November 28, 2023

What Barbecue Teaches Us About Creativity

Barbecue ribs I prepared this summer, ready to serve.

Want to start a conversation? Mention smoking meats around a group of grown men in suburban America.

Out pour the tools, tips, and techniques preferred in cul-de-sacs from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Naperville, Illinois. There are precious few universal truths left in this country, but this one holds firm: dads love barbecue.

It’s practically a rite of passage, a status symbol on par with the white picket fence. The smell of delicious meats slowly becoming more juicy and tender with each passing degree. Wood smoke drifting around on the breeze, no doubt making the neighbors eager for a dinner invitation. The meditative patience and precision in deciding just how hot, just how long, exactly which sauces and seasonings to use. It’s no secret why barbecue is so popular today.

But it didn’t start out that way. Barbecue in America was once considered a lowly affair.

Barbecue is a technique that transforms less desirable cuts of meat into enviable morsels. Select cuts, the meats historically available only to wealthy, white Americans, don’t need to be cooked low-and-slow over many hours. They’re delicious already. So, interestingly, there was a time in America when barbecue was considered something only poor and undesirable people needed to engage with.

There’s a thread that runs through African-American history and culture. Time and time again, whenever society has handed Black Americans weaknesses, they’ve used creativity to turn them into strengths. When forced to endure hardship, African-American poets like Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou used it as inspiration. Without access to formal music education, African Americans invented jazz and blues that relied on improvisation, experience, and imagination. And when given the least desirable parts of an animal to eat? You guessed it. African Americans leveraged native cooking techniques to turn a negative into a positive and pave the way for the barbecue we all know and love today.

That’s the immense power of creativity. Out of constraint comes innovation, transforming what was once considered distasteful into a proud, indelible stitch in the American fabric.

Good news: creativity can do the same thing for your business.

Creativity is a difference-maker. It has the power to turn weaknesses into strengths. A well-designed brand tells your story and creates an emotional connection with your audience. It can help you adapt to changing markets and seize new opportunities. It differentiates you from your competition. Today, you’re one of many; a creative brand can position you as the only option for your customers.

Well-executed creative work can build culture and change the world. The proof is in the smoked brisket. The only choice is whether you leverage that power or leave it as an advantage for your competition.

The next time you’re enjoying a delicious pulled pork sandwich, take a moment to reflect on the transformative power of creativity. As you taste the tender, smoky fruits of transformative, creative labor, consider the process that went into its invention. You wouldn’t be enjoying that pinnacle of cuisine without the power of American creativity.

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