For my birthday last year my brilliant husband, knowing I get my kicks from being creative and thinking about creativity, gave me Todd Henry’s The Accidental Creative: How to Be Brilliant At A Moment’s Notice. The book in many ways has revolutionized how I think about creativity, and has also served as a large impetus for restarting this blog.
The audience for the book is creative professionals, or anyone who creates value from their ideas. This covers a wide number of professions and interests, including many people who might not realize how creative their work really is (hence the “accidental”). For me, the first three chapters describing the challenges Creatives face in the workplace read like my professional memoir. Naturally, Henry’s acknowledgement of these challenges affirmed my concerns and consoled my frustrations. But the book’s real impact is in its heavily practical advice for how we can enhance creative output through becoming more intentional with our creative habits.
My copy of the book is now full of underlined passages and notes in the margin, but today I want to share with you specifically on the chapter on of stimuli, or the raw materials that stimulate thought. This includes the books, TV, articles, films, experiences, or anything else that provides us with new information we will need to filter. Henry says, “This is essentially how the creative process works—it’s the connection of multiple preexisting patterns into solutions. One pathway to creating more effectively and consistently is to be strategic about our inputs.” Henry challenges the reader to pay attention to the information flowing through our heads as we may not realize how much influence that information has. “The more random the information you absorb, the more effort is required to process it and utilize it in your creative work.” If we want to make brilliant connections that bridge different spheres of ideas, we need to monitor our ‘diet’ of stimuli. Just like keeping a healthy diet with what we eat, each of us needs to determine a healthy sources of stimuli. High quality stimuli includes that which is challenging, relevant, and diverse. Henry goes on to detail why you should create a study plan to keep your stimuli diet healthy, why you should create a space in your schedule for regular study, and why you should take ample notes.
The goal of all of this is to convert information to wisdom, and from wisdom, to creative insight. “There is a significant difference between information and wisdom,” he says, “In a culture that is obsessed with sound bites and snack-sized media, wisdom is increasingly taking a backseat to perpetual stimulation. The danger in this is that we stop thinking, ‘what’s best?’ and instead worry only about ‘what’s next?’.” With all of this stimuli, Henry warns of the consequences of failing to process that information: “If you don’t cultivate insights from what you take in, then the value of stimuli in your life decreases dramatically. Taking good notes on your observations, insights, and experiences with a reliable thought-capture system prevents them from disappearing into the ether.”
A thought capture system, I wondered. Naturally, a notebook is the first stage. But I would need to be held accountable to intentionally observing things around me, regularly writing about what I see, read, or experience, and writing clearly. Each of these, my moleskin notebook, as much as it has been a trusty companion, cannot demand of me. My moleskin likewise cannot give feedback or begin a dialogue. An audience, however, can give me all of these things. Why not then blog about creative insights? Best case scenario, readers respond and begin a conversation about the things that inspire them; worst case, I can thank my readers for reminding me to be intentional and regular about processing my stimuli. Hopefully the blog will at least entertain readers and encourage them to be more curious about the fascinating world in which we live. Henry says, “You need to regularly seek experiences that will enlighten you, help you see the world in new ways, and open you to new ways of thinking.”
My hope for this blog is that as I share about my own mind stretching, it stretches readers as well, and encourages them to go out and get some stretching in on their own. But we need not think of this as a painful exercise. It often looks much more like play. Henry quotes Stuart Brown, author of Play: “Play is the basis of all art, games, books, sports, movies, fashion, fun, and wonder—in short, the basis of what we think of as civilization. Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively.”
So readers, let’s lead lively lives. Let’s also pay attention to what makes them so.