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The Newsletter | Edition 078
In our Off-White Papers, we provide practical guidance on how to respond to our rapidly-changing world. This newsletter explores those topics in real-time, with information and action steps on how to make progress now.


When starting a new venture or project, it’s useful to rely on others’ (or even your own) existing ‘recipes.’ But is there a danger in relying too much on an established framework or instruction manual? How do you know when to diverge from the steps and improvise a little?
  1. The difference "hand taste" makes, from Jess Vander
  2. Acquire a master's mindset, from Rory Kolkman
  3. Seek out the scenic route, from Natalie Berry
And this week, our illustrations from Courtney Perets.


From Jess Vander


“손맛 (sohn mat)—literally ‘hand taste’—explains why it can be so hard to replicate your own mother's food, even when you follow her directions word for word, and why yours will never come out exactly like hers.” That’s why Eric Kim spent a year at home writing his new cookbook, Korean American: to study his mother’s deft and dear sohn mat and develop his own by her side.


A recipe isn’t the end-all, be-all. No recipe is perfect (just ask anyone who’s assembled IKEA furniture, competed in Write It Do It, or baked anything ever). Even recipes that come close can’t quite capture the sohn mat. Sure, fast food and cola companies are known for nailing a certain consistency. But for so much else, consistency isn’t the point. It’s that savvy, indescribable signature of someone’s craft and care we crave. That’s what keeps us going back to a business that treats us well, back to see a favorite musician live (even though you know every song by heart), and back for a meal at home. Sohn mat—sazón, मां के हाथ का खाना, รสมือ—is an essential ingredient no recipe can contain.


Set down the recipe—"hold hands" with the cook.


The source, more than anyone, knows when to break the rules and when not to. But just because they wrote the recipe doesn’t mean they owe you anything. So, look into how you might sleuth the secrets of their invisible wisdom. Do they have a YouTube channel? A newsletter? A shockingly robust Reddit post history? And if you’re lucky enough to witness the maker at work, give many thanks and take copious notes.


From Rory Kolkman


Blog writer Aly Juma describes the route to mastery in three steps: attention, acquisition, and ascension. She touches on how understanding your focus, receiving direct feedback, and being able to push your comfort zone are all paramount to successfully mastering anything.


Aly Juma inadvertently proves that the idea of a framework is counterintuitive to mastery. Frameworks (recipes) are built around the focus of their creator, as opposed to your own. Frameworks do not provide feedback, only guide thoughts. Frameworks are built for comfort. She describes it this way: “Far too often, we just retread the things that we’ve already gotten good at because it’s easy and comfortable. Pushing yourself into uncharted territories, facing your weaknesses head-on, that’s what leads to growth.”

Ironically, masters of subjects document their periods of discomfort and growth, and these often manifest in the form of frameworks, which countless others defer to as the methodology of choice. However, it takes other masters of these subjects, willing to break these frameworks, to decipher their learnings and push the boundaries once more, to create new growth.


If you want to be a master who creates change and drives growth, be prepared to get uncomfortable.


  • Force yourself to try something different or do something differently. Document your journey. What did you learn? How did it make you feel? What would you change? Never achieve something new and not write down how you did it.
  • Our brains, once comfortable with certain frameworks, also fall victim to cognitive biases. It is as much a challenge breaking down our own thought processes and appreciating our biases, as breaking down the framework we are applying. Always brake check how you think and feel, before you try to solve something.
  • Discuss your recipes with the people you least agree with. Never trap yourself in an echo chamber. The more angles you can look at something from, the more people your recipe will serve and the more likely it will be universally applicable.


From Natalie Berry


Recipes, itineraries, and frameworks favor efficiency over novelty. While they may help you solve problems or reach destinations more quickly, they leave little room for the curiosity, exploration, and play that leads to the development of new insights.


We’re all guilty of prioritizing the destination over the journey. It’s a reality of our deadline-laden world, and it’s the reason Google Maps shows us the fastest route, not the most scenic one.

We can take cues from travel writer Seth Kugel who says: “Consider your itinerary a rough draft, ready for modification if something piques your interest.” Just like any good vacationer, arm yourself with a map and a loose plan but give yourself permission to spontaneously explore the threads that intrigue you, even if (especially if?) they lead you off the beaten path.

If we’re going to unlock groundbreaking insights for our teams and clients, we can’t just rely on what’s already been done—although, it can be a starting point.


Build a spontaneity quota into every project.


  • Include dedicated playtime within project timelines. Go on field trips. Study unrelated topics. Try the products you’re working on (and competitors’ too). Take team inspiration walks. Play games that get the creative juices flowing.
  • Make a roadblock jar. Let each team member add a few creative activities or questions to the jar, then blindly choose one when the team has a block. A moment of spontaneity can introduce you to ideas and solutions you may not have come across otherwise.
  • Encourage everyone to follow their hunches. Hypotheses can lead us into interesting and unexpected places, even if they turn out to be untrue. Explicitly tell team members that they’re free to move outside the bounds of any singular framework and let their intuitions and interests guide them.

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