Risk taking

Creative Risks: Mistakes That You Can Smell

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re making a mistake? As I write this, I’ve the nauseous feeling something is wrong and this morning I can smell the mistake and it’s coming from the kitchen. Like anyone going out on a limb to be creative who finds themselves in the midst of a potential error, I’m wondering if I should stop the madness or continue and see where it leads.

It all started earlier this week when I spotted an “out-of-the-ordinary fish” special while browsing the pages of my online grocery. Choosing fish over the internet has its risks but that didn’t stop me from adding “Salt Cod” to my shopping cart. It was not as much my bravery and willingness to take a chance to explore possibilities as much as it was that I wasn’t really paying enough attention.

The next day the fish was delivered in a plain marked pine box. Before even sliding the lid to exhume the contents, I could smell the “aroma.” It reminded me of strolls through the dried food markets in Hong Kong or like the beach at low tide on a hot day. I’ve learned that to some, the smell of dried fish is like the freshness of baked bread; however, I’ve not acquired this sense and beginning to wonder if even a splash of wine or a squeeze of lime could provide enough cover. The instructions say to rehydrate the fish in a series of water baths for a day and some Google searching revealed testimonials predicting a full transformation into something worthwhile and wonderful.

At the moment, it’s been soaking for 12 hours and the smell is …a little less fishy. Halfway through when trying something creative, when your hopes and your visions aren’t materializing, do you ask yourself: “What am I doing?” Should I go on?? Is it worth my effort? And will this one-pot meal disappoint my hungry audience and lead to the inevitable pepperoni pizza?

At times, our plowing through the chaos and uncertainty is rewarded with an incredible final product. Other times, simply giving up can provide freedom, like playing with the food you no longer intend to eat, or splashing and dripping paint over a landscape you don’t expect to complete – when you have nothing to lose – you have the freedom to start to really experiment.
Is it Portuguese Fish stew or New York pizza tonight? when you get the feeling things are going wrong, what do you do?


Since crayons don’t come with spell check: INNOVember – Your opportunity to invent


out of the fire and into the frying pan

We don’t often have the chance to really look at the imaginative artwork created by children. Quickly walking past bulletin boards of preschool artwork, I recently saw written in day-glow orange crayon the word Innovember” and this got my attention.

With my brain preloaded for all things creative, I mistakenly took this to mean: “Innovation in November,” and thought: what a great theme! Then, looking more carefully, the word accompanied an illustration of a Thanksgiving scene and I realized the little typographer who created this amazing idea had actually left out the spacing between words and meant to say: “In November.”

Well, it’s not exactly Rocktober but still a great theme and InNovember we have a built-in opportunity to be innovative. Our harvest festivals around the northern hemisphere and Thanksgiving in the United States in particular are steeped in traditional foods that are ripe for shaking up. However, as we are giving thanks and reflecting on our good fortunes, many people come to expect their stuffing and cranberry sauce cooked a certain way — and many families have traditional dishes that even the most courageous of us won’t dare to mess with.

Our opportunity doesn’t come from reinventing the whole meal or redefining a treasured side dish but from bringing an entirely different creation to the table. Whether it’s your favorite everyday food that you’ve perfected and want to share or a wholly new experiment involving bat’s wings, eye of newt, or the nearly forgotten sun dried tomatoes — either have the potential to become next year’s tradition. Assuming you use ingredients that don’t exceed their expiration dates and are fully cooked, there is little risk in serving a new dish since a singular disaster in a vast feast won’t leave anyone hungry — and mistakes provide the best leftovers that can be warmed up into stories for next year – and some even may even become legends. Try something new! And if you can, please December to help the less fortunate.

What was your biggest holiday food disaster or your greatest success? What will you cook this year?


Is it a MISTAKE to be comfortable with FAILURE?

Time to celebrate?

Failures cost us virtually nothing when we take photos with our digital cameras, yet failures cost us plenty when our banks make bad loans. Our political leaders fail us when the only agreement they reach is raising our debt ceiling allowing themselves to continue spending.

