“Mise en Place” at Work

Jill FoucreOne of my beloved clients, Jill Foucré, proprietress of Marcel’s Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn, IL, was just featured in the Wall Street Journal in “A Little Spice After a Career in Health Insurance: Former Executive Answered Call of the Food Business.” How proud I am of Jill and all she has accomplished–and I have to admit I was thrilled to read her reference to the “executive coach” who helped her on her journey (c’est moi!). Jill is a force of nature, one of the smartest and shrewdest business women I know, and every time I walk or drive by Marcel’s I get a little misty-eyed, thinking of the work we did together. She is the poster girl for Dreams + Strategic Planning = Success.

In this week’s “Chef Talk” blog on Marcel‘s website, Chef Paul Lindemuth discusses the concept of “mise en place,” a French phrase meaning “putting in place” or “setting up.” I learned this phrase while my son Will was studying in the culinary program at our local community college… and Chef Paul’s reminder of how important it is to prepare the kitchen before beginning to cook made me think of how mise en place applies to other areas of our lives, including our work lives and our careers.

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Makin’ a List, Checkin’ it Twice

Checklists, it seems, are not just for Santa.

I’d seen the book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande back in 2009, propped up high as a must-read business book in airport bookstores and listed on the New York Times Bestseller List. The author is a surgeon, a professor at Harvard Medical School, a MacArthur Fellow and a staff writer for the New Yorker.  Hardly seems fair, but he’s also clever, charming and erudite on TV and the Internet (witness his TED Talk). And he’s written a mind-blowing book about the power and simplicity of checklists.

Dr. Gawande is a beguiling writer and storyteller, spinning tales about his own experiences in the operating room with humor and humility. Invited by the World Health Organization to create a “Safe Surgery Saves Lives” program, he traveled around the world building a team that researched how checklists synthesize what’s critical to safe and healthy outcomes before, during and after surgery. Dr. Gawande also visited Boeing to learn how checklists are a part of the culture of aeronautics, telling the now-famous story of the plane that landed in the Hudson River, piloted by Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, and everyone survived. Yep, there was a checklist.

Dr. Gawande also wondered, as I do when I look up at skyscrapers in Chicago, how on earth big buildings get built. So he turned to the construction team on the campus of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston where he practices medicine to learn more. Turns out that checklists are a crucial part of that dance between architects, engineers and all the professionals and trades people who contribute to the process of building a structure.

TheChecklist-bookshot-432x550Before you accuse me of being a plot-spoiler, let me just share that the stories he tells, and the results of Dr. Gawande’s research, are staggering. In his study of operating rooms using a checklist, the reduction rates of infection, the increased survival rates of patients and the avoidance of near-miss catastrophes are all results of adhering to the discipline of using a checklist. Do we resist checklists? Absolutely. Do we need them? It appears so.

This isn’t a book just for public health officials, or for pilots, or for architects and engineers. This is for anyone who has a complex job and who can’t rely on a memory that is notoriously fickle. While reading The Checklist Manifesto I thought of all the checklists I’ve created and abandoned… checklists for packing light (an oxymoron in my case) for a business trip, for “on-boarding” new clients, or for ensuring I bring everything with me to my speaking engagements. Why do I ditch them? Because I’m a lot like the people Dr. Gawande interviewed, even like Dr. Gawande himself: checklists seem absurdly simple and, well, kind of stupid. Like we can’t remember this stuff ourselves! Turns out, we can’t.

So I’m going to track down those checklists, dust them off and refine them according to the Checklist Manifestoguidelines. I invite you to do the same for whatever ambitious goals you’re trying to achieve. The checklist must be simple and able to fit onto one page. The items must be critical to the outcome. Consider it a work-in-progress: refine it, hone it and revise until it works for you. Then–and here’s the kicker–use it. Consistently, over time. Then measure the results and let me know what you learn. I promise to do the same.

Is the Rolodex Obsolete?

Last week I responded to a tweet in which Tom Peters referred to people who are 40 as “elderly.” I asked, “If 40 is elderly, what happened to ’40 is the new 20?'” To which Tom replied directly to me, “Speaking of age and looking at your bio & book title, can one be understood in 2013 if he/she uses the word ‘Rolodex?'”

Now, I’ve been razzed before about using the term “Your Golden Rolodex,” but never by someone as renowned as Tom Peters. Mr. Peters, as you may know, is an über-guru of management consulting, a prolific author, a highly sought-after speaker and someone whose work I’ve admired since the 1980s when he blasted onto the scene with his co-author Robert Waterman with In Search of Excellence.

