A Polar Vortex, Cayenne Peppers, and How Freezers Make Good Ideas Great

Considering most of you have been dealing with the polar vortex that has been cutting across most of the US in the first week of 2014, I wanted to lead this post with something hot: cayenne peppers.

Photo courtesy Forbes.com

Photo courtesy Forbes.com

2013 was a great year for my cayenne pepper plant; not just good, but great! I’m talking about basketfuls of these hot peppers that kept blossoming even into the autumn months. I knew these peppers would be an amazing addition to my “mountain-house chili” recipe that I would be able to showcase to my friends during our annual trip to the Smoky Mountains in November. However, since the trip was months away, I needed to save these picturesque peppers for this special occasion. Some great ideas take time to show their true potential, and there’s one kitchen appliance that can teach us a great lesson about patience and initiating great ideas at the most useful time. I’m talking about the FREEZER!

Photo courtesy Taz

Photo courtesy Taz

Think of ingredients as parts of great ideas. Sometimes you come across a great ingredient (ex. Cayenne peppers), but all the parts of the great idea aren’t ready yet. Maybe you have a blueprint but no building materials. Maybe you have new company policy that would cut costs, but no leadership role through which to implement it. What are you to do?! This could be the best idea you’ve ever had! How can you not put it to use right now? This thought process is why many great “ideas” never pan out, and it’s why acting like a freezer can lead to huge success.

Photo courtesy F. Delventhal

Photo courtesy F. Delventhal

Many people who think they have a great idea really only have part of a great idea. They don’t yet have the complete Recipe for Success that would make it a complete idea. On the other hand, too many people give up on what could be Something Worth Cooking before giving themselves a chance to find the other “ingredients.” The lesson of the freezer reminds us that you can’t use all your great “ingredients” at the same time, but that doesn’t mean they will go to waste.

Last week I discussed the importance of taking out the trash and getting rid of some old behaviors that may have been helpful at one point, but have served their purpose and are no longer useful. Some great meals you must enjoy in the moment and then allow yourself to move onto the next great dish. Then again, some great ingredients can, and should, be saved for when they can best be used. One way to do that is to throw those idea ingredients on ice.

  • What great “ingredients” for a great idea do you have right now?
  • Great ingredients are essential for a great meal, but sometimes figuring out what’s missing can make or break an amazing meal.
  • What ingredients do you need to throw in the freezer and save for a while and what other factors do you need to wait for (or go find) in order to best use your key component?

Garbage Cans and New Year’s Plans

Lego kitchen trash

Photo Courtesy Dave Ware

Yup, it’s a New Year’s resolution post. So you’re supposed to read this and be inspired to drastically change a certain behavior in 2014 so as to make you a better person, or that’s what the inspiring blogs at Time, Lifehacker, or a new take on resolutions posted by James Clear over at Entrepreneur would have you think. All of these do a great job helping you plan for 2014 and look forward to what could be the best year of your life, but I suggest there is something else that should happen first. As you may have guessed by now, I’m all about planning and preparation, but sometimes, even before you are inspired to take some steps towards putting Everything In Its Place, you need to take out the garbage.


Photo Courtesy Steven Depolo

The garbage can. Kitchen utensil? Arguable, but show me a kitchen without one and I’ll show you a disaster zone. It doesn’t matter if you just had Something Worth Cooking or burned the heck out of leftovers, there’s always going to be garbage afterwards. And, while trash is not inherently bad, if you let trash pile up and fester, the kitchen becomes cluttered and an altogether useless space. A Recipe for Success is useless if you’re unable to go into the kitchen without a HAZMAT suit. When we take out the garbage, it doesn’t matter if 2013 was a great year or a year of struggles, because you now have room to start something new.

Taking out the garbage lets you start over.


Photo Courtesy Kasia

Before you make a New Year’s Resolution for 2014, think about your “trash” from 2013. Remember, both triumphs and rough patches create garbage, and it’s when we forget to empty our garbage can that we are held up from moving forward.

What do you need to “throw away” in order to move forward with your plans for personal development?

Once you’ve emptied the garbage, stop by Mise en Place Leader in the coming weeks for tips on actually accomplishing those ambitious New Year’s resolutions!

Nelson Mandela and Toothbrushes in the Kitchen


Photo courtesy South Africa The Good News

On a list of Mise en Place Leaders, Nelson Mandela has got to be towards the top. He embodied much of what this blog tries to bring out of its readers, and he epitomized the Mise en Place lifestyle during his 27 years in prison; especially during his 27 years in prison. I wanted to honor Mandela in this week’s post, but in trying my best to stay within the theme of the blog, I had to do some digging. One seemingly inconsequential detail about Mandela was his favorite food, tripe. He, in fact, asked for tripe even on his 94th birthday.

