The recipe

By Adam Pierno

Tonight my wife told me she was bringing home left over Beef Stroganoff that her mother had made for their visit. I instantly got a picture of the Beef Stroganoff that my own mother had prepared for the 18 years of my life that I lived at home. I could not only envision it, I could smell it. I could taste it. I could feel the texture of the noodles. Needless to say, I was excited. 

An hour or so later, my wife returned home with a container full of the meal her mother had kindly sent home for me. I opened it, and it looked completely different from my vision, my memory. My thought at that second was “It is so interesting that two people, both equally skilled cooks, could take a classic recipe, and using the same general ingredients produce such different dishes.” The meal was delicious. It was just different from what had been served to me before. 

When we dine at a new restaurant, many menu items are familiar. And we have an expectation of what will hit the table. Sometimes, an inventive chef will deconstruct or remix a classic dish using the basic ingredients and pleasantly surprise us. Sometimes, deviating from our expectations is a great way to take something traditional or dull and giving it new life. 

When we create anything, we are often tasked with taking familiar elements and rethinking the way they work together. Often in my career, I’ve worked side-by-side with another Art Director on the same project, pulling from the same concept and elements and produced an entirely different piece.

This is one of the areas of creativity that dazzles and confounds audiences and clients. The same inputs produce varied results. Given the same script and actors, three directors would produce three vastly different films. More importantly, people in the same audience would have mixed reaction (most likely) as to which version was superior. Some would prefer the version of the film made by the director they like the best, maybe even before seeing his result. 

The second thought I had as I devoured the Stroganoff was “Do I prefer this version because I am currently enjoying it? Or do I prefer my mother’s version because of an obvious bias?” I was clearly overthinking this. But it’s true that the audience subjectivity  adds another layer to the variations on creativity – because their interpretation also determines if the work is ‘successful’ or not.