There’s a precision that comes with experience and maturity that lends its language to the unexplainable. Tapping into this kind of knowledge helps us bring our understanding of our own experience full circle as we develop ourselves creatively and professionally over time. I’ve had Todd Henry on the show before where we talk about creating work that lasts. He’s the creator for creators and I’m talking with him again on how we can develop habits to help us be prolific, brilliant, and healthy in our work.
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Todd educates organizations and leaders on how to create practices that support day-to-day brilliance. He’s the author of five books including his latest, Daily Creative, a Practical Guide for Staying Prolific, Brilliant and Healthy. The book offers daily sparks of inspiration and practical advice for creative pros. Todd is a speaker and consultant across dozens of industries on the topics of creativity, leadership, and passion for work.
As we talk, Todd and I cover a lot of ground for new creatives and creative professionals. Mainly, we explore the journey of our human creative potential and the infrastructure that supports us to be professionally creative.
Increasingly Efficient at Doing Decreasingly Effective Things
Todd has double decades of experience being in the creative realm as well as supporting others. I open up our talk by asking him what he thinks is his most impactful work. Todd very succinctly points out that what he’s done is help creative professionals have a target to aim for. His work helps creatives build a framework so they keep pace, create brilliantly and sustainability.
As creative professionals we’re constantly keeping up with demands of clients or organizations, to be prolific is to keep up the pace. We aim to do better than, if not at least on par with our competition when it comes to our work. We’re seeking brilliance.
There’s a lot of pressure to keep up with the demands, to create brilliant work and when we lose sight of doing this sustainability we go into what Todd calls a pattern of crash, burn, refresh. Over time we get into this pattern and gradually become increasingly efficient at doing decreasingly effective things.
This statement for me is a bit of a mic drop. I mean, let’s end right here and we’d still be wiser. We as creative professionals, understand exactly what Todd is talking about. Maybe we’ve never had the words to describe the feeling of when we’re cranking stuff out and simply keeping pace, but we know that either our work suffers or we do.Talent will get you a seat at the table but it’s your daily practice that keeps you in the game. - Todd Henry Click To Tweet
The anecdote to this comes down to having infrastructure in place. Todd believes that the creative process needs practices, rhythms and infrastructure to support our ambitions. “Talent will get you a seat at the table,” Todd explains, “but it’s your daily practice that keeps you in the game.” The framework of being prolific, brilliant and healthy is what helps creative professionals most.
Without understanding the value behind our work, success feels hollow. When it comes to one-hit wonders or work that takes off because of timing and market conditions, this is the case. Paralysis happens when the success can’t be explained. Creators then go into creation mode for long periods with no results because they’re not sure how they created success the first time. They miss the point of being prolific, brilliant and sustainably healthy.
How do you create after an unexplained wonder?
Infrastructure supports our best work. So, after we experience success the goal is to go out and create again. The best bands and artists don’t stop. They don’t put out everything they create, and they create a lot. To produce good stuff, we’ve got to be in the rhythm of creating a lot of stuff, even the bad stuff. Professional creatives focus on getting a lot of things done repeatedly.
“Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.” – Austin Kleon
We’ve got to do the work. So, if you want to be a writer? Start writing. You want to be a musician? Play music. Being prolific is about doing the work, professionally and consistently over time.
Along the way it gets harder to be prolific when we’re not inspired or we’re inspired by the wrong things. We’re constantly receiving input, it may come from useless or uninspired sources. Creative input plays a big role in the process of our creative output. Spoiler, we’re in control of it.
The best creative ideas come to us when we combine something from our direct discipline with something more abstract and something that’s far outside of where we’d usually find inspiration. It feels very sudden, like it’s an ah-ha moment.
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Those ah-ha moments are actually cooked up. They happen when we experience something, take note of it and then forget about it. Down the road something else comes along and dovetails with it and together cook up an inspired creation. These moments seem like they just happen.
Todd helps us to understand we’re in control over structuring our creative input and creating inspired moments. It helps to think of it like this. New ideas are sparked when we seek them. We control where we explore for ideas. It’s something we do every day without being intentional. It’s better with discipline behind it. Schedule time for reading, listening, and seeking outside of the box.
Stop scrolling, sitting in the boardroom and brainstorming with the same people. Seek something different, we’re in control to seek out the magic.
Creatives say it helps to walk. As if the walk itself is magical. When we walk, we experience the world in a new way. That’s the magic. So, if we’re looking for a creative breakthrough, we first should set ourselves up to receive new creative input and to be inspired.
Cadence of Change is Healthy
As quick as we set ourselves up for inspired input, we’ve also been thrown into situations out of our control. We’ve recently come out of the pandemic. As a community and as individuals we’ve all experienced something very strange to say the least. We’ve been thrown into and out of new rhythms and routines. Many of us are finding a new cadence as we move forward.
Something I’ve talked about before, especially recently, is burnout. Burnout is real and it’s something a lot of creatives experience. We need to hear it said sometimes, right? Creating and growing projects takes a toll on us. Although none of us are alone in the experience, it can feel that way.
Here’s the thing. There’s a season for being stretched in pursuit of our passion. Our work may feel hard, we may be tired, and we suffer in our pursuit. That’s ok. But, when we do it at the cost of the brilliant or prolific side of our work, this is the problem.
Healthy boundaries are mandatory to sustain our longevity in pursuit of our passions. I believe this is why we have creative seasons. Like a football player we need rest and recovery. As Todd puts it, when we do things in sustainable healthy ways we stay away from the pattern or crash, burn, refresh.
Very Little Work Is Actually Brilliant
We all want to put great, meaningful, valuable, enjoyable work out in the world. Talent is a huge contributor to brilliance. But, even the most talented people go off the rails when we begin to believe false narratives about what we’re capable of.
Being brilliant is more about figuring out what we’re individually suited to rather than listening to what others (even ourselves) are saying that is louder than our actual gifts. What other people think you should do or what the marketplace is telling you to do are not indicators of your brilliance. Our brilliance is on the other side of any of the expectations we or others impose on us.
When we get on with our work, another thing to watch out for is comparing. Comparing to the best thing that’s ever been done in our field or comparing new work to our best work creates paralysis. Instead, we need to allow the work the benefit of the creative process.
Very little work is actually brilliant. The word is provocative but what we’re aiming for as creative professionals is work that’s really good and really effective. Todd suggests that in pursuit of creating our brilliant work we’ve got to have others involved. Having people to review work before releasing it out into the world helps. Asking a few great questions can help us create and put forward our best work.
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Todd’s latest book called Daily Creative, a Practical Guide for Staying Prolific, Brilliant and Healthy is full of short essays and daily prompts that help to create practical daily habits that support our work. The book is made with the creative professional in mind to help us gain focus and take steps towards our goals. It covers so much of what we talked about with tools and daily action steps that help us build a practice as we aim to stay prolific, brilliant and healthy in our approach to creative success.