What is tripe, you ask? Well, it is one or more of the stomachs of various livestock, usually cooked in a broth (more on this later).  While cow’s rumen doesn’t seem particularly appetizing to me, when I searched for ways of preparing tripe, the focus of today’s post became clear.


Photo courtesy of Dennis Wong

Tripe is not a quick meal to make. The preparation guides I found say to allocate 3-4 hours of preparation and cooking. Most of this preparation involves meticulous cleaning of the lining of the stomach chambers in order to get rid of anything the animal left behind. MMMMMM! Here’s where Mandela’s favorite kitchen utensil comes in: they suggest using a clean toothbrush (which I hope one would throw away after use) to get rid of any hard to reach bits. It’s suggested that you do this before and after boiling for up to 90 minutes before even adding any of the other ingredients! I’m speculating, but I get the sense that Mandela loved the process of preparing tripe. One needs to be so focused and pay close attention to detail before the cooking even begins.


Photo courtesy of meddygarnet

The cooking is the easy part, while clearing away the unwanted parts and shaping the tripe is by far the most important. The toothbrush reminds the chef to get every square inch of the stomach ready to be added to the other ingredients. It slows down the process so the end product is that much tastier.  This meal is matched perfectly with Mandela’s nature and personality. He must have loved how long the dish took to prepare and how much preparation was needed before being able to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Add to the meticulous process the need for a toothbrush, and I’m not sure you could find a meal more suited for this man.

The process of making tripe highlights the characteristics of a Mise en Place Leader that Nelson Mandela exemplified throughout his life. Remember, one can’t hurry tripe, so it better be Something Worth Cooking from the get go. Tripe isn’t for everyone, but for Mandela, waiting for the tripe to finally be ready to eat was just like his time in prison. His passion far outweighed his hunger. Of course he was hungry! He was starving. But somehow he knew he couldn’t get what he wanted just like that. Similarly, there are no shortcuts in preparing tripe, and there are certainly necessary steps if tripe is to be cleaned and prepared properly. One must have a Recipe For Success in order to create a sanitary, well-cooked meal.  Mandela used this same philosophy all those years in prison, where passion drove him and allowed him to put Everything In Its Place so that the execution of finally leading South Africa out of apartheid was the easy (relatively speaking, of course) part. He created a step-by-step plan instead of looking for quick fixes or immediate results.

I often tell my clients who don’t really know where to start in terms of beginning their development as a Mise en Place Leader to think of someone who they KNOW is a Mise en Place Leader; someone who is a prime example of an elite performer. I then ask them to think about what this person does that makes them so special. How do they act that lets you know they are so confident, poised, and driven? Once my clients explain how a known Mise en Place Leader acts, getting started with becoming one themselves is simply a matter of emulating some aspect of those behaviors.

Now, I’m not saying to run down to your butcher and grab some tripe for tonight (good luck getting the kids to try that!), but I am suggesting that you find one thing that your model of a Mise en Place Leader actually does! Yes, they are confident, but what do they DO to make them look that way? Maybe they stand up straight, maybe they smile a lot, and maybe they allow others in the room to talk before they do, but whatever it is that they do, try it out for yourself. Find one behavior which you can add to your daily routine that will let those around you know that you are ready to take on any challenge both in and out of the kitchen, no matter how long it takes or how meticulous you must be in your preparation. Just remember your “toothbrush” for those hard reach areas.

Check out more of Mandela’s favorite foods here.

Waffle Irons vs. Pancake Griddles


Photo courtesy of Daniela Kara R.

On the increasingly rare occasion that you have enough time in the morning to treat yourself and your family to a breakfast that takes more than 5 seconds to prepare (re: tearing out of packaging), breakfast batters in one form or another always seem to make everyone happy. But what’s your go-to syrup delivery system? Do you break out the waffle iron, thus avoiding the chaos of suggesting bacon and eggs to your teenager who has declared she’s feeling vegetarian today, or do you heat up the pancake griddle, which, with its ability to mass produce, can provide a stack of fluffy goodness big enough for that teenager to make eye contact with you and even stay at the table for more than 10 seconds?

While you may have already decided which meal you would make, you’ve probably never thought about what that says about your personality. There are advantages and challenges with each of these appliances, and your personality may steer you towards one or the other. So, are you a Waffle Ironer or Pancake Griddler? Let’s find out.

