There is a Recipe to EVERYTHING we do in this Life. Very little – if anything – you do over the course of your life will be truly original and a product of your own creativity.
Instead, we learn from other people. We collect “concepts” and “ideas” but the simplest way to lump concept, ideas, action, and outcome into a single pile is to call ‘em Recipes.
Take this book for example.
I started writing it back in 2002. At the time, there were virtually no good books on how to learn “Out of the Box” thinking – something I was pretty good at.
I began by looking at how most books today are written. (Poorly) They all have a very linear presentation of information that you are supposed to suffer through. I didn’t want that.
What’s worse, I wanted a book that could be read by a 10-year old as well as a corporate chieftain. Quite a spread, to be sure, but there was a way to organize books differently – just as we can “mix up” ingredients in life in all sorts of ways, once we break out of Tradition.
You see, in Publishing, you target the book to a market. To me, that limited the usefulness of the knowledge I was working on. I had something to say about the broader scope of human behavior, not just something to tell the head of General Electric, or something to share with Kindergartners. Nope, I was looking for broad-spectrum.
So I created a book organized like this so you could have two ways to read it:
Think of it as being “Three Books in One.”
I know, what could you possibly write about in a Children’s Book that would be applicable to a corporate demi-god? Allow me to elucidate:
We begin with the Children’s Section:
The Baker’s Secret: A Tale of Recipes
Once upon a time, in a land not far away, there lived many bakers.
Each day they would awaken and take up their daily task of making bread. They’d bake in the morning and sell their bread in the afternoons. It was how they got money to pay for life’s necessities.
They would begin by building a fire, mixing up ingredients (ingredients are the things you make bread from), and setting the bread to cook.
But their bread was always different, every time they baked, because each baker did things by memory. Although most of the bakers had good memories, sometimes the bread dough would be too dry…and other times it would be too moist.
The bakers hadn’t spent much time thinking about their bread and none had really sat down and thought about all of the reasons why the bread was so different from day to day.
Sometimes the fire would be too hot and the bread would burn…and sometimes, not hot enough, so the bread was gooey.
Other times it was not the mixing, or the baking, but the ingredients – the things that made up the dough.
Sometimes the flour they had purchased would be coarse and other times it would be fine.
Sometimes the water used in making the dough was hot. Sometimes it was cold.
As a result, every day, each baker’s bread would be different. On some days, a baker named Alex would bake the best bread. On other days, Baker Bob’s bread would be best. And on other days it might be that able baker named Charlie.
One day, after his kitchen staff brought a particularly bad loaf of bread back to the castle, the King decided he would solve this problem of bad bread. He proclaimed a bread-making contest. He liked bread and wanted good bread every time he ate.
All the bakers in the kingdom entered the contest. Some even came from far away lands to bake. The King would pay the winner very well to become his personal Royal Baker. So some of the bakers came for the money and the job being offered and some came just for the sport of it – the honor of being named the Royal Baker. The event would happen in three weeks time. Baker’s were encouraged to enter and registration booth was opened immediately.
Everyone was quite surprised when a fellow named Tom, who said he had no baking experience at all, entered the Royal Baker contest. The people at the entry booth were a bit surprised, but there was nothing in the Royal Rules prohibiting someone who was not a baker from entering, so they allowed Tom to compete.
The professional bakers all had quite a laugh over it, though. How ridiculous, they thought, that someone with no experience should think that they had even the slightest chance against all the best bakers in the Kingdom.
All the bakers went on making bread every day and going to sleep early each night, except for the odd fellow Tom who was not a baker by trade.
Tom spent his days prior to the baking contest wandering from baker to baker, watching how they made their bread. And, while everyone was asleep, Tom stayed up late into the night, using several candles to read, and he studied from several notebooks where he wrote long notes on how each baker was baking bread.
Tom had figured that anyone could become very good at baking bread, provided they watched how the experts did it and made detailed notes about how it was done.
How fine was the flour? How long did the bread sit rising before the actual baking? How hot (or cold) was the water mixed into the bread and how hot was the fire? What kind of oven worked best? How long did the bread bake? How should bread be cooked if the weather is foul? What is different about baking bread in fair weather?
