The Problem with Smoke Detectors


smoke alarm

Photo courtesy of Jenn Durfey

If you’ve spent any time in the kitchen, I’m sure you have experienced the piercing sound of a smoke detector before. Or maybe the smoke detector went off because you never spend any time in the kitchen and were taking on the stress-inducing task of baking some chocolate chip cookies, all the while wondering why you didn’t just eat the raw dough. The point is, hearing a smoke detector usually means that something has gone wrong. When the smoke detector goes off, you better act quickly if you’re going to salvage whatever it was that was supposed to satiate, if not impress, your house-guests.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the smoke detector is the “save your life” tool, not the “save your baked good” tool. Most of the time, its only function is to tell you when something has gone wrong. Ok, so most of the time (especially when cooking), the smoke detector doesn’t mean that your house is going to burn down in 10 seconds, and at worst your cookies will be a bit dark and crunchy; there are few lasting consequences assuming you act quickly to fix the problem. But that’s just it! The smoke detector alerts you to a problem that now must be fixed. How stressful a life many people must create for themselves, moving from problem to problem, trying to fix each new issue that arises.

I think most people behave like a smoke detector. Think about it, one of the most well-known adages is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Doesn’t that in essence translate to “If it ain’t burnin’, don’t pull it out of the oven?”  Today’s post is about changing your perception of personal development and what it takes to become a Mise en Place Leader, because the Mise en Place Leader doesn’t just get by, working out each new problems as it arises-the Mise en Place Leader knows that with the proper preparation, the smoke detector will never go off!

A perfect example of the “smoke detector” mentality is highlighted on every episode of Kitchen Nightmares, with celebrity chef host Gordon Ramsey. If you’ve never seen the show, a failing restaurant asks for Ramsey’s help in saving their business.

Gordon Ramsey "mentoring" in the kitchen.

Gordon Ramsey “mentoring” in the kitchen. 

Usually the restaurant needs a complete overhaul to create a new customer experience that people will enjoy much more than the current setup allows for. This transformation, along with the profanity-laced tirades of Ramsey, makes for great television because there is already a problem in place, and with problems come stress and distrust of leadership, which inevitably leads to some heated arguments. Probably fun to watch from an outsider’s perspective, but usually hard to endure for the restaurant owners. The owners usually realize how poorly they planned the layout, menu, and overall management of their business, and they quickly realize that Ramsey came to the rescue just in time. Most issues in these episodes stem from a “smoke detector” mentality; the owners refuse to hone their cooking skills, business sense, and advertising abilities because everything is going well at the time. They lose focus and don’t realize their restaurant is in a death-spiral until is almost too late. But what if Gordon Ramsey worked with a restaurant from the beginning, helping the entrepreneurs gain skills that would make it so there were no kitchen nightmares? Somehow I think the lack of drama in my TV pitch would make for a tougher sell to a network, but in the real world, aren’t we all aiming for less stress and fewer issues to constantly have to deal with?


The bad news in all of this is that most people are “smoke detector” types. They wait until they recognize that something is wrong, and then they do their best to try to fix the problem. Our society has come to almost idolize those leaders who can handle problems that arise. Great leaders are otherwise known as problem solvers and can fix the flaws in a system. This is, of course, a great trait to have, and I am not in any way saying that leaders will never need to deal with another problem as long as they properly prepare. That’d be naïve and unhelpful in your own personal development. However, I am asking for you to shift your understanding of problem-solving.

Remember, smoke detectors only function when there is an imminent threat; they are worthless when everything is going right. But what if instead of waiting until something was wrong, you constantly worked on developing your abilities in specific areas of your life? What if instead of trying to be a great problem solver, you, an up-and-coming Mise en Place Leader, were in fact, a problem preventer? Gradually, with this shift in focus, you could move away from the “smoke detector” mentality and into what I call the “smoke defender” mentality. Your focus can then shift towards strengthening your baking skills so that the cookies don’t start to burn in the first place.

Going forward today, if you haven’t yet read my post on the KitchenAid Philosophy, it may be a good kickstarter for today’s development tips;.

Today’s questions stem from your Values statements and challenge you to continue to work toward getting even better at things you’re already skilled at:

What aspect of your lifestyle do you fall into the “smoke detector” mentality? Where do you know you could improve, but nothing has gotten bad enough to force you to act?

What about something you place a high value on? What could you do better in that area of your life?

Share some of your personal examples below.


