I want to be a Masterchef
My girlfriend tells me I am messy. Most people that know me are likely to agree. I am also a bit of a cook. I love cooking. I watch most of the food porn that is available. From “Australian Masterchef” to “Chef’s table” (cracking programme on Netflix). I also read a lot of business books. Including lost of books about time management, getting things done, habits, efficiency, organisation, self-help, etc.. None of them worked so far (I tried).
Never had I read a book that combines the habits and techniques of chefs with the world of business. Until “Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work and Mind” by Dan Charnas. It is an absolute cracker. Maybe it is because I love cooking, but this one of the first books about organising yourself that truly resonated.
The key is Mise-en-place. The entrance requirement for mise-en-place is commitment. The two terms are linguistic cousins. The French word mise and the English word commitment both derive from the Latin verb “mettre”, meaning “to put.” When we practice mise-en-place, we “put ourselves” in place. When we commit, we literally “put ourselves” with something or someone.
Being present all the time. Where everything has a place. Where excellence is a choice. Where preparation and planning are key. However, preparation and planning alone are not enough to create excellence. Chefs must also execute that preparation in an excellent way. So they ensure execution by a tenacious pursuit of the best process to do just about everything.
Cleaning clears the mind
Which means that you have to work clean. You need to work as efficient as possible. Removing frictions points. You need to constantly de-clutter. “If you can’t clean, you can’t cook” or “You cook the way you look.” Cleaning as you go, not waiting to clean, separates true chefs and cooks from everyone else. Cleaning clears the mind. The same applies to business. Establish project hygiene.
Key message; always be cleaning (as a metaphor for your work practices in your own business).
What would Gordon Ramsey do?
The book reminds me of “Mastery” by Robert Greene, “The obstacle is the way” or even “The navy seals art of war”. An absolute Gordon Ramsey approach to business. In our board meetings, we use the question “What would Alan Sugar say?”. That will be replaced by “What would Gordon Ramsey say?”
Key ingredients for success
“Work clean” gives you ten key ingredients for success.
- Perfecting movement
- Finishing action
- Slow down to speed up
- Open eyes and ears
- Call and callback
- Inspect and correct
- Total utilisation
The vegetables won’t chop themselves
It is always about the first move. The first moments count more than later ones. To quote a chef “We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30.” Move with the end in mind. Move now. The present has incalculably more value than the future. Make sure you finish. Avoid orphaned tasks. Focus. Developing a nose for the finishable. Commit to delivering. When a task is nearly done, finish it. Always be unblocking
Chefs slow their bodies to slow time. Chefs don’t run. Chefs don’t panic. Chefs put precision before speed. Slowness is the only way a cook can access quality velocity. The point of this exercise is to slow down a non-conscious process by consciously analysing it so that, with practice, you can streamline it and make it taste. The wiring of our brain makes this so. Myelinization “wires” the quality of our movement, thinking and practice. So if you’re repeating an action sloppily, that sloppiness will be what myelinization preserves. If you’re repeating an action precisely, that precision will be what myelinization enshrines instead.
Chefs balance internal and external awareness. Chefs tune their senses. “Attention blindness,” the phenomenon wherein the mind concentrates on one thing and filters out other stimuli can be cultivated. In other words, we can learn what to pay attention to, and what not to. What are the things in your workspace demanding more awareness? Commit to balancing internal and external awareness. Stay alert. Focus.
Call and callback is a system of communication and confirmation and is a vital behaviour and principle of the kitchen environment because there is so little tolerance for mistakes and so much blowback from making them. Specific communication has been a part of the professional culinary heritage for more than a hundred years, and in military cultures for longer than that, but it came relatively recently to other disciplines. Is about taking the words “into the body.” “Talk to me like you’re texting and get to the point.” Always use action language.
To deliver excellence, Chefs remain vigilant. Chefs strive for perfection. Chefs submit to critique. Chefs prowl. Chefs teach self-critique. Chefs fix and use mistakes. Chefs set standards. For one day, keep a tally of all the errors you make, whether great or small, whether personal or work-related. And for each of the errors, write the consequence or result beside it.
The target of every shed is total utilisation, in four interrelated dimensions—space, motion (or energy), time, and resources (including ingredients, money, and people). Chefs save space to save motion. Chefs save motion to save time. Chefs save time to save resources. Chefs save resources to save the business
Working clean and the environment
But working cleanly with resources does mean living a life where you properly value those things. Get your most important spaces in order because space is precious. Practice and perfect the motions that make sense to refine because your energy is precious. Honour time because you’re not getting any more of it. Use your resources wisely because ultimately we all must share them. And treat each other with care. The goal of total utilisation and mise-en-place is that you not waste life: yours or the planet.
All you need to do now is commit. It takes 40 days of unbroken practice to break an old habit, 90 days to confirm a new habit and 120 days for you to become the habit. One study published in 2009 found that turning a conscious action into a non-conscious, automatic one took an average of 66 days. Mise-en-place knows that no teacher, no system, no software, no algorithm, no company, and even no amount of money or resources can do the job for you. You are the one who has to push the button. You are the one who must decide. You are the one who must make the moves and take the steps.