Author and creativity expert Todd Henry writes in his book The Accidental Creative
that we rise to the level of our competition. We need other people to challenge us, so that we can grow and reach new accomplishments.
But as Henry points out, competition doesn’t always have to entail a negative experience.
He cites a remark by media personality Diane Sawyer: “Competition is easier to accept if you realize it is not an act of oppression or abrasion – I’ve worked with my best friends in direct competition.”
One way to cultivate the benefits of friendly competition is to set up regular “head-to-head” meetings with a friend or colleague.
In a head-to-head meeting, two people get together and each person is responsible for sharing new lessons and resources they’ve encountered since the last meeting. The idea is that each of you will share something that is challenging and intriguing to the other person, and will stimulate discussion.
Henry recommends the following 4 principles for conducting effective head-to-heads:
1. Establish the right mindset
Running provides a useful analogy. As Henry points out, many runners have experienced the benefit of having someone else alongside them to keep the pace: “Simply knowing that slacking off means letting the other person down causes us to push ourselves to the limit and beyond.”
2. Choose someone you admire and respect
The best relationships involve a give and take between the parties. Ideally, you will choose someone within your area of expertise, because this will enhance the discussion and lead to ideas and topics that are appropriate to each person’s context.
To help find such a person, ask yourself: If you could look inside anyone’s notebook right now to see what they’re currently thinking, who would it be?
3. Set a time and be consistent
Agree on a date, meeting place, time, and frequency.
Once a month is a good frequency because it gives each of you enough time to experience something new, and to have generated fresh insights that can make for interesting conversation.
4. Select relevant topics
The discussion itself can be about any topic, for example a book you’re reading, a workshop you’ve attended, or something you’ve made. What’s important is that the material is relevant to both of you.
Here are a few questions to help select topics: What are you currently interested in or curious about? What have you read or experienced recently that the other person knows little about?
Henry himself has regular head-to-head meetings with several people. One of them, Keith, is a neuroscientist, with whom he meets to share their latest insights and lessons about creativity, science, and the brain.
As Henry puts it, “Many of our conversations have been formative in how I understand the creative process and have helped me significantly in my day-to-day work.”