Todd Henry runs The Accidental Creative, a speaking and consulting firm that helps teams do their best work consistently, not haphazardly. His book of the same name, about “how to be brilliant at a moment’s notice,” will be published this July by Portfolio.
My two sons are obsessed with superheroes. They asked for something very specific for their birthdays–two action figures. One is a superhero and one is “bad guy,” as they called him. Curious, my wife asked our oldest son why he wanted those two particular action figures instead of two superheroes, to which he quickly responded, “Mommy…every superhero needs a bad guy to fight.”
Word of profundity often come out of nowhere in our house. As I sat to write later that day, my son’s words echoed through my mind. Every hero needs a bad guy… I thought about purpose, uniqueness, brilliance, and the importance of doing meaningful work.
It’s easy to identify what you’re “for.” For example, I know that my mission is to bring freedom to creatives; to unleash them so that they can do brilliant work. I like to consider myself an arms dealer for the creative revolution.
But I had difficulty identifying my “bad guy.” I know what I’m fighting for, but what am I fighting against? I tried to think about the times when I’ve been emotionally moved in my work. It’s usually when I encounter a creative who is in a season of incredible productivity, someone who’s doing work beyond their expectations and is thoroughly thriving both personally and professionally.
On the flip side, I’m also moved when I first encounter someone who is living in a kind of self-imposed prison. Though the bars are obvious to those around them, they continue to live in mediocrity. I grieve their loss of freedom. In the end, I think apathy is my bad guy. My arch-nemesis. My Lex Luthor.
As a creative, it’s important to know what you’re fighting for, but it’s also important to know what you’re fighting against. This is the yang to your yin. We need two points of reference in order to navigate properly. Otherwise, we can never be certain what direction we’re truly headed in.
What are you fighting for? What’s the “why” behind the work you do? But equally as important, what are you fighting against? This is a critical question for any creative, brand, or leader to answer.
Creative work is a series of small, everyday battles. It’s an assault on the beachhead of apathy. Know your enemy, kick some butt, and take some ground.