If you were going to make a cake, what would your first step be?
Alex Trebek and I will give you a second to think about it.
Ok. Whatcha got?
Maybe you said you’d need to find a recipe, go shopping, or turn on the oven. Perhaps the more seasoned chefs out there jumped straight into mixing up ingredients. I’m not really a cake baker (or a cake eater – much prefer pies), so I’m not here to say what’s right or wrong. What I’m willing to bet, however, is that, when asked the first step you’d take in making a cake, you didn’t say: grab a jar of sprinkles.
And yet, I watch myself and other creatives and entrepreneurs repeatedly fall into this trap. A new project or business idea comes to our mind and, instead of getting down to the nitty-gritty business of making it happen, we run straight for the sprinkle cupboard, buzzing with excitement. In our minds, the project is already complete and now we’re happily decorating our beloved creation with all the bells and whistles and adornments we can imagine.
Here are some sprinkles-first errors I have witnessed in myself and others:
- Spent a crapload of money and time designing a logo before fully developing the vision of the business itself.
- Bought a URL with a catchy name because it was going to be the next awesome Tumblr craze, without knowing how to use Tumblr or what it really is (what is it??)
- Wasted hours of time deciding what colors, what font, what column width and what branding a new website should have before writing a single word of copy.
- Agonised for days over Twitter handles and Facebook page names, asking friends and family for advice, before writing a single post.
- Talked to a graphic artist to discuss design ideas for an ebook cover before outlining the basic content of the book.
- Googled images of sprinkles, cakes, making cakes and decorating cakes for an hour before doing a quick write on a nascent idea about the creative process.
Ok, fine. I lied. Those were all me.
But if these sprinkles are merely decoration, if they can be added, changed or removed at any time without altering the fundamental nature of the content underneath it, why do we think about them so much before we even make the damn cake?
In my experience, there are two main reasons:
- Beginning a new project is incredibly exciting. It’s endlessly entertaining to imagine the seed of an idea grow into a fully developed and thriving piece of work in our minds, and we use that as a reference point going forward.
- Scattering sprinkles around is fun and easy, while making a cake is time-consuming and messy.
#1 isn’t terrible, though it doesn’t serve us as well as we may think. Although it can be helpful to have the finished product in mind, it’s not always beneficial. For one, it’s highly likely your end result won’t match what was in your mind at the beginning (see: Pinterest fails). You can give in to that reality and have fun along the way, or you can get endlessly frustrated it isn’t “turning out right” and keep “fixing” a perfectly good thing because it doesn’t match your original vision.
#2 is the real problem (poo joke allowed). Making the cake is where we do the actual work, where we turn our ideas into something real and tangible. Certain steps have to be taken in a certain order for us to get a useful result:
- Figure out what you’re making
- Find a recipe (or create your own based on your experience or your sense of adventure – like when you used to mix all the cereals in your cupboard together….used to…..)
- Gather the essential ingredients
- Mix them up, keeping an eye on your recipe as you go
- Taste test it along the way and tweak as needed
- Cook it up
- Check to see if it’s done
- Let it cool
- Decorate. Frost. Add flowers or candy or sprinkles. Whatever you want. But last. Always last.
Once you have a finished project in your hands, it’s totally fine (and ridiculously fun) to deck it out with lots of adornments. You worked hard on it and you want the love you gave to show on the outside. However, if you start throwing in sprinkles while you’re still beating the eggs, everything just gets messier and you’ll waste more time decorating again later. And if you don’t put in the effort to finish steps 1-8 first, you’ll never have anything real to deck out anyway.
Lastly, remember that, if given the choice, we’d all prefer an average-looking but thoroughly delicious cake over one that is gorgeous but flavorless. So ignore the sprinkle cupboard and focus on getting the cake right. Don’t use salt instead of sugar. Remember the baking powder. Don’t get your tongue caught in the beaters. Enjoy the process. Get in there and get messy making what it is you want to make.
Who knows, you might end up with something so completely devourable it won’t need any sprinkles at all.
Featured image credit: http://read.bi/2mTxNv7