I find baking a very creative activity with a lot of upside. The reward/effort ratio is high, I get to channel my inner pastry chef, and often encounter a useful lesson. A recent experience reminded me of the mindset required to navigate unanticipated events that can be hard hurdles to overcome—whether in baking, alliances, or other areas in life. The stakes in alliances are of course higher than in my baking which is even more reason to learn to shift mindsets to overcome hurdles. Creativity, analysis, and practice are essential to this process.

I recently purchased a stand mixer that has allowed me to do things in less time and at larger scale. I make a dry muffin mix that can be stored and later used to make a variety of muffins requiring just 5 minutes of prep time. While making a batch recently, I accidentally added tablespoons instead of teaspoons of baking powder.

At that point my options included: 1) continue and ignore the disparity, risking a big mess and/or inedible product; 2) chucking out the whole thing and starting over; or 3) scaling up to accommodate the extra amount. I took the scale-up option and calculated the new proportions and mixing protocol to accommodate the large volume. The results were great—I was able to make six instead of two batches and felt more freedom to experiment with new flavors since I had so much extra mix.

Building and managing successful partnerships requires a blend of technical and creative skills throughout the process, especially when things take unexpected turns. We start with a plan, but must frequently weigh options, make adjustments as we get more information, as circumstances change, or don’t go according to plan.

Consider an example of a nimble startup (call them Apex) who has a multiyear research collaboration with a prominent large pharma. The partnership is going well until Apex transfers the first batch of small molecule candidates it has synthesized. When the large company further tested the compounds, they failed. The pharma company was expecting Apex to do more rigorous testing prior to transfer. What now? The large company could decide to terminate the collaboration or Apex could argue that the criteria for transfer were not specified and therefore shouldn’t have to remake the material. However, before the finger pointing starts (which can happen with surprising speed), the partners could shift mindset into solving the problem.

What is known: The transfer criteria were not clearly specified and the partner’s expectations were not met.

What is not known, but could be discovered: What criteria does the pharma company expect for transfer? Does Apex have all the resources to perform the testing that meet the criteria? Can the parties jointly develop transfer testing procedures? How will each partner both benefit and be compensated for the delay?

To answer those and other questions, the partners must use technical expertise and creativity to identify and address the various issues. The easy thing is to point fingers and argue. But what happens the next time, either with this collaboration or another? Solving such problems involve learning for both parties—building the practice of navigating the unexpected.