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Hey, it’s Marie Forleo and you are watching MarieTV, the place to be to create a business and life you love. There has never been a better time to grow an audience for your products, your services, and your ideas. But with all the noise out there, how do we not only stand out, but also ensure that our work has real impact in the world? Well, my guest today says the key is in finding our authentic voice, and he’s here to show us how.
Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He’s the author of 3 books: “The Accidental Creative,” “Die Empty,” and “Louder than Words,” which have been translated into more than a dozen languages and he speaks and consults internationally on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. His last book, “Die Empty,” was named by Amazon.com as one of the best books of 2013. His latest book, “Louder than Words,” is about how to develop an authentic voice that resonate and creates impact. International bestselling author Tom Rath called it, “One of the best guides to living a meaningful life I have ever read.”
Todd, thank you so much for coming on MarieTV.
Thank you for inviting me.
So “Louder than Words,” you guys, I read this cover to cover. It’s amazing. I have so many notes. I have, like, things circled and highlighted and things that I sent to the team. It’s just brilliant. One of the things that you say that I loved: “Attention for your work is not a birthright. To stand out you must develop an authentic, compelling voice.” Talk to me about why you wanted to write this book.
So I’ve noticed over the last couple of years working with creative professionals, people in the marketplace, there’s a lot of conversation about building a platform. Right? And how can you create a platform, how can you grow an audience, how can you get attention for your work? And I think that’s helpful to have that kind of conversation going, but I think we often ignore a… I think a more rudimentary conversation we need to be having, which is how do you develop a voice that’s worth putting on a platform? So I think starting with platform and asking yourself how do I grow an audience, how do I grow attention for my work is kind of putting the cart before the horse. I think first we have to have the conversation about what is it that I want to be on that platform. Right? What do I actually want to get out into the world? What impact do I want to have? I think that’s the first and the most fundamental question we have to ask before you even begin to think about how do I grow a platform and gain attention.
I agree with you 100%. So much so. We have the honor of working with tens of thousands of creatives through B-School and that’s one of the things. It’s like, “Well, what are you taking a stand for? What’s important to you? What is the message that you wanna use this platform for?” And that’s why I’m so excited about your book, because I think it is the most fundamental and important question and I think for any of us, whether we’re just starting out or, you know, I’ve been doing this over 15 years now. These are the questions in your book that I continue to ask myself. And I think it’s for people that are… have been on the journey for a while and want to evolve their platform. And there’s even more brilliance. Again, I have to quote you exactly because it’s so perfectly said. On page 151 you write, “You have to allow the idea to breathe, which sometimes means engaging in activity that is gloriously inefficient.” And you talk a lot about people really don’t give themselves enough permission, especially in the early stages, to wander around. Can we talk about this? Because I feel like I see so much about this hacking and mind hacking and productivity hacking and creativity hacking, and in my personal experience there ain’t no shortcuts. You can’t be “efficient” all the time if you want to do work that really matters. So what’s your perspective on this?
I think there’s a real tendency in our culture right now to sacrifice effectiveness on the altar of short term efficiency. Right? And you’re right, there’s all this conversation about hacking and shortcuts and all of these things. And that can be effective I think for some things, but not about the things that matter. I think in the long term, I think that we need to be carving out white space in our life, because innovation happens in the white space. When we squeeze all of the white space out of our life we’re not allowing our ideas to marinate, we’re not allowing them to breathe, we’re not allowing them to emerge into their full potential. I think so often there’s a lot of conversation about shipping and getting things out and pushing things into the world, and that’s great, because I think some people because of a perfectionistic tendency they might hold onto ideas too long and never get them out into the marketplace trying to make them perfect. But I think sometimes on the opposite side of the equation, sometimes we push things out before we really have asked the deeper questions about what is this, what am I really trying to introduce, what change do I really want to see through this work or this project or whatever it is? And so we push things out prematurely sometimes without asking those questions. And just stepping back sometimes to breathe, to create some space around that project, can allow us to sometimes make the project exactly what it needs to be in order to resonate.
Now, that’s not to excuse not shipping. Right? Because we all have to, you know, we can easily slip to the other side of the equation and try to make things too perfect. But, yeah, we need to create that white space. Sometimes we need to do things that are very inefficient in the short run so we can be effective in the long run.