It was 3 o’clock in the morning the day of the baking contest when an exhausted Tom finally went to bed.
Early the next morning, all the bakers and Tom awoke to an unexpectedly cold and windy day. It was a terrible day to make bread. The wind was strong enough to turn umbrellas inside out and there was rain nearly cold enough to be snow.
The water from the well was nearly frozen. The fires were being blown all around, when they could be started at all, and the bakers knew it would take a highly skilled baker to make any kind of bread, let alone bread fit for a king, on a day as foul as this one.
As the bakers began their contest, the odd fellow named Tom didn’t start baking right away. Instead he went to his notebook and looked up cold, wet, windy days.
He knew that the well water would be much too cold to make good bread, so he decided to warm his up in a little pot before mixing it in with his flour.
All the other bakers noticed and started to laugh. “See how foolish Tom is…heating the water before making the bread. No one makes bread that way!”
After mixing his dough, Tom put it in a covered bowl and put it inside of his coat out of the cold wind.
Again, the other baker’s laughed. “What is foolish Tom doing now?” they asked. “Hugging his bread?” More laughter followed.
Next, Tom built a special wall around his fire, and built his oven out of bricks with its side away from the wind. Then he covered part of the fire so it would heat his oven bricks evenly. Tom’s burned evenly and wasn’t put out by the rain.
The other bakers didn’t know what to make of this, as they had never seen a fire made in such a way.
By the time Tom’s bread had risen, most of the other bakers had their bread off the fire and were sampling it.
“I forgot to add enough water!” yelled one baker. Indeed he had. He had baked very poor bread.
“Mine came out tough and burned!” cried another.
“Mine is burnt to a crisp, too!” yelled a third.
“Mine looks great, but it’s as hard as a rock!” complained another. His bread hadn’t risen because the water was cold.
Finally, Tom’s bread was done. He took it away from the fire and tasted it.
It was perfect bread.
He brought it to the judges and the King. “It’s the best I’ve ever had, even on a good day!” proclaimed the King. “I appoint you, Tom, my Royal Baker. Tell me, how did you do it when everyone else’s bread came out so poorly?
“I’ve made notes, your highness. I knew that if the water is too cold, the bread would not blend well and it would not rise properly. So I heated my water first.”
“I knew that cold bread dough would not rise, yeasts need to be warm, so I kept my dough out of the wind under my coat to keep it warm.”
“I also knew that in this wind, a fire’s heat would be blown away so I set some stones and a wind break to recapture some of the heat so my bread would bake correctly.”
The King was pleased with his appointment of Tom as his Royal Baker and instructed that all the bakers in his kingdom should follow the instructions Tom had written down.
“Detailed directions to be followed while baking bread fit for a King on a cold and windy day sound a little long for my subjects, don’t you think, Tom?” asked the King.
“Yes, your highness, why don’t we call it a Recipe?” Tom answered.
And so it has been ever since that day, if you want to bake the best bread, or do anything else in life, you don’t necessarily need a lot of experience. You need only the right ingredients and the right recipe to follow.
For General Readers
Elaine came back from sunning herself and reading a book at the pool today, driven off by a large number of loud children who began to play loudly and earnestly near her chaise lounge. We were living at Kona Kai Marina in San Diego at the time, and as residents on our sailboat, we were allowed to use hotel facilities, including the pool. With the rest of the world suffering through the winter of 2001-2002, Elaine’s been relatively content to sit poolside on warm days when temperatures venture into the mid to upper 70’s.
While lounging on this particular Saturday, she reports that she heard one of the parents tell a child “Don’t run!”
It struck her as interesting that the child wasn’t told why running around a swimming pool is a bad idea. The parent was issuing the command not to run because the parent knew the dangers, but didn’t share the reason with the child.
The oddness stuck out like a sore thumb to her because we’ve been talking about recipes a lot, about how people learn things; because I’ve been spending hours perched in front of my laptop, banging out my book on the topic.
Her observation is an important one because it underscores how the world presently operates. We live in a world where everyone issues a lot of orders, from our spouses to the government and everywhere in between, but we don’t spend much, if any time, understanding the context of our marching orders.