We hear that our creative spirit can save us all and according to conventional wisdom, to innovate we need to take fearless risks and be open to: “fail now,” “fail today,” “fail this afternoon,” ”fail tomorrow,” “fail often.” A recent Wall Street Journal headline reads
Better Ideas Through Failure: Companies Reward Employee Mistakes to Spur Innovation, Get Back Their Edge.

I wonder if even George Eastman would have thought failure has become overexposed. Are we producing an entrepreneurial culture or a culture of failure? Are we getting too comfortable with failure?

Of course we don’t expect to paint a masterpiece the first time we walk across a stage, and we shouldn’t be afraid of trial and error. Are we justifying and celebrating too many of our errors as we say: “At least I got the interview,” “it was an honor to be nominated,” “what a great experience,” “I met so many interesting people,” or “we designed a great product that was ahead of its time.” In our winner take all society; ask Al Gore, barnesandnoble.com or yahoo what second place is like. Remember that we can learn from our successes too!

Winning isn’t everything. The will to win is the only thing.” described Vince Lombardi in an earlier era. In our acceptance of some inevitable failures, we can’t lose the will to win! Winning is the only option when the game is on, and only after the whistle blows can we allow for acceptance of failure and lessons learned. If you go into a supermarket expecting that you won’t find Key Limes, you probably won’t. When we expect failure, we give up too soon.

Your secret plan

  1. Start without concern about failing.
  2. Play to win! And failure is not an option!
  3. Evaluate your wins or losses for learned lessons.

What was your biggest mistake that you used to make a towering success? Or what is your biggest success and what did you learn?


Running against the RACE FOR THE CURE

River runs pink

What risks do you assume when you’re going against the norms? How does it make you feel?

During a short visit to Portland, Oregon last weekend, I decided to defy the time zone difference and stay on Eastern Standard Time by following Ben Franklin’s advice: “early to bed, early to rise.”  Staying downtown, I went for a quiet run along the river each morning to mentally prepare for my meetings.  Because of the light drizzle early Sunday, I expected deserted streets and was surprised to find police activity and thousands of people about.

My route happened to take me toward the starting line of the RACE FOR THE CURE. This yearly event has special meaning for many, what does it mean to you?  Hoards of mostly women wearing pink were walking in the same direction I was jogging. Although it could have been my imagination, I felt their approval and solidarity as I ran in the direction

Race For The Cure

of the registration booths; after all, I do support the cause.    My route took me under their pink balloon arch as I turned left along the river. At that moment I realized turning left wasn’t perceived to be right, and  I was running into the wind.

It could have been my imagination again, but now I felt hundreds of passing women’s disapproval as I ran in the opposite direction of the startling line without a pink number attached to my clothing. Have you ever had an experience like this of going against the norm?

Often when we are creatively inspired and making something new we are headed into the wind. This does not mean we are against the crowd but instead motivated by individual ideals. Courage to be different comes through believing in yourself.  What do you think?



Creative Inferno

Spring cleaning

Spring cleaning

The Penguin, the Joker, and the Riddler use their creativity to wreak havoc on Gotham City, while Batman and Robin used their own creative powers to prevent mayhem. Is there a Ying and Yang to creativity?

It’s exciting to throw another log into the fire, but how do you feel about burning something you created? Even failed attempts have some value as lessons learned, or to help spur new ideas? It takes effort to physically clean out the attic and how many poor examples do we keep?

Pablo Picasso said “Every act of creation is first an act of destruction.” In our creative process, do we have to burn to make room for something new? Children rotate the wheels on their Echer Sketch to erase their drawings, just as they topple their towers of blocks, dismantle their jigsaw puzzles, and continuously remold their play-doh.  For us, if the vase flies off the potter’s wheel it’s clearly mud, but most of the time, it’s more difficult to decide when to destroy what we have created. “To build may have to be slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day,” describes Winston Churchill.

After artists becomes famous, every scrap they leave behind gets served as a gourmet meal. Famous or not, who wants their legacy to be a stew of leftovers?

Choosing paintings to frame and hang on our walls is admitting them into our daily consciousness – more difficult is taking them out. Removing them is something I call “deframing” since it’s both defaming and deleting. How do you choose what to frame, what to haul to the attic? Or what to toss on the coals? 


Barriers can be Ladders

step laddder

Blocking the way or a step up?

