Recipe For Success

Professional chefs, even the best ones, still open a cookbook for special occasions. True, they have mastered the interplay of ingredients and cooked enough meals to be able to improvise in the kitchen when needed. And yes, they are usually the ones writing the cookbooks so that we “novices” don’t end up with a meal that looks like a two year old got into the refrigerator and threw something together with as much thought as a two year old can give to food preparation. But when they are called upon to cook something truly special, a reliable cookbook is crucial.

Professional chef or not, if you’re going to create something worthy of your time and hard work, there are two foundational pieces that you must have at the start of the endeavor: an image of the desired outcome and a step-by-step process of getting there.

Welcome to the world of cookbooks.

Why are there so many cookbooks on the market? How do they all seem to sell so well? The answer to both of these questions is simple: Cookbooks bring about an emotional reaction through the simplest, most universal method of communication-pictures! And not just any pictures, they show images of the most mouth-watering meals imaginable. These images provide an instant emotional response when you happen upon the recipe you just have to make. You could be looking at ingredients that you have never tasted in your life, and yet the presentation of each element in one image fits perfectly into the dish. Cookbooks give you not only something to aim for (as challenging as it may seem), but instant inspiration. Your brain and stomach knows just what you want, but they have to see it first. This is true in the kitchen, and it’s true in almost every aspect of life. You have to see yourself crossing the finish line, acing the test, or buying your dream home, because it’s that image of the end result that lets you visualize being successful and focuses your mind on your ultimate goal.

Interestingly, as important as pictures are for motivation, without the necessary step-by-step process to create what you see in that beautiful image, it’s nearly impossible to make something that looks even remotely like what you see in your cookbook.

After the initial inspiration, the recipe takes center stage.

People talk about setting goals all the time. Goals are dreams, desires, really anything you want to attain or accomplish. The problem is, what most people are really referring to is the picture in the cookbook, not the recipe. “That’s my dream car,” “That’s my dream job,” or “That’s my dream vacation.” This is where the majority of people begin to struggle; they can’t “flip the page” to find the recipe in the cookbook because they are too caught up with the challenge of recreating the picture.

Recipes are your guide! They give you not only every ingredient you need to create that culinary masterpiece, but tell you exactly how to prepare it! How would your professional or personal life be changed if you had a recipe to follow that helped you every step of the way? Think about how much more you could accomplish if every “ingredient” and step for success was written out in detail! The challenge lies in following that recipe for success while adding something that gives you ownership of it. Only then will you combine the motivation of the picture with the preparation of the recipe.  If you can break down your goals into their basic elements (list of ingredients) and a preparation guide, you start to live the Mise en Place lifestyle.

Goal-setting is simply the creation of a great, easy-to-follow recipe.

Notice how recipes don’t try to trick you. A recipe follows a strict order of events and preparation. Of course it is important to understand each step in order to put everything in its place, but step 1 comes first for a reason. If there wasn’t an order to follow, the meal may contain the same ingredients, but it’d look much different than the original plan, and it most certainly wouldn’t taste as good.

What I’m trying to do with Mise en Place Leader is help you create your own “cookbook” for life. You create the image of the end-state, and you get to create the process– but I’m here to be your coach and teacher along the way. I’ll provide some tips on making great “recipes” for making you a stronger leader, more successful professional, and better person.

Today’s tip has three parts, and yes, like any recipe, you should do them in order:

1)      If you haven’t done so already, go back and read my post, Something Worth Cooking. That’s how begin to practice visualizing success. Get the picture of the result before trying to create the recipe.

2)      Make a list of at least 3 ingredients for this amazing “meal.” What is necessary to have in order to put together this visual you have come up with? Are you trying to land that dream job? Awesome! What do you need for application materials? Will you need to move? Have you discussed this with your family?

3)      Those 3 (or more) ingredients are extremely important, but after you have the ingredients, remember to consider each step in the process. What’s the first priority? Should you apply to this new job and then talk to your wife? Do you need recommendations before or after the interview? Just as the best chefs don’t use microwaves to create their culinary masterpieces, there are no shortcuts to getting what you’ve always wanted. Procedure is critical, and understanding how to follow it will set you up for greater success.

The Mise en Place Leader prepares before the main event so that the performance takes care of itself. 

Everything In Its Place

Let’s talk about Rachel Ray for a second. Specifically, let’s talk about one of her most successful shows: 30 Minute Meals. Thirty minutes to cook that?! A full meal, start to finish, in 30 minutes! It’s like the meals she makes literally make themselves, and yet there doesn’t seem to any of that typical pop the dish in the oven and take out a fully cooked pot-roast trickery. She really seems to be cooking. So how does she make this performance look so easy? It is because Rachel Ray uses the “mise en place” approach to cooking and performance. Rachael-Ray-in-her-old-kitchen-on-set-sm

Unless you work in the kitchen of a high-end restaurant or speak French, you probably don’t know what the name of my blog (Mise en Place Leader) is in reference to.  Mise en Place is a French culinary term that literally means “everything in its place.” Chefs use the mise en place method in their kitchens to simplify complex food preparation. They break down each element of the meal and prepare the parts of the end product (usually dinner) so that when the kitchen is buzzing during the dinner rush, everything flows as smoothly as possible. The majority of the preparation and the tedious work are done before a customer even walks through the doors. Great chefs put in the necessary preparation before the pressure is on so that their skills in preparing each dish are displayed.

Rachel Ray can cook a 30 minute meal because all the onions, peppers, and spices have already been chopped and measured. Her oven is pre-heated, and all the cooking utensils are within arm’s reach. Without a constant reminder to myself to focus on the preparation, you would find me in the kitchen running around trying to find a chopping knife for my pepper while my chicken begins to burn and I’m yelling at my girlfriend to grab the mixing bowl since I also forgot to make the curry paste!

Few people recognize that preparation beforehand can save so much hassle and frustration during the “main event.” This is true in the kitchen, and it’s true in life.  

In my career as a mental conditioning and leadership consultant, I like to think of myself as a strength and conditioning coach, but for the mind instead of the body; it doesn’t matter how strong or weak you are when you start working with me, my job is to make you mentally stronger so that you can perform at your best in the most pressure-filled moments.  This philosophy fits in perfectly with the “mise en place” approach because a strength coach is all about preparation. I, like a strength coach, cannot accompany my clients onto the field, into the boardroom, or into the interview.

It is my job to help them put everything in its place so that they can concentrate on the performance itself.

Now, I am by no means saying you can’t get anything done if you don’t put in the proper preparation time. Plenty of dinners, interviews, and games have turned out fine without adequate preparation. I am sure you can think of a few examples from your own life. However, ask yourself how much you were able to enjoy the moment of the performance when you didn’t get yourself organized. It was most likely stressful and you can barely remember the performance itself. Compare that with a time where you diligently prepared and took the “mise en place” approach; the event may have even had a feeling of déjà vu, like you had already seen the final product and desired outcome because of how well you prepared.

Today’s lesson is simple:

Any performance, like a well cooked, timely meal, requires the majority of the work to be completed beforehand. Take 5 extra minutes before starting a task today and prepare what you need. See how the task itself changes.   

My ultimate goal is to teach you what factors are most important in developing yourself as a professional, a leader, and a person. With my first few posts, Something Worth Cooking and Steroids and Microwaves, I tried to get you to find your passion and be willing to wait for something great, but put your focus on each step during that journey.  Mise en Place Leader’s narrative is about preparation. It’s about preparing yourself to be great at whatever it is you do, and focus on the preparation for the “moment.” That way, when that moment comes, performing at your best will seem as easy as a Rachel Ray 30 minute meal.