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Q&A: Todd Henry, Author of The Accidental Creative

Members of LPK’s book club, LPK Literati, spent their lunch hour with Todd Henry, acclaimed author of The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice, discussing the benefits of his book and how to put his advice into practice.

1. Which of the practices in your book has affected your life and decisions the most?

When I was 33, I realized that I was in drift mode in my life and that if I didn’t get my life together, I was going to wake up and be 45 and not have done anything significant. Everything was fine on the exterior, but I wasn’t doing the stuff I felt like I was wired to do—so I began studying the things I really took interest in. I dedicated time in the morning to write, think, synthesize and read. That moment, when I dedicated a portion of my calendar to “study time,” was the beginning of everything—my podcast, my company, my book.

I began delving into a broad and deep range of stuff—spirituality, particle physics, business, etc.—just smashing it together and seeing where it led me, constantly feeding my curiosity. And I wrote a lot. I started writing and journaling about the things I was studying.

For someone who designs, that doesn’t mean you have to read textbooks. You just need to find some visual stimuli that inspires you. If you write, read things that will inspire you and voices that you admire—whatever the topic. Just read to get the flow of your language.

2. What do you use as inspirational stimuli?

I listen to a ton of audiobooks. Audible.com is a subscription-based website that I use a lot. I watch tons and tons of documentaries; it’s actually my preferred form of television. The only TV I watch is The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Outside of that, I don’t watch much TV. As far as reading goes, I’ve been immersing myself specifically in people’s voices that I admire, if I love the way they write. Clay Shirky is an example. I love his voice and the way he thinks.

I also read the typical magazines like Architectural Digest, Fast Company, Wired and Mental Floss. I like the diversity of thought those magazines bring. Probably the biggest day-to-day stimuli is from my RSS feed. I subscribe to a ton of sites from a broad range of categories.

3. How do you get out of your comfort zone?

Always have the choice of going against the grain. Take risks where you can. And where you’re afraid to take risks, don’t feel like you have to go wild. Just don’t live your life by default, live your life by design. Growth and developing new skills is very uncomfortable. Do wild and crazy stuff and take risks where failure isn’t such a big deal, and over time it will give you the courage to take those risks in other areas as well. Just make sure you continue to make yourself uncomfortable and go against the current every once in a while to grow.

4. What is the importance of having a core team you can rely on and how do you find one?

The idea of the core team is to have people in your life who can provide the perspective you may not see. Your core team is willing to say hard things, things that others won’t, because they respect you enough to step in and tell you the truth.

People on my core team are people who know a lot about my life; they are people who I respect and who are wiser than me. They are typically way further down their life or career path than I am, and they have similar life goals as well; they aren’t just random professional mentors.

Look for people you respect and who have goals and life objectives that are similar to yours, but who are further down the road than you. You may need to look outside your immediate professional circle. Look for people with experiences that are rooted in the pragmatics and realities of the world and who have real-life experience. If you want to have a successful marriage, it’s helpful to talk to someone who’s happy in their marriage, but sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone who’s had a failed marriage because they can offer perspective on the pitfalls to avoid.

5. How do you keep yourself from scheduling every minute of the day and not schedule your life away?

Schedule time to not do something. When you make the choice to do something, you make the choice to not do something else. If it’s not written on my calendar, I’ll gravitate toward doing other things. Vacuums love to be filled. As you look at your upcoming life, figure out what you need to focus on, whether it’s rejuvenating your energy or maintaining relationships. Having structure is great, and breaking structure is great, but not having any structure at all is bad. Do everything with purpose.

Stay tuned tomorrow to learn about how a few LPKers are taking Henry’s advice to heart after reading his book.

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