You create something that took an hour, a day, or a lifetime and someone comes along and expends five seconds of their time and tells you what you did wrong. It seems much easier (and more fun to some) to stomp on sandcastles than to build one. But sometimes, among the ruins of the castle we can find valuable grains of constructive critics.

Because they are concerned about “What people will say,” many people avoid the risk of creating anything new for fear of criticism, and some are even embarrassed by praise. Sometimes a river is a not an obstacle but a source that sustains life, and sometimes a high wall can be climbed to provide a better view. What people say does not have to be frightening and feedback can enable you to climb.

The first step in sifting out the gold is to qualify the critic. A good question to ask is “did the critic spend an hour, a day, or a lifetime acquiring the knowledge to make their judgments?” If they are knowledgeable in the field, you’re in luck, but sometimes even without a lifetime of knowledge, a critic can be helpful. Even a child can warn that a giant wave is about to crash on your head, but less apt at commenting on your business plan.

Next, can you do anything useful with the advice? Can you use it to improve your project? Or your next project? Like/dislike does not say enough. Is the criticism too late? Is it accurate?

Knowing when to dismiss, delete, and erase from your mind is an important skill. Destructive criticism can be thoughtless, mean and sometimes motivated by other’s agendas and shouldn’t be taken seriously. Much is a matter of opinion where critics unknowingly state their personal values. If their values and objectives happen to coincide with yours, their words could be useful.

Is the criticism given in public or private? Beyond heckles, public criticism is directed to a wider audience and provides information for others: “that was a good movie,” or more qualified, “if you like sci-fi and don’t mind seeing blood,” but not necessary directed toward the producer. Public criticism provides you the chance to respond back to the public, not the critic. “It’s more than sci-fi, it’s also a love story and the violence is limited to one scene.”

To give others useful criticism or advice, speak from your experience and set aside your self-interests. When you receive this kind of criticism, use it to climb the wall for a better view. When there is no feedback, it’s good to assume everyone is deliriously happy.


Adventuring in the International Aisle

dry food market

Moveable feast

Many of us prepare the same rotation of meals week-after-week and order the same menu item from the same restaurant. When was the last time you tried an entirely new food?

At best, it can be an opportunity to find a new regular and at worst can help you to appreciate your old favorites. When living in Asia, I had the fortune and necessity to try lots of delicious and unidentifiable foods. If you ask what you are eating and are told, there is no English translation; you probably don’t want to know. The Mexican buffet in India was an obvious mistake as were the eggs scrambled with what seemed to be worms – they happened to be very tasty and the Chinese waiter assured me they were “small fish” – my fever broke after only five weeks.

Why are small fish more palatable than worms?   Reframing questions and being open to new experiences leads to creativity. In Hong Kong on each trip to the market, I would buy at least one new ingredient – then Google the name to figure out how it could be used. Some of the foods I adopted can’t be easily found in the US but here are some less exotic ones that can:

Pomelo kind of like a grape fruit but not as sour, great in salads with feta/lime/peanuts

Miso Paste – for sauces.

Edamame beans in shells – steamed with a shake of salt.

Daikon radish – shredded raw or boiled for turnip cakes.

Kaffir lime leaves – For Thai food – Remove leaves before serving.

Rooibos – Caffeine free tea from South Africa.
Try a new restaurant, and new menu item, or a pick up a new ingredient in the international aisle of your local market. What is the most unusual food that you like?


Calculated risks: Start in the tide pool before venturing into the ocean

Calculated risks: Start in the tide pool before venturing into the ocean

Creating something new is risky! People may laugh; your idea may not work, costing you time and money. A simple step of calculating the risk beforehand can help you to understand what you are stepping into. Decide what is the worst thing that can happen? And what is its likelihood?

Start in the tide pool before venturing into the ocean. What is the harm of picking up a pencil and making a drawing? You risk wearing down your pencil and wasting a sheet of paper.

There is little risk in singing in the shower, or in your car on your commute, why not try to make up your own words. There is little risk in practicing a speech in front of some close friends, little risk in molding a piece of clay, or writing an essay. Find a low risk environment and use it as test laboratory and see what grows. Practice swimming in the shallows before getting in over your head.