Elaine observed that the kid by the pool probably heard anger in the voice of the parent yelling the “Don’t run!” command. The truth, she thought, was that the parent was probably feeling fear, and was doing something to protect the child. Pass on the fear.
But that wasn’t the message conveyed to the child. The message sounded more like anger than love, and the message was lacking context that the child could hang-on to when in a similar situation in the future. Message started in love and passed as anger: Didn’t sound like a good recipe to her.
No doubt, as soon as the parent is not looking in the future, this child will run. No context, missing ingredient? It’s the wrong recipe for a lasting behavior change, simple as that.
This book is about simple ideas: One is that you can learn anything – and learn it extremely well – if you view learning as the process of collecting recipes. Not everyday kitchen recipes, but recipes that explain in crisp detail how life works.
Now, on the surface, this seems like a simple enough notion and totally obvious. So simple that it may seem ridiculous to bother writing an entire book about it. But, in the worlds of socialization and education, “putting life all together” into what’s mistaken called common sense sometimes gets lost.
Millennials are New People. We are Old People.
And we really need to talk about this stuff.
I don’t know how often I have been told a person doesn’t have any common sense. I’ve also been heard you can’t teach common sense. I respectfully disagree.
I believe common sense can be taught, and should be taught. The reason we’re not able to teach common sense is that we haven’t done much thinking about what common sense is.
Simplified? It’s a much-bigger Recipe Book.
There’s a case that common sense is nothing more than another person working out the solution to a problem or situation in a manner that is similar to how we would approach the same thing. We are same, we are common.
A person who approaches a problem in life from a completely “out-there” perspective stands to be labeled as someone lacking common sense. Common sense is a democratic kind of thing. It’s how the majority of people think a thing ought to be. Common sense in Vietnam is different than common sense in Chicago.
Death by gunfire as a metric, ChiTown and Vietnam have flipped since 1966. Gunfire ruled Vietnam back then, it rules the Windy City now. So common sense would infer, but few would speak it. Perhaps because so few think about such perspectives.
So if we were to teach common sense and really make it common, how would we go about it?
Whether you learn something in a classroom, a book, or by putting you hand on a hot stove doesn’t really matter. In all cases of learning, 99% of people collect this Recipe.
If you’re a psychologist, you call this collection process “learned behaviors” and if you are a professional sales trainer, you call it “learning the pitch.” For a manager, it’s “learning the numbers.” Let’s agree to refer to ALL learned behaviors as “Recipes.” Simple is good. Complexity that’s not required is bad.
Odds are that you will remember the “hand on the hot stove” recipe more vividly than the textbook report because the tactile experience had intense emotion (pain) associated with the learning. The recipe could quite literally be burned into memory.
In the prehistoric eras, when our ancestors had more hair and stronger odors than us, people crawled around caves and in this setting, most learning had pleasure or pain associated with it.
Sex was pleasure, so we did more of that, and putting a hand in the fire was painful, so we did less of that.
Laughably, we fail to see the humor in “progress.” We teach wearing of condoms, though they reduce pleasure, and we have an industry than makes Nomex gloves so we don’t burn our hands in fires. Yup, fine bunch of meandering apes we are, blind to our own delusions.
Today most of our learning experiences have very little or no emotional content so as you go through the typical school, no one says up front that you are in school to fill up a recipe book. It’s just assumed that you will collect Recipes automatically.
Education has even embraced “Failure is fine, so no fair picking on Georgie if he’s slow in math.” Presto! No emotional pain, so no stick to learning, just organic pre-washed carrots. Which pleases the teacher’s unions and school boards, but doesn’t do xhit for those who don’t like carrots and need an occasional stick to outperform.
In a law school, the pseudo-children will work on “law recipes” while in a trade school; you might learn the recipe to fix something with a car’s onboard diagnostic computer (OBDII). In an electrical engineering course, you will be tested to see if you to remember that electromotive force in Volts times current in Amperes gives you power in Watts for DC circuits. But we won’t embarrass you, heaven (and the Courts) forbid.
