves in the face every day knowing that they are living out their principles and standing up for what they believe to be proper and just. What principles are you willing to defend,

Bravery vs. Cowardice (part 2)
Jun 01 2020 18 mins  
This is the second episode of a series on the importance of bravery. Just to re-cap, in the last episode I gave this definition of bravery: 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. In order for something to be considered an act of bravery, it must be sourced in the desire to do what’s right even at the risk of personal cost. Which begs the question: how do you decide what’s ​right?​ On this episode, I want to share a few distinctions between everyday bravery and cowardice, then on upcoming episodes I’m going to share the specifics of what this means, especially in a work context. Understand that every single person at times exhibits remarkable bravery, and also cowardice. This isn’t something we all get right a hundred percent of the time. However, we all have the ability to choose our response to our circumstances, and simply stopping to consider what “right action in the face of discomfort” means can help parse brave action from cowardice. So, here are a few qualities of brave people versus cowards, and how they play out in work and life: Brave people are protective, cowards exploit.​ If your actions are to protect someone or something vulnerable, whether a person or ideal, then there’s a good chance it’s right action. However, if your intent is to take advantage of someone or to deprive them of something they might otherwise enjoy, it’s certainly not. Now, please understand that I’m not talking about marketplace competition. When we compete in the marketplace, we agree to certain rules, one of which is that someone will likely lose the competition. I’m talking about leveraging advantages to exploit those who don’t even know they are being exploited. That’s the definition of cowardice, because it’s hidden action that if revealed would look really bad. Are you exploiting others? Brave people reveal truth at the right time, cowards conceal it.​ Brave people know that the truth is never really a threat, but even if it costs them their livelihood or relationship, the cost of inaction is simply too vast to take the easy way out. This gets to the issue of character. A willingness to face the truth is critical if we want to exhibit everyday bravery. Is there any place where you are hiding from or concealing the truth?  Brave people consider context and scale, cowards think right now. ​The brave choice is the one that takes into account nuance and context, is empathetic, and scales in a positive way. Cowardly action is only concerned with immediate consequences. My actions today have resonant consequences tomorrow, and next month, and next year. Brave people think about those consequences, not just getting what they can while they can. Are you thinking about the downstream consequences of your actions?  Brave people are principle-driven, cowards go with their gut.​ Brave people have a framework for making decisions that is so ingrained that their actions in the face of adversity are almost automatic. Cowards just “wing it” and do whatever feels best in the moment. Do you have a framework for making decisions, or a set of principles that guides your behavior? In Herding Tigers, I offered a framework for developing one as a leader, which is essential so that your team knows where you stand and can follow you with confidence. What are your guiding principles?  Brave people face consequences,

Fear Of Missing Out (with Patrick McGinnis)
May 28 2020 23 mins  
Is the grass truly greener on the other side of the fence? Many creative pros spend their career wondering if there is a better path for them, or whether they're missing out on something that everyone else knows about. This can result in hopping from job to job, or never really fully embracing the opportunities in front of you because you're always "hedging your bets" and looking for a better option. Patrick McGinnis coined the phrase Fear Of Missing Out in a college paper several years ago, and he's just released a book by the same title to help us work through our anxiety about forgoing opportunities. Here are a few key ideas to help us avoid FOMO: Move Toward, Not Away From I've had many conversations with people who never seem to be satisfied with their job. They hop from company to company thinking that there has to be some place that will better mesh with what they're looking for. The problem is that these people are often chasing vapor. They are perpetually moving away from something they dislike, not something they aspire toward. People who thrive learn to move toward their ambitions and goals, not just away from discomfort. Is there any area of your life or career where you are simply moving away from discomfort rather than toward your goals? Be Decisive Another hallmark of thriving professionals is that they are willing to be decisive in the face of uncertainty. That doesn't mean that they make foolish or rash decisions, however they don't wait for absolute certainty before moving forward. Instead, they make decisions with the best information they have knowing that if they make a mistake they can typically navigate back on course. Is there an area where you are paralyzed because you are being indecisive? What decision do you need to make? Don't Compare, Except To Improve There are two kinds of comparison, and one is harmful and one is beneficial. The beneficial kind of comparison is when we look at someone else's performance in order to gain insights into how we can improve our own skills. By studying those who are great at their craft, we can see where we are deficient and establish a course of action to help us improve. The harmful kind of comparison is when we become envious about what someone else has, or fear that we are being "robbed" of opportunity because another person possesses something that we want. This can lead to bitterness, self-destruction, and eventual hopelessness. Compare yourself to others in order to improve, not to stew about what you're missing out on. Don't worry about what's "out there". Be present this week and tackle the opportunities in front of you. This episode is brought to you by Hoefler&Co, online at Right now, as an Accidental Creative listener, you can save 15% on your next font order by using the code “accidental” at checkout, when you visit

The Hero Myth
May 25 2020 16 mins  
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.

Protecting Your Mindset During This Season
May 19 2020 18 mins  
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.

Avoiding The Advice Trap (with Michael Bungay Stanier)
May 12 2020 28 mins  
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.

Think Like A Rocket Scientist (with Ozan Varol)
Apr 30 2020 25 mins  
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

A Beautiful Anarchy (with David duChemin)
Apr 27 2020 28 mins  
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.

Chopped, Creativity, and (Not) Thinking Big (with Dave Noll)
Apr 21 2020 38 mins  
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 and get 25% off your first two orders.

