Lessons in creme pat, cream horns – and creativity

October 8, 2015

Before we start: this post contains spoilers about the finale of the Great British Bake Off. So, for those of you haven’t seen it yet, for the love of god DO IT NOW.

And for everyone else…

I hope you were as thrilled as I was to see Nadiya crowned champion of the Great British Bake Off 2015. Honestly, that lady is as delightful as a Tunnocks teacake. As well as being supremely talented and deeply humble, she’s the only contestant who has ever been able to rival Mary Berry in the field of dramatic facial expressions.

Also, like other GBBO winners, she made amazing progress throughout the series. And this reminded me of an important truth about creativity. Allow me to explain…

In week one, Nadiya came last in the technical challenge when the icing on her walnut cake ended up being grainy (we’ve all been there, right guys?). When in week four the contestants had to make a Spanische Windtorte, Nadiya was forced to confess that she ‘produced what they wanted, just the ugly version’. Her penchant for wacky flavours like bubblegum and cream soda was at times dangerously left-field, and her early bakes just didn’t shine as brightly as her competitors’ – they were eclipsed by bobby dazzlers like Paul’s lion / Mick Hucknall bread, which practically broke the internet.

But at week five she started to look like  a serious contender. She was named Star Baker, partly thanks to a cracking ice cream roll, partly thanks to the gluten-free pitta pockets (erm, yummy?) which placed her top of the leaderboard in the the technical challenge. She topped the technical again in week seven, with a smashing set of mokatines.

There’s no real secret to how she made this happen. Like other champs, she just worked ruddy hard, refused to give up – and became a deserving winner. It all makes me think of the famous Ira Glass interview, in which he talks about the tough early stages of creativity – the time where there’s an initial, inevitable ‘gap’ between a creative person’s ambitions and their ability.

Glass explains that creative people have good taste – and so they’re quick to recognise that their own work is flawed. From here, they can either convince themselves that they have no talent, and just give up. Or they can plough on, and keep producing work until the works starts to shine. Pretty much every creative goes through those early days, when their work just seems a bit underwhelming, or even a bit crap. And it’s the people who just get through those days, who simply keep working and producing stuff, who make it in the end.

The interview has been turned into some nice videos

It’s funny, isn’t it – none of us viewers would expect a baker in week one to be turning out a perfect religieuse a l’ancienne (a choux pastry tower in the shape of a nun, presumably dreamed up by a cook who had foraged the wrong kind of mushrooms). But, as creatives, we punish ourselves when we fail to produce D&AD winning work IMMEDIATELY.

And when we punish ourselves too much, we shut down our creativity altogether. So end up producing nothing at all.

Maybe we should all take a leaf out of Nadiya’s book, get our game faces on, and tell ourselves as she did: “I’m never going to say I can’t. I’m never going to say maybe”. And, in time – like the best souffles – we will rise to the occasion.

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