Fasts? You want FACTS? Success in any field is determined to some extent by how well your Recipes are collected and made available for later recall. The rest of the Success Recipe is hard work and application – sometimes for 50 years.
Educators make an unstated assumption that you will “get it” on a c arrots-only diet and be able to use your new knowledge somehow. How well you “got it” is measured by tests in the world of academics, by demonstrating hands-on skills in vocational education and in your daily work when you enter the workforce.
After that, the IRS Returns are your Report Card on how you did. That’s and the quality of New People you hatched if an Old Person.
Crazy as it sounds, in the organization of our textbooks, we don’t lay out a simple diagram of how the various discrete pieces of information will fit into a larger body of knowledge.
We heap minutia and gobbledygook onto of pedantic erudition by hopelessly muddled academics and call it “teaching.”
It was not and I’m pleased to be able to share this point. It was an EFFORT, but give the lack of framing, of contexting, and of practical application, carrot-haters aren’t going to remember much other than who had what rack, or who was hung how, from high school.
A few will get lucky and find their way. Others might find a book on Recipe Collection like this one. But since they don’t grow on trees….
Nesting of Recipes
Big, little, and small? Sure, that works.
There are Top Level Recipes (Dinner) and there are Mid Level Recipes (Stew) and Low Level Recipes (how to peel potatoes without bloodshed). Proper “nesting” of Recipes becomes “common sense.”
It should be obvious you butcher the meat before you cook it, but with roast pig…well, all Recipes have variants that work depending on culture and context.
Tiger yowling in rural India elicits a panic response – You could be dinner! Tiger yowling in a NY condo 99.999…just means the TV is too loud. To repeat, Recipes-are context dependent.
Drink a beer in front of your friends is cool. Unless you drink it with the cop standing there who just pulled you over. Common Sense? Look up the Darwin Awards.
The world is awash in learning diagnostics that are seldom used by common folks who work eight to five and live normal lives. Average people remain that way by failing to be life-long learners.
Not just reading a book or two per week, watching History Channel instead of lowest-common denominator T&A. You can learn by doing new things. Recipes are all over the place.
You might have taken the scholastic aptitude test (S.A.T.) at some point, or maybe advanced learning measurements like the GMAT or LSAT to get into specialty or post- graduate work. You may even have some notion about personality or learning style assessment tools such as the Gregorc Learning Style Delineator or the Stanford-Binnet intelligence test.
While such tools help us measure knowledge before and then after the administration of “education” (carrot?) they are not be mistaken for knowledge itself.
Say you are in a car and glance at the speedometer and it reads 55 miles-per-hour, it’s only an indication that the car should be moving down a highway at that speed.
Are single data points deceptive? If you look out the window of this car with the speedo at 55 and notice that you’re inside a garage with a sign “State Vehicle Emission Inspection Station” then CONTEXT screams you’re on the dynamometer, not on a public highway.
As a modern human being, you’re living in an ever-more complicated world, where in a sense we’re only allowed to look at the speedometer. Ask yourself, why we don’t look up all the time.
Groupthink (media-jammed mass conformance) keeps us from considering the outside view. Thus, the need to remain aloof and apart from those not constantly searching for perspective.
Otherwise you end up in totally useless distractions that will keep you off purpose. Who can say “niggah” in Chicago? Who can say “homey” in L.A.? Who can say “Bubba” in Texas? Who can say “bro” in Honolulu, or better on the Kona Coast?
We need more focus on the gap between specific learning styles and the acquisition of useful skills in life. Underline “useful.” In prison, some of the social greetings become important, so stay out and stay focused.
Recipes, Teams, and Conformity
To understand these gaps, consider a manager’s task assigning people to an outcome-oriented team. A manager may have access to personality-typing done by the human resources department, and may even have fancy learning style scores or placement recommendations.
Using these, job assignments are made and the manager hopes the assembled team will come up with the desired outcome. Maybe it’s a new product, or a new ad campaign, or a new way of building a product. The specific outcome is not the point. It’s how the team is assembled and given its marching orders that count.
