Kitchens and Communicators: Same Knives

A food critic friend of mine posted this piece from the site Fine Dining Lovers and I thought it was excellent. I also thought that it’s not necessarily only germane to commercial kitchens. I think it’s also quite relevant to practitioners of both the culinary and the communication arts.

Here’s a short version with my take. Read the entire piece at the link above.

There is no excuse for this. It does happen and the finger should be pointed at both the individual line cook and the chef. Well-designed prep sheets based on sound projections, a sense of urgency on the part of the line cook, and chef oversight throughout the prep window will all help to rectify this problem.
MRB: Yep. If you don’t have all of your planning done; if you don’t have all the tools you need, the likelihood of  project failure increases exponentially.
MRB: Fairly self-evident, this. Always train your staff. And, if you can, always hire smarter than yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
Cooks depend on their tools working well. Ovens must be calibrated, burners must work well, fryer temperatures must be true, pans must be seasoned …
MRB: I learned this wisdom a long time ago from a boss who always insisted that the communications staff have the latest equipment possible and put the office on a strict replacement schedule. We also all had machines that were the same so that we could all talk to one another whenever we needed to. This is smart stuff — and hard to get past the bean-counters in lean years — but it’s absolutely essential. I swear by it.
Even the best prep and mental preparedness will fail if the front of the house fails to manage and pace the door and door reservations for smooth service.
MRB: Your jobs are not “one-offs.” You have to be cognizant of what else you have on your plate when you assign deadlines and due dates. If you don’t factor in “the other,” you’re always going to be scrambling, always going to be behind and you’ll end up with a poor reputation — and that’s something much harder to fix than learning how to calendarize projects.
Cooks need to be in the right mental state to function at peak efficiency. Chefs need to help to manage this.
MRB: Yes, a thousand times, yes! Make sure your staff is operating as best as they can. You can help them by providing them with an invigorating, well-run workplace or simply a shoulder to cry on. Give staff a chance to stretch in their roles and turn mistakes into learning experiences, not opportunities to always rebuke and belittle. Helping them focus will increase creativity across the board.
It is never sufficient to be satisfied that you are ready for the rush if the rest of the team is not. Every cook’s readiness is every cook’s responsibility. Observation and communication will help teams survive and thrive.
MRB: Nothing to add here. Build a team that helps one another thrive.
Constant communication between cooks, between the chef and cooks, between the dining room manager and the chef, and effective dialogue between service staff and cooks will keep everyone on track and will help to minimise the surprises that bring a restaurant down.
MRB: Ditto the above. Always keep talking. Let managers know of potential impending crises and let management assist in easing pressure in certain areas in order to get things done. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone feeling that they can say to their supervisor, “I’m swamped. I have three projects due today and I can’t get them all done,” and having the supervisor answer, “That’s okay. I’ll give one to Mary. Thanks for letting me know.”
The menu is the key control device in a kitchen. Planning a menu is certainly an art, but it is also a science.
MRB: And ultimately, this is the foundation upon which all of the above is built. If you promise to be all things to all people, you’re not going to make it. Tighten your offerings, limit your services to those that you know your staff are capable of and make sure you can deliver the goods on time and on budget.
It’s not rocket science, but it is good management — and no matter what your industry, good management is good management. 

Top Tasks Make Your Website Easier to Use, Better

Read this:

Top Tasks Management is a model that says: “Focus on what really matters (the top tasks) and defocus on what matters less (the tiny tasks).” …

Tiny tasks are also full of organizational ego. Often, the more important the task is to the customer, the less content is being produced for it; the less important the task is to the customer, the more content is being produced. This inverse relationship is very typical.

This is from a great article by Web guru Gerry McGovern. I was introduced to Gerry’s way of developing websites about five years ago and it completely shifted my thought process. He’s just so bang-on-the-money, so clear in his thinking, that I think, oftentimes it confounds most folks who oversee websites.

