09 The new cooking

Many moons ago, when I was a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I attended my first international conference. I say international, it was held in Swansea.

The second disappointment was that all the talks were being delivered in a language I didn’t understand. Not Welsh, that would have been easy, but this: “Socio-referencing in Cross-cultural Discourse Patterns”, “Para-linguistic Clue-hunting”, “Meta-language Today”. All these talks had one thing in common: hyphen in the title, asleep by the end.

But there was one talk called “You Teach Like You Cook”. The idea was… well, as the title says. The way we perform one task informs the way we do others. The speaker was an ex-chef turned EFL teacher.

WHAT? Gave up being a chef? He could have had his own TV channel by now?
I know. Anyway he didn’t burden us with teaching tips but got straight down to advice on how to slice carrots into julienne strips (demonstrating with a felt tip pen, I remember) and how never to buy a turbot under 15kg. The latter does mean you need a hob the size of Jodrell Bank and frankly felt tip pens are worse than useless on a carrot, but apart from that the thesis rings true.

What thesis?
The idea that you do everything in your life in the same sort of way.

And how this relates to business is…?
In business as in life. Your business card supplies name, rank and number in the corporate font. And it might be as hyphenated and hifalutin as the Senior Partner of Get-Outta-Here. But what people actually want to know is what makes you tick as a person.

Smart HR people smoke out the truth in selection interviews. After the blandorama questions on career and aspirations, they go sideways for insight. And the same techniques are open to managers selecting internal teams.

So how do you prefer to cook? Do you shun recipe books in the kitchen? Then you’ll trust your instincts in the meeting room. Do you prefer to clean the counter, set ingredients out in order and follow Delia? Then in business you’ll make lists at your desk and weigh up risks with care (despite the occasional leery night down the karaoke). Perhaps you never cook? Professional delegator. Prefer takeaways? Consider a career in the Outsourcing Dept.

Is this true? Are we really that transparent? My granny used to tell me she could read me like a book, and I presumed she must have supernatural powers. But it seems we leave clues about ourselves in everything we do.

What other analogies work? What does the way you drive your car say about how you lead your team?

Well, well. There’s a thought for the weekend. And you don’t need to visit Swansea to explore it.

Nielsen Dinwoodie
business messages people remember



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