Pretend for a moment that we have a group of engineers, marketing experts, production engineers, and researchers and they are given the job of inventing a new automobile. They might all have complimentary styles from an assessment standpoint, but the car they design might still be a complete dud.
There is proof that duds happen.
Ford did exactly this with their Edsel project. They go through several years and millions of dollars and what comes out is a turkey with four wheels and a lemon-pucker grill.
How does this happen? I would suggest that bad products result from a failure to grasp the right “Recipe”
Ford tried to make a similar product that was already successful. But, again in the case of Ford’s Edsel, just gathering all the “right parts” doesn’t mean the resulting machine will have an appealing “soul.”
On the other hand, the Mustang shocked the hell out of everyone. Who knew what the market REALLY wanted.
As we move forward, look beyond the limited perspective of learning styles. There is a poorly-charted province between how or what you learn and the outcome you get.
Thomas Edison is a perfect example of searching for a Recipe.
Here’s a fellow who spent years working on the single goal of making an incandescent light. His approach was to try anything he could think of to get to the desired outcome. Whether Edison was a “concrete sequential” learner or “abstract sequential” learner didn’t matter one bit. What mattered, and got Tom E into the history books is that he went looking for a Recipe and found it.
One Recipe, Change World
We don’t need to go back into history to find examples of recipe searches or Recipe collection. There are a million examples a day that will jump out at you clear as a bell once you start looking for them.
Let’s get back to Tom the Baker for a moment. What the Baker had, that you don’t, is a fine collection of Recipes. Each one has a track record of success. Indexed by contexts, such as weather and humidity, the results were predictable.
Pick anything you want to accomplish in your life and ask one simple question.
Do you have the required Recipe?
Top level, mid-level, and low-level recipes?
Or take the computer hard drive, there’s low-level formatting, an operating system, and a file system. Old People don’t know the latter Recipe nesting, while New People often don’t know the first.
Some are complicated, and are made up of many parts. Others are simple. Take heavy cream: goes in the coffee out of the carton. Beaten just a bit becomes whipped cream, done longer it’s churned butter, beaten fast and furiously you get whipped butter. Lots you can do with cow drippings if you know the Recipes.
It’s a joke here (back then) on the boat whenever the question of a recipe (for cooking something in the galley) comes up. “First you make a roux” is the inevitable joke.
Need gravy? Make a roux. Need something to thicken broth? Make a roux. Hollandaise sauce (that yellowish stuff on eggs Benedict)? How about a nice shrimp curry over rice… First you make…. Well, you have the idea.
It’s a standard recipe that anyone, regardless of whether they are cooking on Teflon, cast iron, or aluminum, and whether over open flame, a gas stove, or electric, can do with predictable results. That’s what the recipe is about.
Some recipes are complicated, two, three, and even four-part affairs. Those chocolate éclairs that I wolfed down when I was a teenager (my record was 8 at a sitting, I think) were at least three underlying recipes. There was the shell, the chocolate covering, and the cream filling. Yes, three all great Mid Level Recipes combined into a wonderfully sinful taste treat.
How did Bavarian crème filling get to the U.S.? Perhaps that came along with some immigrants from the Bavaria area of southern Germany. America is, after all, a constantly evolving combination of recipes.
Yet, for reasons I’m not clear on, we stop talking about Recipes when we stop cooking conversation.
When talk turns to science, the word recipe is a little too simple and too plain. Instead we haul out the words like formula.
Is it mathematics? Then it’s not a recipe. It’s a formula!
Is the subject government? Then it’s not a recipe, it’s a method of governance and development of policies.
Jurisprudence calls it Law and the cops call it law enforcement. Pilots like me call ‘em checklists.
In the field of finance, it’s not a recipe. It’s Monetary Policy or Investment Policy. It’s fiscal restraint. It’s a leveraged buy-out. It’s a reverse-repo.
But in the end, they are all just Recipes and they are inherently EASY once someone tells you “Hey, Bubba…it’s OK to be Great!”
Everyone runs Recipes so beware of professions make-up xhit to hide them from obviousness. As often as not, these are the slimers and scammers trying to pull xhit over on you.
