If you are a cooking aficionado, click your TV remote and you will find shows that teach beginners how to whip up a zesty taco salad or goose liver pate. Beyond the how-to shows are the cooking competitions. These pit contestants against each other in challenges where the expert judges eliminate them one by one based on the would-be chefs' performance.
One of these latter shows is a favorite of mine and my family. Even if you aren't a fan of cooking programs, this show has great relevance to those of us who manage projects in our professional and personal lives. The show is Cutthroat Kitchen (CK), hosted by Food Network personality Alton Brown.
CK's format consists of a series of elimination rounds held among 4 contestants each of whom prepare an assigned dish under tight timing until one player remains. Each contestant is issued $25,000 that they can either keep or use to bid on various sabotages that each auction winner can assign to his/her competitor(s) to hinder their progress. Some of these sabotages are quite sinister: such as forcing a competitor to use an ice skate blade in place of proper cutting utensils. You get the idea. The lone remaining contestant gets to keep all of his unspent money.
Beyond the show's contrivances, it can also be educational, with strong lessons especially for those of us who manage projects on a day to day basis. Consider the following integral elements:
Talent Alone Usually Isn't Enough to Succeed: In the show's context, success is determined by being savvy, resourceful, having strong improvisational skills, being decisive and even a bit lucky. Cooking talent alone is often not sufficient to survive in the face of skilled competitors who aim to seize advantage (and promote competitive disadvantage) using the means at their disposal. Corporate professionals don't routinely compete in this blatantly cutthroat manner and it isn't necessary to undermine others in order to achieve success. Still, one should accept that while job performance is typically vital for professional success, other key factors are also involved and necessary.
Tight Deadlines Require Expert Time Management and Deft Problem Solving Skills: The host challenges the contestants to prepare particular meal items within a tight time frame which necessitates multitasking. For instance, they may have only 30 minutes to prepare a restaurant quality veal piccata, including planning the meal, shopping for ingredients, food prep, cooking and decorative plating. This often requires managing multiple cooking tasks simultaneously without allowing any of them to slip or running the risk of ruining the dish. Add unplanned challenges to this and you have a recipe for potential chaos. Are you and your project team sufficiently nimble to navigate the various project challenges you face, often without warning and invariably without the benefit of slack time?
Results Matter and Often Are All That Matters: In CK, the contestants' dishes are evaluated by a professional chef. He doesn't know or care whether or not a contestant was sabotaged and how this may have impacted their efforts. To him, it either is or isn't a good dish. In the business world, financial forecasts are built based upon products shipping by a particular launch date. Top management doesn't care if the project faced substantial launch obstacles. Teams are expected to figure out how to adapt to unforeseen obstacles and to get the project done, period. In essence, if it's too hot, then get out of the kitchen (sorry, I couldn't resist).
Bet you didn't think a cooking show could offer much in the way of business life lessons, right? Think again.
Last week's newsletter discussed interactions between entrepreneurs (startups) and large corporations and how each probably should gauge their ability to successfully deal with the other. This piece generated some thoughts from readers. I wish to cite two in particular. First, from innovation advisor and popular blogger Paul Hobcraft (www.agilityinnovation.com) who nicely expressed sentiments about entrepreneurship in general: "Each of us in life should go through it, a little like growing up, it adds a different perspective and dimension that you can value for the rest of your life." From Michael Osofsky, co-founder of NetBase now launching a fun relationship app on Kickstarter called ULUVIT...in time for Valentine's Day. (Check out the video: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1326144502/fun-relationship-app-for-valentines-day ). I thought his perspective on entrepreneurship was pretty sensible: "I've worked within my constraints to see what I could make with what I have." Reminds me of the famous Arthur Ashe quote: "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can."