Think of your website as a book. Do you want to read 70,000 pages of old nonsense? Or do you want to have an enjoyable experience looking at a consumable amount of up-to-date information that you were looking for in the first place?

I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t choose the second option. I also know virtually no companies who think about their sites in that manner. Curious, isn’t it. I mean, aren’t websites supposed to augment your company? Help you build your brand? Make it easier for consumers to find information about you/your product?

Why people who are in the business of selling things don’t get it just baffles me. Well, Gerry’s right: tiny tasks “are full of organizational ego.” Ay, there’s the rub.

Recently, I purchased tickets to a show at a major American regional theatre. I won’t name names — but it’s in the capital city of the Nutmeg State — and it was the God-awfulest experience I’ve ever had purchasing tickets online. And, yes, I do know a thing or two about developing online ticketing systems … I damn near invented the methodology for how they are supposed to work back in the day. I’ve purchased plenty of tickets online over the years, in more than one country, but this experience took the cake. Why? Because their site was entirely driven by organizational ego.

All I’ve got to say about it is that the play better not suck!

Think about your website. Are you “top tasks-friendly?” If not, how do you get there?

Monkey See



This was my visual aid at today’s staff meeting.

In case you are not familiar with Polish, it translates to “Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I’ve been working my fingers to the bone for the last six months to try to get a group of very capable, creative, intelligent people to coalesce as a team and it occurred to me that part of the problem is this “not my circus, not my monkey” syndrome. In other words: not doing that, it’s not my job.

But the flip-side of that is, we work in a highly collaborative industry. Marketing and communications require you to reach across the aisle, to blur barriers, to bring in new voices, to challenge long-held perceptions, so sometimes when you are working on a highly-detailed deadline-driven project, maybe you should step back and ask, “is this my monkey or someone else’s?”

If the answer is someone else’s, then please, for the love of God, let them do their own job. Fixing their problem before they know it’s a problem may seem like a good idea, but it does not allow them to learn to do it right.

Part of working as a team is jumping in when you are needed and knowing when not to.

Lessons Learned from Not Having Drama

And the play was terrific — sweet, funny, and cumulatively powerful. The audience was with us all the way. The most common audience response was, “I loved watching you; you all were having so much fun up there!” And we were.

We closed last night. I am tired and ready to get back to my regular hours, but I will miss it, both the wonderful people and the sweet simplicity of the work. I have been  thinking about other projects I have been, and am currently, engaged with, and wondering whether they are more difficult and stressful than they need to be.

This cut is from the Mama Ph.D. blog on Inside Higher Ed. Susan O’Doherty is the Ph.D. mama in question.

I liked this cut because I’ve spent a considerable amount of my professional life in the theatre and you always gird your loins for the drama offstage and backstage. And, like O’Doherty, you are always shocked when it does not come.

Her last sentence, though, struck me: I have been thinking about other projects I have been, and am currently, engaged with, and wondering whether they are more difficult and stressful than they need to be.

Is your workplace festering stress and difficulty? Mine has been recently, and I’m off to fix it. I hope you are, too.

Job Seeking, Hiring and the Search for a ‘Good Fit’

This is a great piece by John Warner, on his “Just Visiting” blog at the site Inside Higher Ed. Worth a read. Especially if you are a hiring manager or someone who is looking for a job straight out of college — or 25 years after college.

I did not know how to teach a class until I did it. I did not know how to write a review until I wrote a review. I did not know how to write a blog until I blogged. No one taught me how to write a novel, but I managed to figure it out.

That’s the most important thing I’ve learned, too: you’re not going to learn how to do something until you actually do it. And that can be a hard slog for a generation raised on “virtual” everything.

I’ve had these skill-based struggles repeatedly with supervisors. I tend to hire young and I tend to hire intuitively those people who, on paper, may not be as direct a match with a job description as an HR automaton may want. That’s because I can teach skills — and as a good manager, I should be teaching skills — but I need critical and intuitive thinkers who are ready to challenge me and my expectations. Ideally, everyone who works for me should be smarter than I am. That makes me stupid — or crazy — or off-the-chain smart.

