Die Empty: My Interview with HOW Design Live Conference Speaker and Author Todd Henry

Todd Henry_Die EmptyI recently collaborated with a new colleague on a fun project. A few weeks after we wrapped, I went to the post office and retrieved a package that contained an incredibly nice, handwritten note from my colleague along with a new book. I was totally caught off guard by the gesture because email is so readily available to all of us, not many people take time out of their busy lives to sit down and hand write anything, especially not a sincere thank you.

That night, I remember cracking open the book authored by TED and HOW Design Live Conference speaker Todd Henry titled Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day. I read the inside jacket and was struck by the first four lines that read, “Embrace the importance of now and refuse to allow the lull of comfort, fear, familiarity, and ego to prevent you from taking action on your ambitions …” My initial thought was, “Holy @*%#! If the rest of this book is as good as the first four lines, I’m in for a real treat.”

Todd Henry has crafted what would be for most writers their magnum opus. Die Empty is the kick in the butt I needed to surge forward in my creative life. Time is one of the purest, most precious commodities on the planet. It should not be wasted. Todd Henry has inspired me through his writing to live fully in a calculated effort to die empty. I hope you enjoy my interview with Todd Henry as we discuss his life and newest book Die Empty.

Todd, what was your earliest creative memory?
I grew up in a very rural area, with very few structured things to do. As a result, I spent a lot of time tinkering, inventing games to play, and exploring the surrounding area. Some friends and I once devised plans to build a helicopter using a lawn mower engine, and another friend and I once tried (unsuccessfully) to build a ruby-rod laser. These were the sorts of things you’d get yourself into when you have little else to do. However, the other aspect of growing up in the middle of nowhere is that I learned to love quiet, and would take long bike rides over country roads by myself for hours on end. I think this has served me to this day, as it has baked into me a love of solitude and thought.

You appear to be incredibly driven. Were you as focused growing up; what advice did you receive then that still resonates with you today?
I was anything but focused when I was younger. I didn’t have a clue what I really wanted to do with my life until I was well into my twenties, but the experimentation and trial-and-error of those early years has paid off handsomely through the varied experiences I’m able to bring to my writing and work now.

The one piece of advice that I took when I was younger, and the one that was probably the most life-altering, was to build into my day a time to study, to think, to write, and to apply my learning to the work in front of me. I began doing this in my mid-twenties and after fifteen years I still count it as the single most significant practice in my life. Joseph Campbell called it his “bliss station”, or the place and time in which he filled his well and experienced things that allowed him to grow in wonder. I think we all need something like that in our lives, especially as creative pros.

That was really good advice.

What was the catalyst that sparked your enlightenment, compelling you to found Accidental Creative and give you the courage to leap outside your comfort zone and speak to thousands of people?
I was leading a team of about 25 people, and we were consistently struggling with producing great work and simultaneously staying in a healthy place. I began to ask some of my creative director friends how they kept their teams healthy, and they just looked at me like I had two heads. It was a question they’d never really considered.

I began to do some research on how the most healthy creative teams function, and began to notice some patterns among high producers and consistently effective artists throughout time. I distilled these down into guiding principles and practices, and began sharing them with others through a podcast. The podcast audience grew very quickly, and I realized that I’d hit upon a real area of need for creative teams. I was invited to share these principles with various organizations across dozens of industries, prompting the launch of my business, and now the writing of two books on being creative under pressure.

Why Die Empty?
Many people take their best work to the grave with them instead of doing the small, but necessary things each day to keep them on the path of contribution. However, with a small amount of focused discipline you can do everything in your power to ensure that you get that work out into the world rather than taking it to the grave with you. In other words, you can die empty of regret about where you placed your focus, assets, time, and energy.

Join Todd and I tomorrow for the rest of the interview. You may be surprised by his thoughts on how to cure creative blocks.

Additional Resource
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