How Experimental Cooking Can Fuel Creativity In Business

Sonicbids founder Panos Panay tells us how strict organization combined with improvisation in the kitchen help him face a brand new set of personal and professional challenges.

Panos Panay has had a busy few months. In December, he became the founding director of Berklee College of Music's Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, after leaving Sonicbids, the company he founded in his apartment in 2000 and grew into the largest online platform of gig opportunities for independent musicians. In January, he and his wife welcomed twin girls, which he says feels more like triplets along with the new Berklee venture.

Panay, however, seems much more energized than daunted by his new set of challenges. He attributes this not only to his passion for them, but to long-held strategies that keep him both organized and experimental.

Panos Panay

The first is almost a cliché, but for Panay it works wonders. "For almost 20 years, since 1996, I've been using the Franklin Covey Planning system that enables me to look at my week and think of my life in terms of these different roles that I'm playing," he says. "I'm saying, 'Okay, am I somehow focusing on each of these roles in a way that I'd like?' No joke, I've planned every single day of my life since '96 when I learned this planning system from that book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I'm regimented, disciplined about my organization, because I never want to be a victim to time."

But to cultivate his creative side, Panay likes to throw caution to the wind—in the kitchen. "The other thing that I do that fuels my creativity, I love to cook," he says. "I cook almost every night. Every Sunday when I go to the grocery store, I try to pick an ingredient that I've never heard of. You know you go to Whole Foods and you're like, 'What the hell is a kumquat? I've never heard of it in my life.' Or, 'Gee, there's a yellow kiwi.' I just find that actually pushing myself and trying to cook in different ways or trying to make the most out of certain ingredients that I have at home, it just opens—I don't know, whatever neural pathways that exist in your mind. Every once in awhile I probably make a goddamn awful meal, but I would say that by and large it tastes good and my wife probably thanks me for it."

For Panay, creativity feeds on itself in any form, a lesson he is trying to instill in Berklee students by using the qualities of the musical mind to make better entrepreneurs. "You know, your creative mind is not compartmentalized. It's not 'this is my music activity, this is my cooking activity, this is my reading.' We're one single person. I just find that these little habits that I try to do on a daily basis instill a particular mindset."

[Image: Flickr user Dustin Gaffke]

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