I love that. So much of my work, like, I have things that I’ve written, there are projects that, you know, something that we have that’s been in the incubation for years. And there’s a part of my brain, right, that wants to get it done and get it out there. But I think there’s the wiser part of myself that watches it over time and watches it get better. And whenever my brain starts to want to beat myself up because I’m like, “Look at all those things I’ve wrote and I never use them,” I have to remember, it’s actually part of the layering process, that wandering around that gets to the real good stuff. And I haven’t heard many people talk about that because it’s just go, go, go, push, push, push, so I was so happy that you created this container for us to say, “Yes, you don’t have to be so efficient all the time and the really meaningful stuff comes when you let yourself wander a little bit.”
It does and you’re right, I mean, success I think comes in layers. It doesn’t come all at once. I mean, for most people and we, you know, we talk about unicorns, we talk about the outliers, the people who just shoot straight to the top. And success often is not as substantive and it doesn’t last often as much for people who shoot straight to the top. They don’t have those layers of experience and learning. Their body of work isn’t going to be as substantive. Sometimes it is, sometimes, you know, but I think that we have to… we have to recognize that it takes time. Anything worth doing takes time.
Building a body of work you can be proud of takes time. And a lot of people, like yourself, you make it look very easy because you’ve been doing this for a while. Right? And so people look at you and they think, “Well, I wanna be just like Marie.” But the reality is that it took you a long time to get to the place where you can make it look easy.
And I still struggle. I mean, I still go back into the writing cave, I still have those same fears. Am I gonna have anything worthwhile to say? You know, am I gonna run out? And so I think also too it’s really important to have that conversation, you know, this is your third book, you know, so clearly this isn’t your first time out of the gate. But I think it’s important for people that have been creating well to also say those things. I personally never find it easy. You know? Even though whatever it looks like on the outside, it’s still, there’s… but it’s good challenge.
It is. And I think we don’t… that’s the thing. I think we don’t talk about the struggle. The struggle of making things, the struggle of creating, the battle against ego, the battle against pride, the battle against the fear of failure. And we don’t talk about those things. We show everybody the finished product and say, “Ta da, look what I made,” but we don’t talk about the, you know, the long slog that we had to walk through in order to get to that place where we finally felt some resolution about who we are and what we’re doing in the world. And the process of developing your voice is the process of walking through that long slog. And it’s gonna be ugly, you’re gonna lose your bearing, you know, you’re not always gonna know exactly where you’re going or what you’re trying to do. But it’s the courage to continue, the courage to continue taking small risks day after day and pushing into uncomfortable, unknown places. The people who have the courage to do that or the people who eventually wind up in the place where they’re building a contributive body of work that really matters and that is ultimately unique.
Yes. And tagging off of that, one of the other things you talk about that I love is that every creative project having a U shape and that so many people misinterpret the bottom of that U when they are struggling as they’re being, you know, they’re doing something wrong, they’re on the wrong path, maybe they should quit. Can you tell us more about that U shape?
Yeah. So this resulted from a conversation I had with Lisa Congdon, who is a brilliant artist. She said that one of her art school teachers told her that every creative project has a U shape and it’s like walking into a canyon. Right? So when you’re on one side of a canyon and you’re looking across at your destination, you can see the other side of the canyon. Everything is clear. I mean, you can see the path and everything, you know, because you have a bird’s eye view of everything. And then you start hiking down into the canyon and you get to the bottom and all of a sudden the bushes are scraping against your thighs and the path becomes a little bit more murky and you can’t quite tell where you’re supposed to go and you can’t really see your destination anymore. And when you’re in the bottom of the canyon and you can’t really see your destination and everything is more murky, I think a lot of people start to question their sense of direction, they start to question is this a worthy trip to begin with? Should I have even done this? Was this wise? And then the sun starts to go down and you hear animals, you know, all around you and… at least that’s what I imagine what happens. And you start to get afraid and you start to think maybe my life is on the line here. And then you start to hike up the other side of the canyon and suddenly your destination comes in view. It’s a long way off but you can see it again. And then right at sunset you’re standing on the other side, you can see the sun go down, it’s beautiful, totally worth it, it’s amazing, you can see where you started. We all go through that as part of a creative process. It’s like hiking down into a canyon. And so you start off with excitement and enthusiasm and it’s so clear, you know exactly where you’re gonna go. And when you get in the middle… and I don’t care who you are, I don’t care how successful you are, I don’t care how many successes you’ve had before, how celebrated your work is, it always in the middle feels like a slog. It always feels like I’m never gonna get out of this, should I have even started this, what if I fail? Especially if you have eyes on you. Right?
