Happy work Leadership

How to spark creativity and innovation at work (and play)

Tracey Foulkes
Written by Tracey Foulkes

Baking, like business, sparks my creativity. It brings me into the present, clearing my mind in anticipation for innovation, joy and delicious rewards.

Take one swift glance at my Instagram account and it’s easy to figure out that I love baking. Sure, I have a ridiculously dangerous-for-my-waistline sweet tooth, but there is so much more to it.

Today I baked bagels in my pyjamas and sheep-skin slippers. This was the first time I was baking bagels. They seemed deceivingly challenging despite their call for so few ingredients.

I kneaded the dough for 10 whole beautiful silent minutes on my kitchen counter. Realising that I was smiling I allowed my mind to wonder off freely to work, then play and back to the weight of my hands on the dough with each pressured knead till the dough was smooth and elastic in my hands.

It was a crisp morning so I improvised and put the dough in my car to proof. The sun through the back window worked a treat. I cleaned the counter and started typing this blog post while I waited the hour out.

Punching the dough down before letting it rest was cathartic. Though it was 10am, my house was still quiet and I could hear the birds tweeting outside my open kitchen window. Robin The Dog was munching his breakfast beside me as I waited, his bowl at my feet so the pigeons couldn’t bully him into sharing.

Following instructions (loosely) I formed the bagel rounds and waited out another 10 delightful minutes. At the same time, I prepared my pot of soon to be boiling water while blasting the oven to reach its required temperature.

Gently lowering the dough into the boiling water was delightful. I took photos to send to my niece who I knew would share in my excitement.

As they quickly bobbed up to the top of the water, I watched my timer tick it’s excruciatingly slow two-minutes-a-side before I could move them from pot to tray. They were now ready for an adventurous and generous sprinkle of mixed seed toppings before one final push; the oven.

I bake impulsively. On occasion I have slipped out of the office on a Tuesday morning to whip up a batch of brownies between a strategy session or bake a banana bread while eating lunch. Typically, I try recipes that I have never attempted before. I prefer quick and easy options and welcome recommendations from my friends (who I hope will share links in the comments of this post), provided they are simple.

I have only ever binned one baking attempt – it was challah bread come door stopper that literally thumped as it’s heavy mass reached the bottom of the swing-bin base. Baking for me is like business. It is more than the outcome of a single effort. Admittedly, some efforts don’t look as good as they taste or taste as good as they look. I try not to get hung up on those details though.

As a caveat, let me state upfront that I should never open up a cake shop. I am not a professional baker, nor do I ever intend being one. I’ve discovered that my love for baking is fully and wholly aligned with my passion for business.

As co-founder of Dallas based tech startup WNDYR, I have donned many hats as I’ve chasséd (sometimes not that gracefully) through my working career. Building fully remote teams from the ground up is my thing. My approach is one of simplicity. While I don’t always get it right, when I do, like my bagels, it’s gratifyingly delicious.

9 creative lessons aligning work and play

1. You need to start with an endpoint in mind.

Today my objective was bagels; when it comes to work, every action needs to back into your ultimate objective which answers the why you are doing what you are doing. What’s Your Story? (Here’s Ours)

2. Know your customer.

Unless you’re partial to eating alone, building a business is for others to benefit from. The more you know about your customer, the closer you can get to not only satisfying them, but delighting them.

3. Take time to plan.

Too many times I have found myself midway through a recipe when I realise I am short an ingredient. When you spend time strategising upfront, it is easier to anticipate your shortfalls ahead of time. This is a good.

4. When things don’t go according to plan, discover how you can adjust and still succeed.

Like this morning when I needed to resort to my car for some heat while proofing the dough, it’s not always a straight line to getting to where you need to be. Being nimble is a critical component for succeeding in business.

5. Take time out to step away from the ‘noise’, it is often the best thing you can do.

This is why I choose to knead by hand; it’s a forced opportunity to break away from the norm, to spark new ideas or to simply still my very busy mind. If you are feeling overwhelmed or blocked at work, I suggest you step away. The earlier you identify and take action on this, the better. If you have paid vacation days owing to you, trust that the time is right and take them. Go for a walk, switch tasks or hop on a call with a colleague. If necessary, bake a cake.

6. Don’t ditch the outcome if it is not exactly as you planned it.

There should always be room for improvement. Excellence is a moving goal post. When things don’t turn out perfectly on your first or even fifteenth attempt, don’t judge yourself too harshly. Keep going.

7. Do ditch the outcome if it compromises what you stand for.

Like my challah rock bread effort, if the outcome is so off the mark, then be brave enough to ditch it. Own it. Put a lid on it. Move on.

8. What’s worthwhile, takes time.

I am not one for being patient. Those two minutes I needed to wait for the bagel to boil were excruciating. They were necessary though and likely the result of my euphoria as I smeared cream cheese on the hot-out-the-oven end product. Assuming your work objective is ambitious, innovative and challenging, it is likely worth waiting for.

9. Celebrate the (small) wins.

I am often overly self critical. I see this in my team too while watching them procrastinate on particularly challenging asks. Celebrating the small wins helps with motivation. Life is a journey; work is a marathon.

To be honest I could likely stretch this list out to double it’s size. Just like that first mouthful of this morning’s hot bagel, there is absolute joy in knowing that my hobby of baking aligns perfectly with my passion for work. Another beautiful alignment of work and life and the serendipitous balance that lives between the two.

Baking may be regarded as a science, but it’s the chemistry between the ingredients and the cook that gives desserts life. Baking is done out of love, to share with family and friends, to see them smile.

Anna Olson – Pastry Chef

Recipe for yummy New York style bagels | crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside.

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