Point of Departure
By Amy Frazier
Italian translation ringraziamenti a Remo Nuzzolese.
Embarking on the act of creating something is like launching ourselves on a journey. Though the route begins at our point of departure, too often our imagination is focused on what we’ll do when we arrive – the sights we’ll see, the marvels we’ll experience – and not on the path which can take us there.
Years ago, when traveling in Italy, I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of clarifying the path.
My travel companion (read: husband-at-the-time) and I had quit our jobs to dedicate four months of our newly married life to the highways and byways of his ancestral paese. He was the anthropological guide, I the cultural attaché. He gravitated toward the ruins, ancient coins and familial table. I led us to the museums, restaurants, and – importantly – to the wine. We were on a backpacker’s budget, so the choice of all of the above had to be strategically considered and meticulously planned. Guided by a slim paperback on Italian food and wine, I readied recommendations as we arrived in each regional capital.
On the day in question, we were in Piedmont in search of its good wines, exemplars of which could be found in and about the town of Canelli, home of Moscato d’Asti and one of the premiere wine-producing communities in the world.
We had planned to take a locale train to Alba, and from there board a bus to Canelli. The train pulled in and we piled out. Husband-at-the-time trotted over to one of the waiting busses, spoke quickly to the driver up on his perch, and then waved me to hurry. The bus was leaving right then.
The urgency seemed inconsistent with my carefully planned itinerary, but I hurried on board. The bus pulled away. The driver turned to us over his shoulder and affirmed: “Stiamo andando a Canale…”
Only the very slightest shift in vowels caught my attention. Did he say “Can-ei-lee?” or did he say “Can-ah-ley?” “Aspetta!” I said. “Wait! — Canelli?” “Ma no,” he said. “Canale!” “Ferma!” I called out. Stop! We’d jumped on the wrong bus.
Canelli and Canale. So close, yet the distinction meant everything. The towns were less than 25 miles apart – still, to have arrived at unremarkable Canale in the search for noteworthy Canelli would have been a disappointing waste of resources, and an unnecessary loss of experience.
I think about this near-miss sometimes when I find myself impatient to move forward with a creative project and suspect that I’m forcing the process. I also think about it when I hear people describe a point in the future as the moment when they will engage their creative thinking — when the time is ripe to “toss around ideas,” for example, much the way that husband-at-the-time and I looked forward to tossing back a few glasses of Canelli’s effervescent varietals.
What makes us think that creativity, and its cousin curiosity, aren’t at least as important when we are boarding the bus as they will be when we arrive?
In fact, with applied creativity and innovation processes, choosing which bus to board is the first major phase of work. It’s a highly creative space and demands attention, inquisitiveness, and clarity. In fact, it sometimes goes under the name of “clarification.” If we don’t do a good job clarifying, we may find ourselves miles down the road, in a town that sounds kind of like where we thought we were headed, but where the returns aren’t nearly as gratifying. Often such near misses (in contrast to the really major failures of navigation, such as ending up in neighboring Austria, for example), are simply papered over, the losses quietly and cynically chalked up to failed ideation efforts, or “bad brainstorming.” But if you didn’t know where you were going when you set out, or which bus you jumped on to get there, is it any wonder your discoveries may disappoint?
On the other hand, taking the time upfront to bring creative thinking to the clarification part of the process can benefit you immeasurably down the road. It’s more time intensive at the beginning, but, much like the efforts which go into producing good wine, it’s worth it: ideas are better vetted to successfully find their home in the world, with less confusion and strain. Their worth has been made clear.
So the next time you’re tempted to save the creative thinking for a later stage in the process, consider this: “Lu vino buono se venne senza frasca.” Good wine can be sold without needing to advertise.