Emulate Chefs

With the culinary art/leadership connection going on, and the fact that I’ve been rereading Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s great book “Rework“, I thought the following post from last year would be appropriate again.

You’ve probably heard of Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Rachel Ray, Paula Deen, Bobby Flay, Jacque Pepin, or Julia Child. They’re great chefs, but there are a lot of great chefs out there. So why do you know these few better than others?

Because they share everything they know.

They put their recipes in cookbooks and show their techniques on cooking shows. They want you to take what they have developed and make it your own.

Great organizations should share everything they know, too. Don’t be paranoid and secretive, but be open and generous.

A recipe is much easier to copy than a business idea. Shouldn’t that scare someone like Mario Batali? Why would he go on TV and show you how he does what he does? Why would he put all his recipes in cookbooks where anyone can buy and replicate them? Because he knows those recipes and techniques aren’t enough to beat him at his own game. No one’s going to buy his cookbook, open a restaurant next door, and put him out of business. It doesn’t work like that, but many organizations think that’s what will happen if others learn how they do things.

Emulate famous chefs. They cook, so they write cookbooks.

What do you do? What are your “recipes”? What’s your “cookbook”? What can you tell the world about how you operate that’s informative, educational, and promotional?

What’s cooking in your “kitchen” that you should share?



Good Cooking is Simply a Series of Problems Solved

The title of this post is actually a quote from one of the instructor chefs at the CIA’s cooking school. Author Michael Ruhlman, in “The Making of a Chef,” chronicles his time at the legendary cooking school, the oldest and most influential in America.

The comment came in response to a student’s unique suggestion of how to keep hollandaise sauce at just the right temperature to keep it from “breaking”. The chef had never thought of his idea, and encouraged him (and the rest of the class) to approach a problem from a unique angle (outside the box” thinking?).

This line of thought falls right into a post by Seth Godin entitled “Sell the Problem.” He noted that many business to business marketers tend to jump right into features and benefits, without taking the time to understand if the person on the other end of the conversation/call/letter believes they even have a problem.

The challenge is this: if your organization doesn’t think it has a  problem, you won’t be looking for a solution. You won’t wake up in the morning dreaming about how to solve it, or go to bed wondering how much it’s costing you to ignore it.

And so the marketing challenge is to sell the problem.

I’m passionate about helping churches thrive by turning challenges (problems) into opportunities. It’s very personal with me – I want to understand prospective clients so well that I know their situation almost as well as a leader or staff member. In fact, that statement, made a couple of years ago by a pastor, is one of the highlights of my career!

It’s my job to understand their problems.

When a prospect comes to the table and says, “we have a problem,” then you’re both on the same side of the table when it comes time to solve it.

All I have to do now is follow the recipe – a series of problems solved.

What’s On Your Plate?

I love food.

Eating it, sure, but also knowing how it’s grown; where it came from (not just what I’m eating for supper, but how it came to be, over time, supper); what goes with what; how all the ethnic cuisines came to America and how they’re changing our culture. Oh, and how it’s made; what the history of some our favorite (and not so favorite) foods; what’s healthy for me; what’s not so healthy; why I like it anyway…

I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

My mother, a transplanted native of Missouri, learned the Southern cooking thing quite well. I have great memories of childhood meals – simple, but oh-so-good. Later in life, she became a caterer for small functions at church, for family and friends. Even today, on the other side of 80, all our family looks forward to her holiday meals.

My oldest son’s second job, and every one since then, has revolved around food. From pizza baker to coffee-house barista to small restaurant cook to line cook to pastry chef to kitchen manager and training chef, he is immersed in all things food. His siblings recognize it: they all like his food and request it when he gets a chance to cook.

My youngest son, on a whim, took a year-long culinary class as a junior in high school. He loved it so much he took another one as a senior, cooking for the faculty every day. He brought home recipes and tried them out on Anita and me (which we really like).

Friday he begins his college experience at Johnson & Wales University as a Culinary Arts and Food Management major. He’s looking forward to JWU, and so in his honor as a new culinary student, I’m going to revise and repost some previous thoughts about food – and how it applies to leaders.

Where I am going with this is that food, restaurants, being a chef, and all things connected are an interesting subject. There are also a lot of lessons to be learned from these areas that can be applied to other parts of life and work.

Let’s go on a food journey…