Spending 20 years with a knife in one hand and a keyboard in the other has afforded me some insights as to how discoveries in the kitchen can be applied in business. Chopping vegetables and determining business objectives might seem incongruous, but we all know eating is a basic human function and we all have to earn our food in some way – so what are the lessons from the kitchen?
We eat with our eyes and nothing is enticing about blandness, so good presentation is an essential appetizer. Make sure you have plenty of colour for interest, and texture to serve as a delivery mechanism for flavour.
In business, how your company presents is at the root of success. Is there a clear brand identity that represents your values, services, ideas and personality? Does it increase recognition and build an accurate perception of your organization? If not, look at how to fix the appearance of your business and brand.
2) Make your own
How many times have you caught that distinctive smell of freshly baked bread or biscuits? Baking from scratch takes time but rewards the effort. It tastes better, you know what’s in your food and the process can be therapeutic.
Similarly, you might tire of the commute and the reporting lines and decide to start up your own company, become your own boss and be the agent of your success. To make it better than the alternative, ensure you have a marketing plan with clear business objectives and goals. Revisit the plan and commit the time needed to execute it.
3) Be creative
Waste nothing, be inventive. Food is money and all professionals in the kitchen learn to be resourceful. After a roast chicken, use the bones for stock. Make a hearty pumpkin soup and dry the seeds for later consumption.
Everyone in business has core strengths to play to, but being creative is important. Challenge what you think you know, come up with new solutions. Encourage others to see things differently and change the way things are done.
4) Expect difficulty
Some ingredients are plain difficult. Chocolate is sticky, it seizes if it gets too hot and stays lumpy if too cold. It doesn’t allow for mistakes, and it melts at body temperature. It takes time and work to master its handling.
Being a business owner is inherently difficult and hard times are to be expected. Understand the risk areas and find ways to master them. Like chocolate, business success is addictive.
5) Don’t panic
Add stock to too-thick soup. If the sauce is too salty, swirl in butter. Rescue a broken beurre blanc with cream. Most things can be saved with a little knowledge. You can learn more from damage control than first-time success.
In business, the need for damage control is inevitable, especially with social media marketing. Don’t delete bad feedback on Facebook; customers need to see you responding in a productive way rather than shying away.
6) Contact sport
Kitchens are notoriously small, busy spaces and only good teamwork, organization and verbal communication can deliver the perfect plate. There’s a reason the chef yells, “Behind you! Hot pan!”
At work, we have all been guilty of emailing instead of picking up the phone, but good relationships are the foundation of success. Don’t let your company be one that does everything electronically – if nothing else, it’s a lot harder for a customer to say no verbally than with the click of a button.
Chefs invariably specialize in either sweet or savoury. The former group favours precision and focus, while the latter is all about speed and multitasking. They know what they’re good at and deliver every time.
Likewise, you will be rewarded if you can amass a team of specialists in the areas that serve your business. It’s often better to get a subject-matter expert in for a few hours a week than a junior member of staff who costs less. Know what differentiates you from the rest of the market and use it.
Taste, taste, taste. Add a bit more salt and taste again, add some lemon and taste again. Understanding the effects of different ingredients will make you more adept and deepen your palate.
Business-wise, set out to be the expert in your field, then shout from the rooftops. People must be shown that you are good at what you do. Demonstrate previous work with case studies. Be a teacher – he that educates the market owns the market. Sample your business, mystery shop your staff, phone your own office and grade the results. You might find you need to add a dash of this or that.
– Emily Willis
Emily brings a wealth of experience in consultancy, research and product management. She has worked with various global consultancy businesses to provide strategic thinking and planning to various businesses in the UK and Europe. As an experienced chef, she also bakes some mean biscuits!