The KitchenAid Philosophy: Just Be Yourself, Then Change


KitchenAid Stand Mixer

Welcome back Mise en Place Leaders! Good to return to providing you with creative and fun personal development tips from the world of cooking! I’d like to start this post off by talking a little bit about KitchenAid. Not to get too bogged down in history, but it is interesting to note that the KitchenAid stand mixer was the first in-home product of its kind. Considering this appliance’s steady increase in popularity for over the past 90 years, I’d say that it was a design made to withstand fads. But while this appliance was known for its standard mixing abilities, I believe it is the versatility of attachments that have kept it at the top of wish lists for so many years.

Since the 1930’s, KitchenAid has added an ice-cream attachment, a ravioli maker, and even a grain mill. Basically, if you can’t create a great meal using the KitchenAid mixer, you’re not trying nearly hard enough! And yet, amazingly, any attachment from a modern KitchenAid will fit perfectly into one of the original models made in the 1930’s! That is, the core design of the KitchenAid mixer has remained unchanged since the original product was released.  So you may thinking to yourself, “Yes, the KitchenAid mixer is great and has a rich history. So what? What does this have to do with being a Mise en Place Leader?” Well, it all comes down to the symbolism, the deeper significance, of the KitchenAid mixer, and why I think (on top of its utility) it’s so popular with one particular population…Newlyweds.

I’ve gone to a lot of weddings over the past few months, and between all the tears of joy, toasts, and staged photos, I’ve realized a few things: For one, KitchenAid has definitely cornered the market on wedding gifts. Without fail, this company’s stand mixer is a requisite gift to all new couples. It’s as if you haven’t officially become newlyweds until that KitchenAid appliance has taken its place on the countertop. Secondly, weddings are meant to showcase new identities. That isn’t to say that newlyweds give up or lose their original personality, but weddings do seem to highlight the synergy between two people that seems to bring out the best in each person while adding something new that makes them even better. Newlyweds, at least on the wedding day, proclaim to their families, friends, and of course, Facebook, that they are just who they’ve always been, but in many ways they are stronger, more mature, and able to take on greater challenges with the help of their partner. Married couples may forget this from time to time as they “settle into” marriage, but the newlywed philosophy can make a significant impact in personal adaptation to a changing workplace or home environment. And this philosophy can easily be remembered by thinking of the KitchenAid mixer.

Simply put, the KitchenAid mixer has come to epitomize significant and desired change in life. It says “stay true to who you are, but be versatile.” The KitchenAid signifies the ability to adapt.

We don’t need to be talking about newlyweds to understand that people get most frustrated and angry when, a) they lose their own identity trying to please others, or b) they can’t find compromise with an opposing party (boss, spouse, child, etc.) during some disagreement or negotiation. [Side note, come to think of it, remind me to send a KitchenAid mixer to Congress!] While these seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, if you take to heart the message of the KitchenAid mixer, then your strong personality as well as your ability to compromise will develop into strengths on your quest to become a Mise en Place Leader.

But remember, it’s the Mise en Place lifestyle that leads to significant development, not just agreeing with my metaphors. You already know that staying true to who you are while being versatile enough to meet the demands of a specific situation are both crucial; now you just need some help figuring out HOW to do that.

Here are today’s tips for success:

1)      It’s impossible to be yourself if you don’t know who YOU are, so you must begin to figure out what you actually value in life. These aren’t behaviors that you enjoy doing, but rather they are a set of personal standards that you seek to uphold as much as possible. This is your “original stand mixer!” It should never change regardless of where you are and what you’re doing. Keep your core values simple, just as KitchenAid has done with the base of their mixer. If you’d like some more guidance, complete the sheet I’ve linked for you here. You can get many more free activities similar to this from the website of Russ Harris, who is a doctor specializing in committing to personal change. Or you can check out his book, The Happiness Trap, but start with the exercise I’ve linked. It’s very enlightening and will give you a great start!

2)      I’ll be simple and to the point: TRY, SOMETHING, NEW! That’s it, step out of your comfort zone one time today. Once! Simple, right? Maybe, but here’s the development portion: Apply your values from above to this new activity. That is, if you value health and exercise and your spouse says you don’t do enough as a couple, maybe you can agree to go to that Zumba class she has been trying to get you to attend. If you value collaboration at work but your daily tasks keep you in front of a computer, ask your boss if you can take on an extra project with one of the sales teams. The Mise en Place Leader finds a way to live by their values in every situation! Once you have a set of strong core values established, you can actually begin to productively compromise more often, not less.

What are some of the core values you came up with? Share why these are so important to you below.