A couple of Sundays ago, my wife and I watched an episode of Cupcake Wars on the Food Network.
The reason we watched that particular episode was a pastry chef from our city was competing on the show: Mamie Jo Doyle of Miss Mamie’s on the Square in downtown Marietta, Georgia.
We used to live within walking distance of the Square and have purchased cupcakes from Miss Mamie’s.
Cupcakes offer an interesting window to creativity through the natural tension between structure and freedom.
It’s a flavored cake in a cup with buttercream icing on top. And we have Amelia Simms and Eliza Leslie to thank.
A cupcake is what it is, right?
Change anything about it and it’s no longer a cupcake. It’s a cake or muffin or mincemeat pie or something else.
So anyone interested in making cupcakes has to work within a fixed structure. It is very similar to poets who work within strict poetic forms: haiku, sonnets and the like.
What most interests me about cupcakes is that, despite its rigid structure, incredible variety exists. There is no lack of creativity among pastry chefs.
Which means the appearance—the defining characteristics of a cupcake—isn’t where the action is.
What distinguishes a cupcake is its taste and texture, not its appearance.
There are lots of writers and bloggers in the world.
Lots of poets.
Lots of photographers.
Lots of painters.
Lots of musicians.
Lots of designers.
Lots of dancers.
Lots of actors.
Just like there are lots of pastry chefs.
And most creative works, like most cupcakes, are indistinguishable.
They look the same on the outside. And taste the same on the inside.
I see a lot of Creatives focus the majority of their efforts on dolling up the décor surrounding their creative work: the words, the titles, the angles, the sounds, the frames, the publicity, etc.
And that stuff matters in that it can attract someone to try a little bite.
But it’s the taste and texture that will earn the second and third and fourth bites. What makes a cupcake great is its ability to create harmonies through interesting combinations of disparate tastes and textural elements that stimulate your palate.
The taste and texture come from how you use tension and complexity. How you challenge and surprise those that try your creative work. How you find freedom within structure.
Your creativity is not limited by who you are. Who you are gives you limitless creative possibilities.
Because it's not really about the cake in a cup with icing, is it? It’s about the taste and texture. It’s about the experience, not the appearance.
Instead of feeling frustrated by and stuck in existing structures and rules, you can use them to create tastes and textures unlike anything anyone has ever experienced.
The choices you make for your life are not unlike a pastry chef facing the 216-year-old cupcake. Why not choose to surprise, delight and challenge others?
By the way, Mamie won that Cupcake Wars episode!
And I hope her business is exploding. She deserves it.
You do too.