By Todd Henry
Great insight. Great ideas. Great void.
In Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day, Todd Henry, self-professed "arms dealer for the creative revolution" offers every-day practical help for people who want to operate at their best.
People “sense they have something more to give, but they can’t quite put their finger on why they’re stuck in first gear. They have a nagging suspicion that they are capable of contributing more—maybe even being truly brilliant at something—but have no road map for unlocking what that contribution might be. This begs the obvious question: How do you set in motion a course of action that will allow you to unleash your best, most valuable work while you still can? (p. 3) The answer: “Cultivating a love of the process is the key to making a lasting contribution.” (p. 10)
As I noted, this is a book full of great insights :
1. Redefining problems by examining Aspirations, Affinities, Assumptions, and Attributes. Understanding these helps us “play” with the problems we face. Aspirations: What is the objective we are trying to overcome? “What would be the ultimate end, if we were to perfectly solve this problem?” Affinities: “What is this problem or project like?” “Where have I seen something similar before?” Assumptions: “What assumptions might I be making about this?“ Attributes Taking a deeper dive into the characteristics of the problem to solve. Identify several aspects of the problem and let those serve your jumping off point to generate ideas. This served me well as I was struggling with how to frame a workshop I was teaching. Todd helped me ask this obvious, but important question: “What is the true objective of this workshop?”
2. “Don’t let short-arc comfort convince you to compromise your long-arc goals. Rarely are things as terrible or wonderful as they seem in the moment.” 94 Amen to that.
3. What trade-offs are you willing to make? You can’t do everything; you must choose your priorities. Draw the battle lines. What “enemy” will you have to overcome to accomplish your goal, and how wil you prepare for it? What will be your first course of action? p. 101
4. The assassins of creativity: Just buy the book. It's worth it on so many levels, not the least is what he has to say here.
About those great ideas , there are many, but here are two that are sticking with me are:
1. The personal SWOT analysis: Todd takes an organizational tool and turns it into a powerful tool for personal assessment.
2. Find Mirrors: "Just as a mirror allows you to see your true appearance, other people in our life can serve to help you see beyond your assumptions and blind spots." Who are the people in your life whom you have given full permission to speak truth to you about what they see? p. 170
And yes, despite all the above, I was left with a great void . I felt like Solomon searching for how to make my best contribution "under the sun." Todd offered me countless platitudes to be my best, make my best contribution, but . . . WHY? What's the point? So I can look back on my life and feel good about myself before I fade into oblivion. Good stuff I guess, but he left me with in an existential crisis. And the purpose of all this is . . . ? Here are a few of his final lines:
Ultimately, your life will be measured by who you gave, not what you received. (SAYS WHO?) Don't hold out on the rest of us--we need you to contribute. Spend your life building a body of work you will be proud of. (WHY?) Engage today with urgency and diligence. (WHY?) Plant seeds every day that will yield a harvest later. (WHY?) Tomorrow is only an unfilled wish, so live and work as if today is all you have. If you do, you will be able to lay your head down each night satisfied with your work, and in the end, you will die empty of regret, (REALY?!) but full of satisfaction for a life well lived.
Read Die Empty. It's a helpful book with great insights and ideas, but you'll need to look beyond this work if you are looking for a worldview that gives the reason anyone should give a rip in the first place.