I am a huge fan of cooking shows that combine culinary skill with a mix of competition. One of my favorites is Chopped. If you have never seen the show, Food Network describes it in this way:
Chopped is a cooking competition show that’s all about skill, speed and ingenuity where four up-and-coming chefs compete before a panel of three expert judges and take everyday items and turn them into an extraordinary three-course meal. Course by course, the chefs will be “chopped” from the competition until only one winner remains. The challenge? They have seconds to plan and 30 minutes to cook an amazing course with the basket of mystery ingredients given to them moments before the clock starts ticking! And the pressure doesn’t stop there. Once they’ve completed their dish, they’ve got to survive the Chopping Block where our three judges are waiting to be wowed and not shy about voicing their culinary criticisms! Our host, Ted Allen, leads this high energy, high-pressure show which will have viewers rooting for a winner and cheering for the losers. CHOPPED is a game of passion, expertise and skill – and in the end, only one chef will survive the Chopping Block. Who will make the cut? The answer is on Chopped!
The intensity rivals any sporting event and always has me on the edge of my seat to see who will be chopped. In the midst of the high drama, there are valuable lessons that can be applied to business. Below I have listed my Top 7 takeaways from the chopping block.
- Basket of mystery ingredients – In business we are often called upon to face unfamiliar elements. We may have competitive challenges never faced, complex operational issues, customer demands or even an unfamiliar economic landscape. We are handed a basket that requires us to figure it out and make it work. Many times the chefs on Chopped are required to work with ingredients foreign to their experience. They cannot leave them out, or simply quit so they adapt. Often they will relate it to a familiar ingredient and work from that foundation. They may smell, taste and then quickly experiment to find the best way to tackle the unknown.
- Planning under pressure –The pressure is on and you’re required to be innovative and deliver. Now more than ever you must have a plan. On Chopped, the chefs quickly map out a strategy as they review the ingredients. The rest of the time is spent executing that plan. They must think fast on their feet but all realize that without a plan precious time will be wasted and failure is inevitable. Whether you are responding to a crisis or have a looming deadline it is worth it to take the time to plan your strategy. You’ll waste far more time reacting without a strategy and piecing it together as you go.
- Adjust when needed – Fire on the stove, dough that doesn’t rise, missing ingredients. In the kitchen and in business stuff happens even when you have a plan. Be prepared to quickly adjust when you’re hit with a glitch or a curve ball.
- Taste before you serve– Chefs taste ingredients and dishes while cooking. This is especially critical when working with a new element or recipe. You cannot assume that all the components will combine for a final dish that your customers will like. You should understand the experience your customers will have, test it out and ensure that the quality and experience is consistent with brand expectations. If you are implementing a new website, widget, or policy walk through it like your customer. Know exactly what you are serving, or risk having dishes sent back to the kitchen with complaints.
- Use the clock to your advantage – The clock is always ticking in business. There are deadlines and deliverables that must be met. Often we must coordinate efforts across departments, vendors or clients’ internal teams. On Chopped the chefs cannot extend a deadline or ask for a few more minutes. They must deliver on time or risk being eliminated. When the clock is ticking, set a realistic and achievable goal and do what it takes to get the job done. Use time pressures to your advantage to eliminate inefficiencies and focus on what is truly important.
- Details matter – In the final round of Chopped, the two remaining chefs are judged not only on their desserts but the entire meal. The sum of the experience can win the game, even if you were not the best on every single course. In a close game, the small details can really help you win with customers and stand out from your competitor. Too often we focus on one course and fail to examine the breadth of the customer experience.
- Come to win – While the losers go home with invaluable lessons and often a renewed passion for their craft, all show up to win. They practice, put in extra hours and come to the competition with their A game. If you’re not showing up every day determined to win, then it may be time to reassess. Every day someone will be crowned the champion, whether you choose to compete or not. Why not go for it and have the satisfaction of knowing that even if you lose you gave your heart and soul to the effort?