Especially if you’ve had success. In the middle you say, “If I fail, what is this gonna mean?” because you feel like the stakes are really high at that point. And I think sometimes people think, “Well, the more success you have the easier it gets,” and I think it’s actually the opposite. I think that once you have a lot of eyeballs on you and people are judging you and looking at you, it, in some cases, becomes even harder. So the reality is that everybody feels that way, everybody questions themselves when they get in the middle of a long arc project like that. And the only solution is to try to keeps your eyes fixed on the direction you think you should be moving and continue slogging up the hill. That’s the only way to get through it. And the reality is everybody goes through that, we just have to keep pushing forward.
Love it. Totally love it. The other thing that really resonated for me in the book was your stories about DJ Z-Trip and his comparison of the creative journey to climbing a tree. Can you share that with us?
Yeah. So Z-Trip is this brilliant DJ who has kind of shepherded this movement called the mashup movement, where he takes rock and he takes hip hop and he kind of mixes all these different genres together into one composition. And I was asking him, I was at a concert and we were kind of sitting around backstage and I said, “Tell me, how do you… how did you find your voice as an artist? How did you develop your voice?” He said, “Well, this is what it was like for me.” He said, “So we all have roots. Right? And our roots are our influences and those roots grow up into a trunk, into a tree trunk. And so we all start as artists, we all start by climbing the trunk. So we’re kind of hugging the trunk, our influences, we’re staying close to our influences. And once we get a certain way up the trunk we have to decide, am I gonna step out on a branch? Am I gonna move away from the trunk? Am I gonna step away from my influences?” And so whether you’re a writer, entrepreneur, whatever, we all reach that crossroads. We have to say, “Am I gonna step away from my influences and start to find my own thing?” And he said, “So I just started stepping out on a branch and I said I’m gonna choose a branch, I’m gonna make myself unique, and this is what I’m gonna do.” And so thinking I’m being really quick witted I said, “Well, what happens when you get too far out on the branch? You get too far out and the branch breaks because, you know, branches are really tenuous.” He said, “Well, the thing is, most people aren’t gonna follow you too far out on the branch. They might follow you for a while, but if you have enough courage and you get far enough out on the branch, people aren’t gonna go out with you because the branch gets really thin and they’re afraid it’s gonna break.” “And so what if it does break?” He said, “Well, that’s the beautiful thing. Once the branch breaks it falls to the ground and it forms a new trunk and then people start following you. They start imitating you and now you’re the trunk, you’re the influence.” And I thought that’s a brilliant articulation of what the creative growth process looks like. Because we all began by imitating our heroes, by imitating the people who inspired us, even closely imitating, emulating. Right?
But at some point we have to be willing to make a decision. We have to make choices to deviate from our influences and be bold and be unique. We have to decide. And that word decide comes from the root word that means to cut off. I think a lot of times we’re afraid to decide because we’re afraid of missing out on opportunities. But the reality is, brilliant contributors, resonant voices are people who made the decision to deviate from those influences and to carve their own path, to do something unique, and to go out on the branch even when it seemed like the branch might break. Right? To push out into those uncomfortable places.
You know, which leads right into where I wanna go next with you, was another brilliant thing that you talked about in the book, which I talk about a lot: comparison. You know, we all start out having influences and people that we admire and people we look up to and we emulate their work. But I think at many points in the journey you can get sidetracked if you are constantly looking to the right and to the left and anyone else in your industry and you’re following what everyone is doing and you see someone have success with a certain strategy or doing a certain thing and you wanna go chase them. You talk about running your own race. So I’m just curious whether it’s your own personal experience or experience with any clients, what has that been like for you in terms of running your own race?
It’s a real challenge because I think you see what other people are doing and you see what’s working and the tendency is to want to… you’re on this path, they’re on this path, the tendency is to want to maybe steer your path over to what you see working or to see… steer toward where all the people are, where the audience is, where the eyeballs are. A funny thing happens when you’re running your own race: your peripheral vision can be a blessing and a curse because if you see people coming up on you and you turn, you start looking at them, your body will naturally want to run, you know, toward that person. Your body goes where your eyeballs are. And I think the same thing applies in the marketplace. I think that peripheral vision can be good because you can learn from what other people are doing, you can study them and say, “Hey, is there anything they’re doing I can apply to what I’m doing to make myself better and more resonant?” But you don’t want to get into a situation where you start looking at them so closely that your path starts to merge with theirs. You have to have the courage to run your own race. And so for me that means a writer, if somebody writes books, somebody who is out consulting and doing things, of course I’m aware of what my peers are doing. You know? But I recognize that there is a unique body of work that I am wired to build. It’s not my job to build their body of work, they’re not accountable for building my body of work. You know, I have my body of work, I have to focus on that, on my calling, on the people that I’m supposed to serve. And you know what? That might mean that my body of work is not as celebrated as somebody else’s. It might mean I don’t get as many eyeballs or as much attention as somebody else does, and I have to be ok with that because it’s not my job to build their body of work. It’s my job to build my body of work. Semantics matter, small decisions matter. You have to know who you are, you have to know what you care about, the battles that you deem worth fighting, and you have to steep yourself in that on a regular basis so that you don’t compromise and you don’t just follow opportunity when it presents itself. Instead you have a framework for making decisions about what you care about, about the body of work you’re building.
