Cooking and creative meandering
This article talks about the benefits of pivoting from the norms, inventing new versions of doing something, and believing in first principles—picking inspiration from cooking.
Today’s topic is something equally relatable and peculiar—all of us like cooking, don’t we? Well, at least let’s say that we all think of trying out a dish from time to time. Recently, I was thinking about all the random (read funny) experiments I do with cooking, and what I happened to observe from those. Also, I chanced upon a renowned chef’s focus on first principles, which put me to further develop this article.
Some activities stick to you. And, then they form a part of your routine. Before you realize, they turn into habits and you stop to consciously look at them. You may think the actions or the outcomes are what stuck to you as habits, but it’s a no surprisingly. It’s the process and the experience you store in your memory, that get to you as a ritual whenever relevant. Let me tell you what I noted from my everyday instances.
Let’s take cooking—well, a survival skill majorly, but also a passionate career for some and a therapeutic pastime for many. It’s not the outcomes of the dishes you recollect the most, but the effort and the steps that went into the making. And, allowing a bit of meandering in this process helped me focus better on the activity than the final dish [the latter eventually comes well].
Enjoying the value of pivoting:
While it’s normal to follow cookbooks and recipes, and even perfectly fine to recreate some traditional dishes, there’s much joy in letting loose at times. Going by instincts, mixing ingredients the way I think they’d blend, and creating random combinations of vegetables, sprouts, and more, lead me to some satisfying discovery. Note that satisfying isn’t about the outcome, but the journey I undertook.
There are times I’ve combined the techniques of two different cuisines or even cooking methods to finally arrive at something edible (and well beyond that too) and tasty. All it takes is to move away from norms, from time to time, to figure out what’s so innovative. Oh, you got to drop the fixation on the outcome before picking this method. Remember, the world famous chocolate chip cookies was a result of accidental cooking, of a new process that wasn’t a part of the norms, when Mrs. Wakefield mixed a different kind of chocolate.
There’s always a discovery through anything—now, apply this to your product development cycles, product/market fit, or even user research. As much as possible, try to invest time in the possibilities that pivoting brings forth.
Want some more fun examples?
Bubble wrap wasn’t originally invented to be a protective layering for packaging. Founded as a fancy wallpaper pattern, the creators then saw how the bubble wrap can come handy in the bulk packaging of the IBM 1401 computer in 1959. What a pivot!
The fancy childhood friend of ours, play dough, wasn’t after all to be used for fun clay moulding. In fact, it was made by a company called Kutol in 1930, to remove the coal soot and other dirt from the walls in the houses that used coal for insulation. It took a person and his sister-in-law’s unique usage of this rather-serious dough, to repurpose it to what’s today called play dough. The sister-in-law started creating craft items using these dough, while working in a nursery school. Now, see the connection with children? Again, what a wonderful pivot.
These are great stories of arriving finally at a winning product/market fit too.
Getting into first principles:
In order to completely agree with pivoting, it’s crucial to understand first principles—the basic, foundational aspects of what something stands for. In the aforementioned examples of brilliant pivoting, one has to first develop the skills to observe such unique opportunities and know the true value of meandering. While the creative risk, enthusiasm, and curiosity are on the farther end of the tunnel, knowing the fundamentals of anything (cooking, bubble wrap, play dough) is the beginning.
Let’s say I want to creatively combine different ingredients and make a new recipe and a process—if I don’t know what an ingredient’s quality or purpose is, then I’d rather stick to the cookbook recipe. Well, wait, even that wouldn’t yield better, as what I’d be creating as an outcome is a process I wouldn’t have fully understood. Knowing banana is a good egg replacement, because of the texture it gives me when mashed, the gooey appeal it gives to baked goods, helps me in consciously using banana for baking cookies or tarts, and this is because of the first principles—knowing the ‘why’ behind my ‘what.’
Let’s take Julia Child, a renowned American chef, TV personality, and cookbook author. She’s equally known for her popularity as a chef as well as her belief in first principles for cooking—of valuing the experience of creating something, understanding what you’re working towards, and then delivering the finest process (and eventually outcome). During her initial days of learning to cook, Julia promised herself to invest time into understanding the logic behind cooking, of why something worked. The brain power to innovate and creatively use metaphors comes only when you understand the basics.
The way she says, ‘beautiful food, beautifully made’ pretty much applies to anything, if of all, to even products. You could be a PM, marketer, designer, analyst—just knowing why you want to create a specific experience for the users and what steps you intend to do for simplifying that, would be the supporting pillar for pivoting and inventing.
Closing it off, with a single thought/idea that Bezos has retained from 1997 to last week’s email—
“Keep inventing, and don’t despair when at first the idea looks crazy. Remember to wander. Let curiosity be your compass. It remains Day 1.”
And, hey, cooking definitely helps, as it taught me these parallel observations! <low-key point to remember>
In this week’s quota of product podcasts, here’s a recent episode I hosted on reverse engineering in venture capital (ft. Shruti Gandhi).
Suggested reads along the same creative mindset:
Have a wonderful week ahead!