Friday, January 28, 2011

Business Lessons from my Kitchen

I love to cook. If I had to estimate how much of the household cooking I do between breakfasts, packing lunches, dinners, and snacks for impromptu jam sessions when all my teenage son's rock band friends show up hungry...I'd peg it at, say...100%. I do it all, and I enjoy it.

That means Dad is watching lots of cooking shows at night to get ideas. Which means I see all these gorgeous, well-stocked, hyper-organized kitchens on TV (well on Apple TV, we got rid of cable). I took a look at my own kitchen the other day and realized how disorganized the drawers and pantries were and made a little run to Bed Bath & Beyond and Williams-Sonoma and came back with a bunch of containers, trays, and Lazy Susan turntables. A few hours later and my kitchen is now way more organized and much more usable.

"Good for you Randy! I'm just so glad I took the time to read your blog today so I could learn about your kitchen cupboards!", I hear you thinking to yourself. Well here's the first point: I'm a 40-year-old reasonably intelligent man who spends lots of time in my kitchen. It took me years to really get organized. And here's the second point: even after I got things in order and began feeling a sense of pride every time I opened the pantry door my fridge was a complete mess! I didn't think to put a Lazy Susan in my refrigerator to organize all the jars of sauce and jams and capers and olives until TODAY! Why? I guess because Lazy Susan's are for cupboards, I don't know. I'm still scratching my head as to why it took me so long to figure this out. Don't tell anyone. But I can say it's like 50 times easier now to find stuff in my fridge.

There are a few lessons here. Maybe you're the warehouse manager of a 100,000 square foot regional distribution center and are going on your seventh year with the company. Or maybe you've worked your way up to running a 23 person accounts receivable division at a large firm. Regardless of where you find yourself, I'll bet you're so busy you have a corner of your responsibility that's basically a junk drawer--something that bugs you but not so much that you stop what you're doing to fix it. Consider fixing it. I've found over and over that often times one of the most productive things I can do when I'm feeling overwhelmed is to pause and take a few minutes to get organized. It's amazing how those few minutes can then affect all the rest of your work minutes from then on.

The second lesson is that there are probably simple, tried-and-true, relatively easy-to-implement solutions from other industries or disciplines that would apply really well to your shop that you don't know about. Or worse, maybe you know about them (the Lazy Susan) but have not connected the dots to see how they would apply to another problem area of yours (the fridge). This is where I think consultants often earn their money. Sometimes the main source of value they bring is to walk into your situation that you know like the back of your hand with a fresh set of eyes and a memory full of solutions and best practices from lots of other companies and situations and help you see patterns or opportunities you could not on your own. Consultants sometimes get a bad rap for walking over to the cupboard and taking the Lazy Susan from the shelf and putting it in the fridge and then sending you a nice invoice. But then cooking life from then on is so much better. And if it were so easy why had no one in your firm done that already for the past 12 years you've been in business?

So there you go. Life lessons from my kitchen.

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