3 lessons from a world-famous kitchen
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3 lessons from a world-famous chef
Before Anthony Bourdain became a TV star, he was a manager.
A manager of kitchens.
The executive chef of Les Halles in New York, the kitchen taught Bourdain many of his life’s lessons.
How to lead people
How to build a team
How to serve others
How to uphold a standard
What excellence looks like
And many others.
Here are three I want to share with you today:
Lesson: Control your “mise en place”
In a restaurant, there’s so much beyond your control.
When people will arrive
How many people will arrive
What supplies will not show up
What people will order more of
What will go terribly wrong
What is in your control is your “mise en place” — the setup of your work station.
Knowing where everything is, being prepared for any possibility.
“We can’t rule the universe,” Bourdain told Harvard Business Review in a 2002 interview. “So we try to control that little corner of the kitchen we can control.”
Same as life.
Lesson: Team > self
One of Bourdain’s cardinal rules in his kitchens was the team comes first.
No fights with other cooks
No believing you’re better
No “treacherous behavior,” as Bourdain put it.
“Your commitment is to the team effort,” Bourdain would tell his staff. “Everyone lives and dies by the same rules.”
In kitchens, sports and business, the team comes first.
Lesson: No two bosses, no blame
Bourdain had a rule in his kitchen.
If anyone had a criticism of someone in the kitchen, it went through Bourdain.
Bourdain would then decide if it was worthy of sharing with the person.
He was fiercely protective of his staff.
“In my kitchen, no one will have two bosses,” he says.
Bourdain set clear expectations with his staff.
How they should behave
How they should prepare
How they should perform
After that, he took the heat for them.
If something went wrong in the kitchen, he’d never blame.
Bourdain delegated the jobs.
If they were screwed up, it was his fault.
“I return loyalty with absolute loyalty.”
I’ve been reflecting on “control your mise en place” lately.
We have that opportunity every moment of every day.
When I was a college athlete, coaches used to often say: “control what you can control.”
It’s a popular term in sports (”control the controllables” is another version).
But how do you actually build that capability, and how do you do that consistently?
I think there are three primary components:
“Control your mise en place” is a mental skill.
It takes a highly disciplined mind to do that consistently under stress.
A disciplined mind is forged in training.
In Issue 17, I wrote about how Navy SEALs build an unbreakable mindset. There are three pillars:
That mindset is developed during years of nearly daily training.
The best way to train a disciplined mind?
Do difficult things that put you in situations where controlling your mind is required.
Do that enough, and you’ll develop the skill of separating the stimulus and your response.
Once you’re trained, preparation is the next tool.
Being organized, anticipating scenarios and contingency planning help you focus on what you can control when you need to perform (whatever that may be for you).
Every branch of military does some version of an Operations Order (OPORD) prior to each mission. In the Marines Corp, these plans can be 100+ pages spelling out every imaginable detail of a mission.
You probably don’t need to be that detailed in your line of work, but the principle stands: you will perform to the level of your preparation.
The last piece is being able to adapt.
Even with the highest training and most thorough preparation, you can’t predict everything.
Information will change, unpredictable variables will arise, things will go wrong.
Jeff Bezos talks about reversible and irreversible decisions.
Most decisions in life are reversible, in which case we should usually optimize for speed.
If we make the wrong decision, we can make another one and course correct.
This is adaptability in practice.
Controlling what you can control moment to moment.
Let’s quickly recap:
The three lessons from Anthony Bourdain:
Put the team over everything
Control your mise en place
Fiercely protect your people
Three keys to controlling what you can control in every day life:
Train your mind
Be willing to adapt
This applies to business, sports and everywhere else in life.
I’m reading Small Bets by Peter Sims right now, and it’s fantastic.
The book is about how breakthrough ideas don’t usually come from grand visions.
They most often come from a series of small discoveries (”small bets”).
This book walks you through how to think about small bets and apply that skill.
Great read - check it out here if that sounds interesting.
I’d love to hear from you
What’s your biggest takeaway from this issue?
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Thanks for reading.
See you next Sunday.