After the initial mortification of being called out on Twitter by one of my business idols, I recovered and tweeted back, “Excellent point.” Then I assured him that I always check in with my audience to make sure they know what a Rolodex is. We had a few more volleys via Twitter and while I know I sound like a schoolgirl with a crush, my heart nearly burst when I saw that Tom is now following me on Twitter.

RolodexesWhen it comes to using the term “Rolodex,” I am, like Tom Peters, a contrarian. Just because it isn’t “hip” to say you use a Rolodex doesn’t mean people don’t still have them. They do–and sometimes two, as you’ll note in this photo. These Rolodexes are on the desk of Dave Brewer, the office administrator at my church. Dave is the guy with the Platinum Rolodex. I learned very early in my days here in Wheaton that if I needed a resource, any resource, all I had to do was call Dave. He knows everyone, and he has the Rolodexes to prove it.

Anna Jane Grossman blogged on Gizmodo about “The Life and Death of the Rolodex” as she shared about her book Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By. She tells the story of her dad’s attachment to his Rolodex, which reminded me of my own dad. And Anna Jane reported that during her research, she reached out to the daughter of the inventor of the Rolodex, Arnold Neustadter, to let her know that Anna Jane would be including the Rolodex in her book Obsolete. Jane Revasch, Mr. Neustadter’s daughter, got “huffy.” Here’s Ms. Revasch’s response, from Anna Jane’s blogpost:

“They still work! You just can’t carry them around… You know, look at it this way: computers get viruses! But the Rolodex, it’s never taken a sick day in its life.

Just for the record, I gave up using a Rolodex a while ago… I now store all my precious contacts in ACT!, a contact management software program with all the bells and whistles. But the concept of a Rolodex–a place to store key connections, to hold everyone near and dear to you, colleagues and friends, a treasure trove that represents the rich index of possibility based on relationships in which you’ve invested or plan to invest–that metaphor “Rolodex” will be with us for a long, long time.

I’m counting on it.

 

 

Creating Space… for Another Year

There’s a powerful correlation between creating space in our homes and offices and creating space in our lives for what’s important to us. The effects of clutter can’t be underestimated, clogging our space, blocking our energy and preventing us from getting on with the things that really matter.

My office de-cluttered
My office de-cluttered

So imagine how lucky I feel to have received the gift of de-cluttering from my friend and social media consultant Joy Meredith, creator of the Me Mapping Process and a great believer in purging the unnecessary. Joy came to my office on a recent Saturday afternoon and we went through every shelf, every box and every pile to discern what was necessary and what needed pitching. By the end of the afternoon we had three bags of recycling, two loads of garbage and one box for the Goodwill.

Joy was ruthless–but in a good way. At one point, we did have a little tug-of-war over a fan I bought at World Market (she won–it got pitched). But ultimately I got into the rhythm of going through each item and asking myself, “Will this add to my success? Is it blocking my success? Does it contribute to my mission of creating a world where people love what they do and do what they love?” When I compared the items–pens that don’t work, post-it notes that have lost their glue, pad-folios too numerous to count–to what I’m up to in the world, it was easy to determine what had to stay and what had to go.

And now, I can’t wait to get into the office! I know what there is to do and have a new energy around doing it. I’ve had some recent breakthroughs where I’ve been stuck for months (OK, years), including getting this bloggedy-blog-blog re-launched. I look forward to seeing what there is new to create now that I have the space for it. The “incredible lightness of being” has given me velocity toward setting appointments, generating new assignments and serving my clients.

Here are just a few tips in case you want to clear some space for all the amazing things you’re up to in life and in business:

  • Find a partner. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend like Joy, accept her kindness and invite her to be there for you while you struggle with the immensity of the task at hand. Don’t go in alone. If you need to hire help, visit The National Association of Professional Organizers and get a professional organizer. Linette George of Get Organized by George is a terrific resource here in the western suburbs of Chicago.
  • Start somewhere, then move from left to right around the room. This is a tip from my friend Rita Emmett’s book, The Clutter-Busting Handbook: Clean It Up, Clear It Out, and Keep Your Life Clutter Free. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but if you work clockwise or counter-clockwise, you’ll begin to see progress.
  • Be responsible about Mother Earth but don’t go overboard. I’m a rabid recycler and Joy knew that, but every so often she’d say, “Just get rid of it.” So out it would go, in the dumpster. There are times when that’s the appropriate place for something.

Today, I’m celebrating my birthday and thanks to having that clean space, I’m looking forward to creating all kinds of amazing things in this new year. There’s an opening  for moving forward to my goals. And with a clean desk, space on the shelves and a willing heart , anything’s possible.