The Waffle Ironer


Photo courtesy of Jennifer Wu

The Waffle Ironer is a planner. You know exactly what you want the end product to look like. There is a set structure that will lead you directly to the same end result time after time. Just like a waffle iron, you push out any excess material that doesn’t fit into your pre-planned mold of what you want. Your focus is on doing one thing at a time with precision. You attempt to frontload your work, planning every step before you start so that the performance itself is automatic, complete with reminders to go to the next step and signals to let you know the job is done. Your leadership style is to make sure everything is laid out precisely, and then you let the job get done, knowing that the plan you are using has worked many times before. It’s challenging for you to embrace The KitchenAid Philosophy in terms of your willingness to change things up. Sure, you’re all for going with the flow and trying new things in the kitchen and in life at times, but let’s be honest, nothing makes your grumpy teen tweet #FML quicker than waking up before 11 on a weekend to a goat cheese and kale omelet.  Thus, you’re a Waffle Ironer: you may lack some imagination (“I can cook anything!… As long as it’s in the form of a waffle.”), but you know what the end result will be and you’re as consistent a performer as anyone.

The Pancake Griddler


Photo courtesy of Robert Donovan

The Pancake Griddler is all about getting things done. Once you’re in “go” mode, you can handle six things at once and complete tasks quickly. Structure isn’t exactly your thing, and you don’t really concern yourself with the shape of the final product. Part of the fun for you is the uniqueness of every individual thing that you do. You rely a lot on your gut instinct, such as when those pancakes are ready to be flipped and when they are done completely; you make decisions based on look, feel, and the general sense you have at any given moment. You read my blog because the concept of Mise en Place is foreign to you on multiple levels. You do some planning before getting started, but you focus on the performance itself and adjust this and that on the fly. You like to get your hands dirty with any project and carefully oversee it from beginning to end. You can cook a bunch of pancakes at once (similar tasks), but you must become absorbed in one process once you start since you need to closely monitor your work. Your leadership style is adaptive and you can think on the fly, making sure the end result is great, even if it’s not exactly how you thought it would come out at the beginning. Planning and consistency are important to you, but getting something started and figuring out the details later are what drive you.

Making a Waff-Cake

Ok, so that name needs a little work, but it makes my point well. At the end of the day, Waffle Ironers and Pancake Griddlers both have great qualities, and it’s important to study your habits enough to know which category you tend to lean towards. However, the Mise en Place Leader works on developing the qualities of both these appliances.

Which situations in your life call for a structured, well-planned Waffle Iron mentality? Which need a non-conforming, go with your feelings Pancake Griddle mindset? Before you can answer these questions, try to think about your tendencies. What’s your default? Are you naturally a Waffle Ironer or a Pancake Griddler? Share your thoughts.

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.

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.

Steroids and Microwaves

To get good at something takes a lot of time and a lot of practice. Not exactly breaking news, right?

But how much time and how much practice? For world-class skill, about 10 years and 10,000 hours spent honing your expertise in a certain area!  To break that down into tangible numbers, that’s practicing 20 hours a week for roughly 10 years. That’s a lot of practice!

Malcolm Gladwell delves into this at length in his book, Outliers, but for a quick synopsis and some great insight, check out his latest blog for The New Yorker. He also discusses a new book, The Sports Gene, just written by David Epstein (listen to NPR interview here, which gets into “natural” ability and athletic success. This has sparked debate about the 10,000 rule, with some using Epstein’s book to support the notion of speed-learning and instant expertise (see related articles below).

Personally, I tend to fall somewhere in the middle of Gladwell and Epstein in terms of the amount of time I believe to be necessary to become truly amazing at something. However, for the purposes of today’s post, Gladwell highlights the importance of answering the questions in a previous post of mine, Something Worth Cooking.

You can’t cheat the system when it comes to expertise. You might have some natural or cultural leg-up in terms of ability, and it is possible to make the system more efficient and start the process earlier in life (see Mozart, Tiger Woods, etc.), but you can’t become great at something without putting in the work.  Study after study says you can’t hurry the process. Sure, you can shave some hours off here and there, but at the end of the day the best end results take a long time to reach.

We have a tendency to want a shortcut. A way around the seemingly endless amount of time between when we decide we want something really bad and actually have it in hand. We see this in sports all the time: an athlete has plenty of natural ability and desire, but wants to cheat the system and use steroids to jump ahead in their “expertise.” They sometimes reach their goals (see Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, etc.), but it’s not a genuine product. It’s like a processed meal that would have been great (and much better for you) if made from scratch.