Ultimately, though, it matters not one whit. What does matter is that people want to work for me. Because I’m easy? No. The exact opposite.

Gannett Latest Media Corp to Split; WaPo Online Readership Up

Gannett has announced that it will split into two separate entities — one focused exclusively on digital and broadcasting and one focusing on print. Gannett is the nation’s largest newspaper publisher. Its portfolio includes flagship USA Today and 81 other papers around the country.

In addition to splitting, it has announced that it will purchase the remaining 73% of Classified Ventures LLC — read: — for $1.8 billion dollars cash. Gannett already has a 27% stake in the online venture.

According to a Gannett press release, Gracia Martone, president and CEO, says, “The bold actions we are announcing today are significant next steps in our ongoing initiatives to increase shareholder value by building scale, increasing cash flow, sharpening management focus, and strengthening all of our businesses to compete effectively in today’s increasingly digital landscape. doubles our growing digital business, while our recent acquisitions of Belo and London Broadcasting doubled our broadcasting portfolio. These acquisitions, combined with our successful initiatives over the past 2-1/2 years to strengthen our Publishing business, make this the right time for a separation into two market-leading companies.”

Can you read those tea leaves? Read closely in-between the bullshit jargon words. Investing in broadcasting and online media and separating print means that when the shrinking newspaper revenues reach non-profitability — and they are not there, yet — it will be much easier to jettison print without hurting the overall bottom line.

On one hand, it’s another nail in the coffin of print as we know it. On the other, you have to admit, it’s good business. For the shareholders, obviously. And really, who else are they thinking about? The reader? Surely, you jest!

Meanwhile, over at the hallowed halls of The Washington Post Company, July 2014 saw WaPo’s most traffic month ever on Insiders credit new owner Jeff Bezos and commitment to digital as the drivers of the upward trend. The Post has added about 60 staffers on the editorial side this year; most of them on digital, according to reporting at GigaOM.

All this begs the question: just how much time is left on the clock for the printed daily paper?

Oh, God, Not ANOTHER Meeting….

This is a terrific infographic about meetings that I thought I would share. It’s spot-on about what time-wasters meetings can be. While often essential, meetings can be an excuse for social time in the middle of the workday. I would suggest scheduling in social time during the day and eliminate the time-sucking effect of meetings.

This reminds me of a terrific training video I used to great effect back in the 90s. It was called “Meetings, Bloody Meetings” and it was produced by a firm called Video Arts. This company was founded by John Cleese — yes, that one — and he used comedy to great effect to get his point across. He also used some of the top actors in the U.K. during the 70s, 80s and 90s so, instead of the traditional bad acting in these types of films, you had Cleese, Dawn French, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Hugh Bonneville and a whole assortment of “Oh, I know that guy/gal British actors.”

Cleese sold the company a number of years back, but continues to be involved: he even appears in their new, updated version of “Meetings, Bloody Meetings.”

Anyhow, take a look at this and think about how you can streamline your meetings with just a bit of effort. As an added bonus, below I’ve embedded a cut from Cleese’s original MBM video. Enjoy! (H/T Tom Cott and MediaBistro)

The Ugly Truth About Meetings: INFOGRAPHIC – GalleyCat.

The Ugly Truth About Meetings

by dianagosi.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Why Employers Don’t Respond After a Job Interview

5 Reasons Why Employers Don’t Respond After a Job Interview.

Interesting piece this morning on Mashable. With the exception of Reason Number 5, I think they are all bogus. No. 5: They’re Just Rude is the overarching reason here.

Look, my contention is that we have taken the “human” out of human resources. We are using too many resume scanners, too many online applications, too many catch-all job search aggregator sites and we are treating job seekers as resumes instead of as human beings.