The Upside of Being Down (with Jen Gotch)
Apr 13 2020 26 mins  
On this week's episode, Jen Gotch shares insights from her new book The Upside of Being Down. To state the obvious, we are all learning to adjust to a new way of living. Humans are not wired to live in long, sustained periods of isolation or social distancing, and we are having to adapt to new ways of working together, being creative, and living our lives. With all of these new dynamics, it's importat to be open about mental health and the struggles that accompany long periods of uncertainty. Jen Gotch is the perfect person to help us think through how to navigate these difficult times. Her new book, a memoir, is called The Upside Of Being Down, and shares her personal journey in life and business while dealing with the impact of anxiety and depression. There are three big insights that I took from the conversation that are shaping how I'm thinking about the coming weeks and months. Progress Over Perfection It is very important to break big ambitions into smaller, measurable wins, especially when we don't have access to all of the resources we normally lean on. In her book The Progress Principle, Teresa Amibile wrote "Our research inside companies revealed that the best way to motivate people, day in and day out, is by facilitating progress—even small wins." Psychologically, small wins are a huge boost to overall motivation and a sense of purpose and direction in life and work. As Jen said in our interview, realness is so much more interesting than perfection. How will you measure progress this week? What small wins will you choose to mark success? Unnecessary Creating Is Deep Therapy In The Accidental Creative, I shared a practice that I call unnecessary creating. It means to engage routinely in making things that no one is paying you for, and that are not a part of your job. It can range from launching a podcast (which is how my business began!) to learning a new skill to painting to writing music. It's a way to allow yourself the freedom to take risks, to develop skills, and to find creative expression in a very low-risk environment because the work is just for you, not for others. Right now I'm working on an unnecessary creating project in my spare time, and it's very life-giving to have something I'm doing that's not directly tied to my on-demand work. What unnecessary creating will you do this week? Choose a project such as writing a short story, making a piece of art, or exprimenting with a new skill. Release The Pressure Valve One ray of light over the past weeks has been getting to see normally polished, produced people learning to do what they do in a more accessible and authentic way. Whether it's Jimmy Fallon doing The Tonight Show from his home (with his kids crawling all over him!) or news anchors doing their segments from their living room, we are discovering the beauty and power of authenticity. We all need to release the pressure valve a bit, and realize that there is a new kind of more genuine expression possible because of what we're all experiencing together. Also, we do need to reconsider the expectations that we have of ourselves. This is no time to be in constant sprint mode, holding yourself to the same kind of accountability that you did before all of this began. Be wise in how you set your weekly expectations, and focus more on desired outcomes than quantity-based measures of productivity.

The Money Tree (with Chris Guillebeau)
Apr 06 2020 27 mins  
The global economy looks much different than it did ten years ago. (OK, if we're being honest, it looks much different than it did ten weeks ago.) While there is much more instability and uncertainty, there are also more opportunities to start a business and generate side income. Many people have started "side hustles" as a way to supplement revenue or to pursue side passions. On this most recent episode of The Accidental Creative podcast, Chris Guillebeau shared insights about how to find the right idea and start your own side hustle with tips from his book The Money Tree. Many people have found their lives and careers disrupted by the global pandemic, and the things that seemed so certain to last forever only a few months ago are now in question. Some of us are really hurting, and others have realized just how fragile our assumptions about the economy and our personal economic stability really are. Yes, it will take a while for things to recover, but it's because of these events that I believe there are three big investments that all creative pros should begin strategizing now: Flexibility of focus and engagement In his excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport argues that one major criterion for selecting a profession should be that it grants you increasing levels of flexibility as you grow professionally. He argues: "To construct work you love, you must first build career capital by mastering rare and valuable skills, and then cash in this capital for the type of traits that define compelling careers." Rather than obsessing - as many do - on finding a job with an enjoyable set of tasks, try to negotiate for roles that will give an increasing measure of freedom of focus as you gain mastery. This will allow you to navigate your way into work that is personally meaningful and uniquely contributive. This is a sticking point for many people. There’s a sentiment, especially on the web, that the goal is total freedom of time and place in your work. Flexibility is not the point, it is only the beginning. It exists to allow you to make the other investments. Diversity of income Are you completely dependent on one source of income? What would you do if that income disappeared next week? Or, if it was significantly impacted by Coronavirus? This is an especially dangerous trap for freelance creatives, who can become seduced by the comfort of steady income from a solid client only to have that income stream dry up when their internal champion at the company leaves. Even if it means working a little extra time outside of work hours, or accepting fewer hours from a steady client, it’s wise to be diversifying your portfolio of income streams. For in-house creative pros or employees, this can mean starting to build something noncompetitive on the side as a hedge against future income disruption. Again, Chris Guillebeau calls these “side hustles”, and many great businesses begin this way. (If there is any chance that your employer would disapprove, it’s always a good idea to keep these projects in the open, but clearly separate from your workplace.) You should devote a portion of your time each week to pursuing new income streams, or at least considering the present diversity of your income. A final note: freedom to do meaningful work is connected to financial freedom. Many people increasing their spending along with their incomes, and end up making tradeoffs along the way. As Lynda Barry once said, “The key to eternal happiness is low overhead and no debt.” (HT Austin Kleon) Just like you want to gain greater flexibility of focus over time,...

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