Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

In the opening scenes of the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, 85-year-old master sushi chef Jiro Ono shares his professional philosophy:

"Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work.  You have to fall in love with your work.  Never complain about your job.  You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.  That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honorably."

The film goes on to detail Jiro's life and how he grew his modest 10 seat sushi restaurant in a Tokyo subway into a Michelin three star, $300 a plate sensation with reservations booked at least a month in advance (FYI, a Michelin three star rating means the judges consider the restaurant so good, it would be worth traveling to that country just to eat at that restaurant). 

Just minutes after the opening sequence, we are introduced to "Yamamoto, a food writer" who talks about the hundreds of restaurants he's visited and how Jiro's is "far and away the best."  He then goes on to share what he considers to be the five characteristics all great chefs have in common:

  • "First, they take their work very seriously and consistently perform at the highest level.
  • Second, they aspire to improve their skills.
  • Third is cleanliness.  If the restaurant doesn't feel clean, the food isn't going to taste good.
  • The fourth attribute is impatience--they are better leaders than collaborators.  They're stubborn and insist on having it their way.
  • And finally, a great chef is passionate."

There's much to learn and apply here. 

First, do we treat our work like a craft?  Jiro's oldest son started working in the business at age 19.  He's now 50.  Jiro says he's still not quite ready to take over the restaurant.  Do we have that kind of patience and humility to acknowledge what we still do not know and couple that with a healthy respect for the time and self discipline it takes to achieve any level of mastery?  Do we have the dedication to take our careers that seriously and the drive to push ourselves to keep performing at our best while continuing to learn?

Second, do we have a written, professional development plan in place that we've carefully worked out with our supervisor (and probably had to negotiate with our spouse/partner/families)?  Do we know what's next?  Are we clear on the next certification we need to earn or the next skill we need to acquire or sharpen?  Are we open and receptive enough to notice our weaknesses and blind spots as we go through our work day or see the results of an audit and realize there is always room for improvement?

Third, do we run a tight ship?  Do we touch upon all of the ten knowledge areas or domains in our projects and programs regularly?  Do we deliver on time?  Do we have our documentation in order?  Do we have systems and processes in place to handle the details?  Are we professional, polite, and yet strong with our coworkers, partners, and clients?  In my mind, this is our equivalent of "having a clean kitchen." 

Fourth, are we passionate about what we do?  If you code, do you pay attention to where you put the curly braces or how you name your variables?  Do you document your code to make it easier for others to come behind your?  Do you get trusted peers to review your work and refactor as you go along?  Do you care about the craftsmanship of your work even though no one may ever do a deep dive to see into the guts of what you've done? 

The movie title comes from a scene where Jiro says he sometimes dreams of new sushi innovations and has to jump out of bed (I would guess as best you can at 85) to jot the ideas down.  Do we ever have a moment or two like that about our work?  Even once in a blue moon?  Who knew you could find so much inspiration from raw fish? 

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