Monday, September 5, 2011

Keeping your cutting board clean

For one moment, in the chaos, could you have a second of two of total control and comfort, where you owned yourself, your product, your expression?

When I started working at the sushi restaurant a few years ago I had a spot in front of customers right next to the head chef. As orders would come in, I'd take a dinner ticket and work on it as quickly as I could. This cutting board was about three feet wide and about a foot and half deep so presumably there would be lots of space. As dinner service progressed I found myself making mistakes, not being able to find things even though I knew where I had placed portions of people's dinners. The master chef would always pull me aside and tell me to keep my cutting board clean. He wanted me to wipe off the board completely in between each order so there was nothing but the board, your knife, and your hands. Being someone who likes to work on many things at one, I thought that it made sense to keep certain items ready on my cutting board, hoping they'd be used as part of service.

I relented and started making a habit of immediately wiping down the cutting board quickly after each plate had passed. I think I just trusted in the judgement of the head chef. Presumably after a few thousand repetitions, I didn't think about it anymore and just did it. What did I realize? My pace didn't slow down. My pace of cooking improved. I didn't understand why. I figured that if I had ingredients ready on the board as opposed to on the side of the board, I'd be able to grab them quickly.

I did a little research and talked to a few folks. Someone told me, that your cutting board is a representation of your mind. Your mind needs to be kept clear and ready to execute. But I was ready to execute. I could have all my materials on the board ready to go. Theres a subtle difference between having prepared materials on your board, and at hands reach nearby. The cutting board is an outline. If you see items within the outline, they clue you into what you need to make of them. What if I had items from other dishes in this outline, this box? They would tell me that they belonged in the dinner plate when they didn't. As I quickly looked at the contents of the cutting board, I'd have to discern which ingredient belonged in the dish and they would tell me wrong things. I thought about how I pulled ingredients from the refrigerated glass case and from my box of prepared vegetables and put them down on the board. Then when I began assembling, the ingredients would remind me where they went and I could focus on perfect placement. As I plated the dish and sent it out, I'd wipe the board down clean, and symbolically told myself that I was ready for the next dish. The time I had saved because I didn't have to cut through the confusion of rogue ingredients, translated itself into faster plating and execution. While this sounds exacting and unfeeling, this also allowed me to have enough mental runway to take a few moments and express myself creatively on the dish with final plating.

The customers out in the front would be ordering items, the waitstaff feverishly sending out your creations, someone in the back kitchen might have dropped something, but for a moment, you owned yourself, your work and it's a feeling you could duplicate every single time. Treating every dish as if it were your last.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Improving Upon Setbacks

Most of my blog articles discuss my thoughts on improvement etc and relatively positive topics. I haven't really discussed setbacks and how I try to handle them. While being driven has it's upside, it can take a toll emotionally, and every once in a while you hit a slump. It just so seems that when I experience disappointment, it happens in multiples. Everyone's disappointments are relative so I can't say mine are worse or less than someone else's.

Here are a few things that have just burnt me lately:
My general competition performance for the last month
Some issues at work
Making some poor choices socially
Not spending enough time with friends

So why is this important to me? I should just wipe the memory clean like I've done before and move on right? It could be my ego. It could be my expectations of my performance completely misaligned with my actual skill. How did I realize this was becoming a problem? A few things. My mood was changing. I was jumping to conclusions. My sleep was off.

Usually I'm pretty good about getting into the right state and starting fresh. I noticed lately that while I could get into the right state quickly, it didn't last. It would be like that last cup of coffee that only keeps your eyes open because it's hot. Something was wrong. I didn't know why. When your best tools don't work for you anymore, I had to start asking questions.

I had some really good tools available to me that I built using NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming). Simply put, they're thought sequences you can put together, that can have a very strong effect on you. If you haven't heard of NLP, you still know what I'm talking about. Think about biting into a big juicy lemon. Do you start to salivate? Well what if you could build a thought that could trigger the physiological conditions you wanted? NLP can help you with that. Whenever I was nervous, I would think of a blue column of light, and it was enough to make me feel immediately relaxed. You can really use any image you want. That's the pain med, but what about the cure?

I guess I really have none. Just constant improvement. Here are some things that are top of mind.

Being a true professional
Clean, repeatable delivery
Taking responsibility
Putting together solid apologies

Each one of these is an article in itself and I'll follow each with a question. This tends to guide my thinking if I end it openly.

On being a true professional, I feel it's the insulation between what the client wants, and what you want to do. My idea of a true professional is delivering the best possible value for the client while improving the business position of your firm. The insulation is from the emotions, the inner workings of yourself, and your organization, so that your client only gets to see the results and in a form that's easily consumable by them. Am I providing a cushion with my clients so that my work is easily appreciated, understandable, and delivers real value?

On clean, repeatable delivery, it's important to be able to repeat success. I was reading an article in Harvard Business discussing how only failures are studied. Maybe I need to spend more time reviewing our wins, and how we can duplicate them?

On taking responsibility, I've seen folks who point the finger, and pass the buck. I've seen others who openly take responsibility. I think that people don't take responsibility because it may imply guilt. This may be a self imposed judgment, since many situations simply require a decision and not a scapegoat. You can go left, you can go right, doesn't matter. The question is how do we improve the follow through? What can I do to take more ownership and improve my follow through?

An addendum to taking responsibility, is ownership of the situation. If you messed up, or the situation itself is messed up, it might be worth taking ownership. And send out a good apology if necessary. A half ass apology is worse than no apology, so it's worth putting together one that's well done. Some good suggestions I got from Randy Pausch's book is to acknowledge the hurt done, offer a way to remedy it as well. Am I making good, solid apologies that I stand by? Am I owning them?

Those are my ideas on how to improve things and I'm working on them.