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?

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.

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 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

Seth Godin: Lead up

Seth’s Blog: Lead up.

A great designer gets great clients because she deserves them. One of the ways that she became a great designer was by leading her clients to make good decisions, to have better taste, to understand her insight and have the guts to back it. That doesn’t happen randomly. It happens when someone leads up.

As per usual, more brilliance from Mr. Godin. Read it.

Seth Godin on Critics – Brilliant Essay

head-clickme2From the supple mind of the great Seth Godin. This is a piece ostensibly about going to the theatre, but what it really is is a fascinating piece of marketing rhetoric.

If you have a product that people are talking about, who do you believe? The users of the product? Or those paid by a third-party to “review” your product?

This is a debate that has been going on for years and years and years and we won’t solve the riddle here, but it’s certainly worth spending a few moments thinking on it.

Seth’s Blog: The critic stumbles.

Have you noticed just how often the critics disagree with one another? And how often they’re just wrong?

And yet we not only read them, but we believe them. Worse, we judge ourselves, contrasting our feelings with their words. Worse still, we sometimes think we hear the feared critic’s voice before we even ship our work out the door…

For me, the opinion of any single critic is becoming less and less meaningful as I choose what to view or engage with. And the aggregate opinion of masses of anonymous critics merely tells me that the product or content is (or isn’t) mass-friendly. I’m far more moved by the insistent recommendation of a credible, raving fan than I am the snide whispering of some people who just didn’t get it.

What You Can Learn From An Airport — Because You Need to Do the Opposite

head-clickme2The ever-insightful Seth Godin gives us these nuggets to mull over. I gave you the first one free — click the link for the rest.

Eleven things organizations can learn from airports

[Of course, this post isn’t actually about airports]. 

I realized that I don’t dislike flying–I dislike airports. There are so many things we can learn from what they do wrong:

1. No one is in charge. The airport doesn’t appear to have a CEO, and if it does, you never see her, hear about her or interact with her in any way. When the person at the top doesn’t care, it filters down.