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“Accidental Genius” can change your thinking

So I’m behind on my business reading because of all these fascinating conversations with strangers this summer. But one book I just finished is a wow because it can help you solve problems, find new ideas, have that “aha” marketing or sales breakthrough. And its advice is simple and easy for anyone to do.

The book is “Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight and Content” by Mark Levy.  Mark’s view — which I can attest to — is that by slamming down your ideas on paper within a short time frame, say 12 minutes, you can find insights, get unstuck, and find ways to express your business or yourself that are genuine to who you are. (I believe that when this “realness”  happens, you begin to like doing marketing and sales because the message means something to you.)

Mark’s book explains the freewriting process and shows how to put it to use for practical business and professional purposes.  By writing out your thinking on paper really fast, you push aside that ego lizard brain and tap into deep seated ideas, which are often both startling and right on. The speed of the writing pushes away the conscious editor that usually filters those wacky, odd ideas and thoughts.

I’ve used freewriting for the last 18 months and it has opened up tremendous creative thinking and strategic ideas. (And brought more value to my clients.)  When there’s a gnawing big opportunity or potential obstacle in our work one of my executive clients now says, “Lois, why don’t you go off and do some of that narrative writing.”  (Note, though, that most freewriting isn’t to be shared publicly; it’s a way of privately figuring things out.)

This approach also helped me finish my book “Be the Noodle.” For four months the manuscript sat because I couldn’t figure out what wasn’t working with it. I used one of the techniques in Mark’s book and did a Q&A with myself, wrestling in writing about the creative standoff.  I speed wrote a question, and then wrote a reply. No thinking. Just slamming it down, keeping the pen moving and never leaving the page until the alarm rings. (Part of the trick is setting an alarm and writing fast before times up.) The answers led me to a new book title and format change and within two weeks the book was finished and a publishing deal was put to bed.

Here are some of the things that I’ve highlighted in “Accidental Genius”:

  • Prompt your thinking: prompts are helpful way to jump start your thinking and writing. Mark includes an extensive, helpful list of short, open-ended prompts like: “I’m scared by….This sounds insane, but my organization would be 500 percent more productive if….I’d like to tell you a story about…”
  • Be open to what shows up: “When you freewrite the page is alive. The ideas that appear on it will change radically, if you let them. You must be open to the truth of the material as it shows up.”
  • Marathons: “Each time you formulate a starter thought, demand that it sends you in a new direction…Force yourself into uncharted waters, even if doing so seems artificial or uncomfortable. Pursue novelty and uncertainty; head toward anxiety.
  • The fascination method: Mark asks people he works with to make an inventory of everything that has fascinated them at any point in their lives — any ideas that have energy for them, whether or not they “fit” with the person’s business or book concept.  The fun starts by putting the ideas together and seeing patterns and insights. “From these places of energy,” he writes, ” we find the book’s premise and much of its supporting material. This material comes from an honest place within the client. It comes from the spot in their brain where they keep things they can’t forget.”

There’s so much more in the book. I hope you find it as valuable as I have.  When in doubt, write it out.