When working with clients, I try to provide tools, more than recipes.

Tools give you the ability to create.  Tools are useful in many circumstances.  Mastery of tools takes time, and continues long beyond acquiring them.  A Hammer, for example, is a great tool.  You can use it to bang nails.  You can use it to remove nails.  You can take apart things, or make things.  You can use all parts of it.  It may not be as shiny as a saw, but it still has a range of uses, depending on what needs you have and what materials you have- you can build a house or steps or a desk. It all depends on what’s in your environment, and what you want to accomplish.

Recipes, by contrast, are a list of specific instructions that give you one result.  Recipes (or scripts) on how to build you a desk give you a desk, not a cabinet, and not a washing machine.  A recipe for a cake will not give you sushi.  Recipes have a single focus and a single use.  But when you go off-recipe, off script, so to speak, interesting things begin to happen.  You sometimes get fantastic results, and sometimes, you fall flat- the difference is when you learn to differentiate between the keystones or elements that are absolutely necessary, and which ones can be tweeked, like jazz, to produce improvised and useful end results.  In cooking, for example, if you use baking powder instead of baking soda in chocolate chip cookies, you’ll get a more cake-like cookie because baking powder has two leavening ingredients where baking soda has just one.  You need to know this to understand how your outcome will differ depending on which tools or ingredients you choose to use and apply.  And different parts of cooking have different metrics and specificities.  Baking and balance of ingredients is remarkably finicky compared, for example, to things like soup.  In baking, the rules are more strict to get a predictably good result, based on the basic chemistry of ingredients.

In contrast, if you’re making soup, you have a lot more leeway to substitute proteins for one another, add an additional can of veggies, or play with spices to make the dish taste more ethnic or regional or the like- liberally improvising brings you custom results that are likely fine, and often wonderful, because the rules around soup are more flexible than those around baking.  The basic structure of soup is water or broth and ingredients of your choosing- it’s an open-ended creative exercise, and  a good place to start experimenting with cooking without feeling like the end product will be inedible.

In either case, baking or soup, it’s also a sign of wisdom and experience when you can look at the lists of ingredients, even without a picture, and have an idea of what the end product must taste like, and whether it’s worth a try.  This knowledge comes from experience, and is not some naturally-occuring talent many people have.

Now let’s move these analogies into other aspects of our lives.

When are the rules important and static?

Why are they static?

What’s a critical rule, and what’s merely a guideline?

When are the results from the recipe for success reproducible?

When is the recipe so customized to the creator it’s not really applicable and reproducible to anyone else?

Can you read someone else’s experience or recipe for success and see what parts are mission critical and which ones are person-specific?

Also important:

What tools do you need to have available to be successful?

Why are those tools important?

Do you need additional tools to accomplish your goals?

Do those tools just make the job easier, or are they truly mission critical?

Are you letting a lack of that one tool or ingredient keep you from success?

And here’s the key questions:

Are your current problems caused by lack of tools or ingredients, or are you just lacking a recipe to bring everything together into your desired result?

Can you choose another recipe based on what you do have?

Can you experiment and develop your own home-grown, customized recipe that’s repeatable and reliable for you?

Can you share this recipe out and help others as well?

I have a cupboard full of recipes for food, and plenty of books that provide me with a recipe for someone else’s success.  But the really great stuff is always the tools and ingredients I pick up along the way, that let me create my own recipes and customize recipes for my clients.  Each recipe is tailored for the individual, and I can help them get started on their own path with some simple, basic recipes.  But everyone will be better off  when I give them my tools so they can go off and learn to use them and experiment on their own.  Teaching someone how to use tools and ingredients is always going to be more useful to them in the long run that merely providing recipes.

Which of these are you doing?