I was browsing through podcasts a few years ago when I discovered a podcast called Accidental Creative. The name caught my attention. I wondered,
Who is a creative by accident?
I was curious. I started listening to the podcast. And I was hooked.
If you follow my work at all, you know that I’m still hooked.
I would say that these books have earned a permanent spot on my book shelf, except that isn’t exactly true. I pull them off the shelf so often that they now seem to reside permanently on my dining table or my desk, where I can access them more easily. Their pages are filled with highlights and notes in multiple colors made during several readings.
The other day, I posted on Facebook that I consider these books to be “the holy trilogy for the creative professional.” That seemed to evoke some curiosity. My friend Walter Akana commented that these must be special books and asked whether I recommended a specific reading order.
I do, and I’ll share that here. First, I want to share why I think these books are so essential, even if you think you’re not a “creative.”
What is a Creative, Anyway?
In the introduction to his weekly podcast, Todd Henry defines “creative” as anyone who turns their thoughts into value.
Creatives aren’t simply writers, artists, musicians and advertising professional. As Todd notes in The Accidental Creative, if your work involves solving problems, creating systems and strategies, or moving “conceptual blocks,” you’re a creative.
I would take that further:
- If your work involves synthesizing ideas and presenting them to others, you’re a creative.
- If your work requires you to interact with other people, you’re a creative.
- If your work involves doing anything where there is more than one possible way to achieve the desired outcome, you’re a creative.
Sales. Negotiations. Teaching. Legal work. House cleaning. All involve some measure of creating.
I know many people who don’t consider themselves to be “creatives.” Some even view “creatives” as the enemy.
I believe that we are all creatives, in some form. But even if you are steadfast in your belief that you are not a “creative,” I imagine that you work with creatives, at least sometimes. And that makes these books must-reads, even for you.
Why These Books are Essential
A lot of people write books these days. What makes these books so essential?
Timeless and Evergreen
Although he addresses challenges that are exacerbated by our current “on-demand” and “always on” culture, these problems existed even before the age of constant connectivity and they will continue to exist when we’ve moved on to the next thing. The solutions and strategies that he offers are not tied to a specific ecosystem of digital communication, technology or social media. The problems he presents and solutions he offers are, fundamentally, human.
The reason that I pull out these books so often is that they are written as “workbooks.” Todd provides enough theory to provide context for the problems and solutions, but he doesn’t get lost in high-level theory. He clearly illustrates how he has applied the theory with his clients and offers clear steps and frameworks to help the reader take action. His checkpoints and recommended actions offer enough structure to foster implementation while providing flexibility to allow for the fact that no solution can be one-size-fits-all.
Todd doesn’t waste words. The books are dense, yet still approachable and easy to read. Reading them feels like having a conversation with a friend who has been through the trenches and is sharing his personal lessons. Because he has.
Recommended Reading Order
If you’re a “rules” person you will probably want to read these in chronological order. And that’s fine. That’s not my style. I discovered Todd’s work shortly before Die Empty was published, so I read Die Empty first.
With the perspective of having read all three books, my recommendation to you is to read them in reverse chronological order:
Obviously, this is my recommendation. I didn’t ask Todd Henry for his opinion. Go ask him. Or maybe he will share this opinion in the comments.
I think that the books build best on each other, in this way:
Louder Than Words: Harness the Power of Your Authentic Voice
The theme of “voice” runs throughout Todd’s work. Although Louder Than Words is framed as a discussion of how to find resonance in your voice, at its core the book helps us answer a question that lies at the root of the two previous books:
“What is my best work?”
“Voice” comes from the latin vocare, which means to call forth. Discovering your authentic voice and discovering your best work are closely related, if not the same.
As I’ve said before, I believe that discovering our best work—harnessing the power of our authentic voice—is the foundation for everything else.
It’s great to be brilliant at a moment’s notice, but if your brilliance isn’t directed at the right target, then you’re not really making an impact. If you’re going to implement efforts to unleash your best work every day, it might help to get clear on what, exactly, that work is.
Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day
Once you know what your best work is, how do you “unleash your best work every day”?
Too often we put off the work that matters because we feel compelled to first address the urgencies pulling at us. Clients are calling. Email and social media demands our attention. We think, “I’ll have more time to do that tomorrow.” But we don’t. Tomorrow stretches into next week, which stretches into next month, which stretches into next year. The seeds of our potential grow into a big hole of emptiness inside of us. Most of us know that feeling all too well. Die Empty was my wake-up call to approach each day with more intention and focus first on the work that matters most.
The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant at a Moment’s Notice
Even when you know how you best contribute and the importance of unleashing your best work every day, the urgent pressures of the workplace or client demands can derail your day.
In The Accidental Creative, Todd offers a guide to creating structures that allow us to honor the peaks and valleys that are inherent in the creative process while also helping us be “brilliant on demand.” This is the most tactical of the three books: it provides several concrete practices and strategies to help us be “prolific, brilliant and healthy.”
Whether you are a creative or you think you’re not, I think you’d agree that the goal of being “prolific, brilliant and healthy” is a most worthy goal, right?
I would love to know which people and books have had the greatest influence on your work. Please share in the comments.