How many of our corporate overlords understand that human resources is actually a PR function? There is a disconnect between a hiring manager requiring an applicant to submit a resume and cover letter and the corporate catch-all online app system that requires you to list your education starting in elementary school. If I’m applying to be your vice president, don’t make me go through this tomfoolery because, guess what? Your system sucks.

Why Workplace Jargon Is A Big Problem

Why Workplace Jargon Is A Big Problem.

This is an interesting piece that comes in via HuffPo. The workplace, especially the American workplace, is full to the brim with this type of nonsensical wordplay. Entire books are written about schemes and ideas and ways of doing business and all of them have their own vocabulary.

I used to work for a guy who said that when he was in his 20s, all the guys used to talk about automobile engines in order to appear cool, but today it’s all about computers and devices and how much RAM you have!

Jargon is a lot like that. There’s a theory that goes along the lines of “if I use a lot of meaningless workplace phrases, people will think I am important.” There are also lots of snarky and NSFW phrases that I could use to describe those people.

We are all guilty — I know I am — of dropping some of these into workplace conversations, but we should check ourselves and think of better ways to communicate.

Now about those TPS reports….

How Closing San Diego Opera Makes Your Life Worse

What follows is the text of an e-mail. I have friends — curiously, a great many really good friends — whip smart people — who work in and are passionate about the world of opera. To butcher Austin Powers, opera ain’t my bag, baby, but I appreciate it as an artistic expression. My particular tastes never get in the way of making sure that others can tell a story and impact lives by doing so.

Anyhow, this is in response to the whole hub-bub that’s happening at San Diego Opera. You can read a primer in this article from the LA Times. Meanwhile, all outrage and expletives below are my own.

I will attempt brevity, but I probably will not succeed because this pushes all of my arts management buttons.


It’s not over, you know, until the fat lady sings. Here’s Amalie Materna as Brunhilde in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen nearly 140 years ago. People are still coming to hear this music. Should we preserve it?

Here’s the bottom line: this is 100% — ONE HUNDRED PERCENT — about the mis-, mal- and non-feasance of this Board. Period. End of. Do not pass “Go.” Accept and move on to the next task. Because….

This is NOT the general director’s organization. This is NOT the audience’s organization. This is NOT the employees’ organization. This is the BOARD’S organization. That’s reality. That’s the legal reality of the situation.

The BOARD let Ian Campbell fail — spectacularly fail — at his job. Why? Because they were lazy. Because they forgot what they were supposed to do. Because they forgot their charge. Because they forgot — or did not know — what their job was. At at the very essence, their job was to shitcan him a decade ago.

Why? Because no one — NO ONE — should be allowed to make a career out of one artistic organization. Why? Because the art gets flabby. OR the leadership gets flabby. OR the Board gets flabby. OR all of the above.

When an arts Board forgets that they are supposed to make ART happen instead of make MONEY happen, well, they’ve lost the plot already.

So, what happens now? If no one pulls their fat out of the fire? Lots of people who can ill afford it lose their jobs. San Diego loses one of California’s/America’s/the world’s cultural treasures. And an art form dies a little. And we’re all a little bit worse off because we’ve contracted the amount of space in our world that we are willing to allot to art. And, thus, we become less and less human. That’s the esoteric nth degree, but it makes it no less sad.

This, friends, is the sad intersection of art and commerce where, unless you are the deftest of traffic cops, commerce always runs roughshod over art.

And I find the greatest of ironies in [redacted – the signature file of the original sender]: Audiences Reimagined? Okay. Good luck with that. But, I will leave you with this tiny tip: that’s a false construct. Audiences are audiences. They do not change. If you want to reimagine something WORTHWHILE THAT CAN BENEFIT SOMEONE, reimagine MARKETING to the audience. And Boards.

This fuckin’ thing raised my blood pressure too high for 10pm on a Tuesday.

Cross-posted to One Last Word