In creative work and in life, the equivalent of the secret ingredient is epiphany. Since what we do is not what can be repeated over and over, there is no recipe or a secret ingredient. But we wait for that moment when we realise exactly what needs to be done. And procrastinate doing anything that doesn't feel like that moment of epiphany. And we stagnate, and do not create.
Like in Kung Fu Panda, where Po is told that the secret ingredient in the special noodle soup is 'nothing', and that anything is special as long as one believes that it is special, there is no epiphany in creative work.
Waiting for a moment of epiphany is a good way to procrastinate, to put things off for later, because it is a plausible narrative to tell ourselves that if we wait for the right moment, inspiration will strike us and we will create that masterpiece.
The longer this wait for inspiration, the less likely that such a moment will present itself. In waiting for this perfect moment of inspiration, or this perfect person, or the perfect idea for a book, we idealise what we expect to meet or produce. And the longer this goes on for, the more removed from practical reality this ideal will get. And soon, we will find ourselves looking to produce something like a Van Gogh did, without having painted a single stroke.
Van Gogh produced an average of one painting every three to five days over a decade, which was closer to one a day towards the end of his career as a painter. The improvement in quality over this period is staggering. So, it wasn't just the quantity that increased, but quality as well.
Waiting for the perfect thing is a good excuse to put things off and not make progress while at the same time convincing ourselves that one day we will. But simply getting down to producing things has a better chance of getting us to perfect.
Setting out to discover and learn over time is better than to wait for the secret ingredient to come by that can change it all.