Friday, 16 September 2011

Cooking Your Creativity.

“I often think I could be more creative, but I know I simply don't have what it takes!”

I hear this all the time. I used to nod sympathetically, but not nowadays. I feel like since turning forty I've learned more about creativity, and now I am convinced that EVERYONE IS INHERENTLY CREATIVE.

It's just that not everyone recognises that, and not everyone works with what they have.

Creatively productive people are different from the rest of us mortals only in that they have a) figured out what their creative passions are, and b) figured out how to harness their creativity. By that I mean, they've arrived at some kind of working process, even if they aren't too sure what exactly that process is (as I discovered when I tried to explain song-writing to a journalist friend.)

People's misconceptions about the creative process can lead them to make a lot of assumptions about it being beyond them. If people see the process as being black and white - “You've either got it or you haven't”, they often never bother to try in the first place. Whereas, all they need to do is learn the four (or so) corner-stones of the process. There's nothing new to this concept – it was put together by a man called Graham Wallas in 1926. Here's my version.

Auntie Cousins' Recipe For Creativity
  • Get Your Ingredients Together (Preparation)
  • Marinade for a Bit (Incubation)
  • Experience That Magic Lightbulb Moment! (Illumination)
  • Get The Hell On With It (Implementation)

Get Your Ingredients Together - Preparation.

If you were going to create a completely new and unheard-of dish, wouldn't you first of all check that you had everything you needed? All the right equipment, and especially the ingredients? Yes, of course you would. Cooking is just another form of creativity – not really any different from song writing or water-colour painting.

It's not just about making sure you have what you need physically in order to practice your creative skills – it's also about mental preparation. What do you already know about stir-frying? Where could you look for some instructions? What have other people done with stir-frys in the past? Sure, this takes a little time, and it takes a little patience. You may need to go shopping, talk to people, spend time in the library; you may even have to pop next door and borrow the odd cup of Nam Plah. (Good luck with that!)

Marinate Your Ingredients - Incubation

Once everything is ready – peeled, chopped, laid out on your counter-top in diddy little plastic bowls … then what? Then, you look at your ingredients and do nothing else with them except, perhaps, just combine some to marinate. It's actually your brain that is marinating. Give yourself time to allow your ideas to combine deliciously.

The Magic Lightbulb Moment - Illumination

This is the “Ta-Da!” moment many creative people spend all day (or longer) waiting for. When it happens and we allow ourselves to act upon it, we can do so to the exclusion of just about anything else. You may have heard the American expression “In the zone” or, as Sir Ken Robinson says it - “That person is really in their Element.”

The Ta-Da moments can happen at awkward times. My daughter bought me a waterproof pen and note board to use when I was in the bath, because I kept having to get out and stand, dripping, jotting something down. Driving can be another time .. I would leave myself a voice memo on my phone, but using one whilst driving is illegal. Suggestions, please? And, curiously enough, I have lots of ideas when I am hoovering!

What about you? When do you get your best ideas?

Getting The Hell On With It - Implementation

Your oil is hot. Your ingredients are chopped. Your wooden spatula is poised. You have an idea of what you want and so you throw it all in the pan with a theatrical flourish and begin actual cooking.

Photograph from Jenny Eatwell's Rhubarb and Ginger Blog
But .. how does it taste? Is there an ingredient missing that you hadn't originally thought of? Are the red peppers a bit overcooked now? In short – do you need to adjust your seasoning? This is where the hard work begins.

Many people seem to think that creativity is all about the Ta-Da moment, and falter when the hard work part starts to kick in. Don't be fooled into thinking that true creativity is .. well, is a piece of cake. It took Michaelangelo about four years to paint the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel in Rome. The Beatles took 129 days to record Sgt Pepper.

If you can find a way to work your way through these three stages in the process without coming a-cropper at, say, the Implementation point, then the world could well become your oyster and your stir-fry the pearl within it.

Bon appetit!

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