In this sense, microwaves are like steroids; microwaves trick us into thinking that we can have any food we want almost instantly. This is actually kind of true (just check out your frozen dinner section at the local grocery store), but it’s a façade. What’s the last cookbook recipe you remember that called for “setting the microwave to 2.5 minutes?” I’m reminded of the Jim Gaffigan joke in which he explains what it would be like to see Hot Pockets as a menu item in a restaurant.

I am not writing this to make you think that it is impossible to ever reach your ultimate goals. If you are 40 years old and are starting a completely new career, there is plenty of hope to become great at your new job! If you’ve never run a day in your life and want to run a marathon, don’t worry, it is indeed possible. I’m not asking you to quit your day job and focus entirely on your passion for the next 10 years. Most of us don’t even want to be world-class in anything; we would settle for getting a tiny bit better in the next 6 months to a year.

I’m writing this to change your focus. 10,000 hours is a lot of hours. Let’s be honest, 20 hours is a lot of hours! So why not focus on 1 hour.  You need an insane amount of motivation to put the amount of total work that is needed in order to become great at something, but if you’re passionate about something, you’re surely motivated to put in 1 hour, aren’t you? If you are focused on the “10,000th” hour of expertise, the exact point at which you become great at something, you’ll never make it. But if you focus on getting a tiny bit better right now, then the hours will fly by.

How can you work on something you are passionate about right now?

Take one hour this week and go explore your passion. The Mise en Place Leader focuses on the set-up, the preparation for the finished product, which makes the end-result easier to get to. This week, do something that sets you up for a bigger success in the future. Forget the 10,000 rule; let’s create the 1 hour rule! Share your stories below, on Facebook, or on twitter. #the1hourrule

Something Worth Cooking

What did you have for dinner a week ago?

If that took you longer than 10 seconds to remember, or if you still have no idea, that’s fine, and you’re not alone. But let me ask you another question: Can you remember what you ate for your last “special” meal? Think about the last time you made breakfast in bed for your significant other, cooked your family a special holiday dinner, or just invited friends over so you could enjoy that nice bottle of wine you’ve been saving since, well, Thursday.

Was this question any easier? I can remember the braised beef my girlfriend and I had several weeks ago because it was something special we wanted to cook together and it was a planned meal. That is, we didn’t get home from work and say, “Ohh, I guess we should eat dinner, but I don’t want to think about it, so let’s order out.” The meal meant a lot to both of us, and it was the act of making the meal together that made it so memorable. How is that possible when, after a long week of work, we were surely exhausted and starving hours before actually sitting down to eat? It is because in this instance the food, the end result, the sustenance that all humans need, was not the focus.

 It was a passion and focus on the process. The planning, the preparation, and being together are what made this meal memorable, not the braised beef.

Human motivation is interesting; the more readily accepted and popular thinking is that hunger is the #1 motivator. If someone is hungry for something, they’ll do anything they can to get it. This theory generally holds up in most situations, especially when there are limited resources. So, if I’m trying to motivate you to do something, I should just make you really “hungry” for it, right? This is true if we want something done quickly without any thought put into it. Hunger puts a focus on the here and now, and on personal needs: “Screw the rest of you, I’m hungry, and I need food, now!” I’m sure the Donner Party would agree with this theory of motivation.

Why do you think McDonald’s restaurants can be found at every rest stop on every interstate in America? You don’t find Emeril setting up shop in these places, do you? This is because hunger is a motivator in this situation; people don’t want to plan, think, or wait for food when they are trying to finish the 6 hour drive to Grandma and Grandpa’s house with 4 kids in the back.

Hunger calls for a quick fix and involves little self-control and thinking. Hunger is an amazing motivator for getting things done…with shoddy results.  

This is why the kitchen is such a great metaphor for developing yourself in anything and everything that you do. Leadership and personal development is about passion, not hunger.

Hunger is fast food that will take years off your life. Passion is the memorable meal. Your passion is a meal worth cooking.

Here’s my question:

  • What is something worth cooking for you? That is, something you want so bad right now, but have to plan, put together, and won’t get to enjoy for a while. Don’t worry about the planning part right now, just focus on the passion.
  • What are you “starving” for but couldn’t run down the street to have made for you in 30 seconds?
  • What’s something you would be willing to work towards because the end result inspires you so much?

Once you have an idea of your passion, hunger can be tamed while working towards this worthwhile end product. What you do with that clear picture of the end result we will get to later.