But trust one Old People to tell you: It’s OK to be Great and learn all the Recipes you can. There’s a zillion of ‘em. Enough to last a lifetime.
For The Advanced Reader
The art of building and running a successful business is not very difficult, if you keep in mind this concept of Recipes. It’s all really simple.
Muddled thinking – the inability to think in straight lines – often results in excessive organizational complexity. This is also called “Answering the wrong questions.”
The scientific school of management is little more than an effort at recognizing this and implementing the specific Recipes necessary to solve a business situation in a desired way.
In other words, management is very much like our friend Tom the Royal Baker. Collect the data, sort through experience, and make the decision that will give the best risk/reward ratio.
Behind every really successful CEO, I believe there is a belief in a particular Recipe that works well in a certain circumstance.
To the extent that the belief in the recipe is strong, and the problems facing the company can be solved with that recipe, the CEO will succeed.
Let me share my experience at Cayman Airways, Ltd.
In 1983 through 1985, I served as Senior Vice living in the Cayman Islands and working for a Managing Director (British term for President) who was extremely capable.
His background was accounting. Prior to joining Air Florida at the VP level, he had worked for a “Big Eight” accounting firm auditing airlines. It was here that he picked up the Recipe that would enable him to put Cayman Airways on a sound financial footing, expand routes while upgrading to new Boeing 737’s.
His Recipe may be summed up in one word: utilization. It saved the airline.
At the time he’d taken the the helm, Cayman Airways was flying two ex-Braniff 727-227 (advanced) aircraft less than 8 hours of flight time each day; closer to 7.2 hours.
This meant that the variable costs were low because flight hours were low, but fixed costs were also allocated over a very small amount of actual flight time. This not only a Recipe but an accounting fact.
To illustrate the point, consider the aircraft lease as one fixed cost.
If a hypothetical lease costs $100,000 per month, and a hypothetical aircraft was flying 7.6 hours per day, 30 days per month, then lease costs are $438 per hour to fly the airplane.
Now suppose you increase the number of operating hours to 13.5 hours per day. The portion of lease expense allocated to each hour drops to $247 per hour.
This means that an airline that’s right on the cusp of operating profitably can be made profitable by simply flying more hours because the fixed cost of the lease is spread out over more time.
Sure, some additional crew was needed, but in the case of Cayman Airways, many of the existing crews were not working the maximum number of hours with aircraft flying less than 8 hours per day.
Thus, on the pro forma P&L crew costs acted like a fixed cost, salaries, at least up to the point of full utilization. Crew costs resumed acting like a variable cost once the utilization limit was reached and additional personnel acquired on a contract basis. This effectively was a short-term additional fixed cost that could be terminated resulting in effective variable costing over time.
The airline boss knew this recipe would work, based on his experience and training. He was the right man with the right Recipe at the right time.
In selecting senior management, the task of the hiring authority is to a) clearly articulate the outcome and b) ensure the person(s) hired have enough Recipes and the latitude to “cook” as they see fit.
Run from situations where authority to act is not commensurate with the expectations and metrics, but fully embrace new staff bringing new, more, and better Recipes to the company.
Donald Trump may, or may not, become America’s ultimate turn-around President, but he’s making key decisions to bring in people with miles-deep experience in finding the right recipes and getting them implemented.
His choices are implementers and it’s this private sector orientation that’s key. Find the Recipe and implement the hell out of it…that defines business success. What did Jobs do at Apple?
Whether the Trumperian outcome will be gruel or filet mignons is in my estimation more likely to be the result of defective must-use ingredients (like the National Debt and Entitlement programs), rather than a lack of core management talent.
If it doesn’t go well for Trump, I’ll hold spoiled ingredients more to account (including the terrible whiners of the East Coast Establishment press) than the talents of the best-available managers being presently recruited.
Time will tell…and yes, that’s a Recipe, too.
Next Thursday: [keyword: Process] And yeah, I might skip the Children’s chapter, but if you know any home-schoolers, or have children yourself some day, giving them the gift of Recipe collection and the gift of Process Mapping will change their lives more than Grimm fairytales ever could.
Feedback is welcome and write when you get rich…