Absolutely. One of the other things before we wrap today that I thought was just so awesome, such a subtle distinction yet so huge. This idea between evoking and provoking, and this is something that really fires me up. You wrote, “A lot of emotion laden messages are provocative. They’re designed to elicit a desired reaction, but often with little concern about what will happen after the moment of response. They’re designed for instant gratification,” and you move on to say, “Provoking means putting a finger in their chest and picking a fight. Pushing their buttons until they have to do something about it.” Talk to us about the distinction here.
Yeah, so I think we have to approach our work as if we’re partners with the people that we’re trying to reach, that we’re trying to serve. And I think provocation, control can achieve results in the short run. But you’re not making friends and you’re not really helping people. You’re just trying to provoke a response, right? But when you evoke, when you pull the best out of, you pull something out of them, you’re helping them go to a new place. You’re trying to pull the best of who they are out of them. And I think as somebody who wants to build a resonant body of work, I think we have to focus on evocation, not provocation. We all knew that neighborhood bully, right, the sort of line in the sand person who, you know, was all about putting a finger in your chest and provoking you and trying to control you. And I think, you know, those kinds of people are prevalent in the marketplace as well. You know, you just kind of never really feel good about interacting with their brand or with their business because you feel like they’re always sort of putting a finger in your chest and using whatever tactics they can in order to get attention. And so I believe that if you want to resonate, you have to focus on evoking the best in people, pulling the best out of them, helping them become who they want to be. Right? And partnering with them in that cause.
I think it’s so important too both for our own work, but I also think, and something that’s just been really firing me up lately, as I observe, and I don’t participate nearly as much in the world of social media and, you know, stuff as people may think I do, it always astounds me how so many folks are just so willing to throw a bomb out there in someone else’s environment and with no regard for what type of impact that’s going to have on all the other people. You know, that person, their team, how they have to respond. And this is what I loved about this idea of, you know, evoking. It’s like really taking the time to ask ourselves and be responsible for our communication.
You know, whether, again, it’s in this kind of micro sense of how we’re interacting with each other or on the macro sense of our body of work, to really check ourselves before we wreck ourselves or other people and create some problems that you can’t take back.
That’s exactly right. And you mentioned something, taking responsibility for your body of work. Right? And ultimately I think that’s what developing your voice is about. It’s about taking responsibility for the impact that you want to have in the world, understanding your identity, who you are, and what you really care about. It’s about understanding the vision that you have for yourself, for your work, for the people that you want to serve. And it’s also about understanding what it is you need to master, you know, what you need to be responsible for so you can bring that body of work into the world. And I think that at the heart of it, that really is the core message that we need to embrace if we want to develop a body of work is that we’re responsible for the impact of our work. We’re responsible for how it connects with, how it leads, how it impacts the world around us. And so we have to make sure that that reflects our values, what we care about, and sometimes that means maybe compromising the amount of attention we get in the short run so that we build something we can be proud of in the long run. So I think a really good question to ask yourself is how much work am I gonna do today I’ll be proud of in 10 years? You know, and if you can answer that question in the affirmative more often than not, then you’re probably gonna build a body of work you can be proud of.
Todd, you are just fantastic. Thank you so much for all the work that you’ve created so far. I absolutely love this. Again, “Louder than Words.” Trust me, you will adore this. There is so much in there, it’ll last you a year. All the great work that you put out for us, so I really, really appreciate it. Thank you.
Now Todd and I have a challenge for you. If you wish to be successful in causing your work to resound, you must account for each of the 3 confluent factors: 1. What do I care about? 2. What do they care about? 3. What ideas already have momentum? Let us know your answers in the comments below. Now, as always, the best discussions happen after the episode over at MarieForleo.com, so go there and leave a comment now. Did you like this video? If so, subscribe to our channel and, of course, I’d be so appreciative if you shared this with your friends. And if you want even more resources to create a business and life that you love, plus some personal insights from me that I only talk about in email, come on over to MarieForleo.com and make sure you sign up for email updates. Stay on your game and keep going for your dreams because the world needs that special gift that only you have. Thank you so much for watching and we’ll catch you next time on MarieTV.