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PUT IN PLACE

PUT IN PLACE

It’s the first thing they teach you in chef school:  a system called mise-en-place, or literally, “put in place.”   It’s a French phrase that means to gather and arrange the ingredients and tools needed for cooking.

The mise evolved out of the rigid “brigade system” of culinary hierarchy codified in the 19th century by Chef Georges-Auguste Escoffier.  This system emphasizes focus and self-discipline and a high level of organization and order.

Escoffier would probably have agreed with Ben Franklin who once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

In the high-stress world of the professional chefs, planning and preparation are paramount.  How else could they prepare so many meals of exceptional quality, one after the other in a three-hour period, night after night after night?

Preparation is the essence of mise-en-place.

BASIC MISE

At its most basic, mise-en-place means to set out all of your ingredients before you start to cook. Measure out what you will need, chop the vegetables that will need to be chopped, and have everything ready on the counter or in small bowls on a tray.

In the following YouTube video, “How to Mise-en-Place, published by Cooking Light, Chef Keith Schroeder, author of MAD DELICIOUS: The Science of Making Healthy Food Taste Amazing!, demonstrates how home cooks can start to “mise” their recipes.

TAKING IT TO THE NEXT LEVEL

If you talk to professional chefs, that part of the mise-en-place is just the tip of a very large iceberg.  Some of them get downright Zen or Jedi about it.  Everything has to be in place, including your stance and your mindset.

Writer Dan Charnas, of hip-hop journalism  fame, wrote a book last year, WORK CLEAN:  The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind.  It grew out of his interviews of dozens of culinary professionals and executives and focused on his understanding of mise-en-place as a personal code of ethics that emphasized excellence.

As Charnas says in an article he wrote for National Public Radio, “….most colleges and grad schools don’t teach basic organization.  Culinary schools and professional kitchens do.”

This YouTube video, “The Ingredients of Work Clean,” published by Rodale Press shortly before the book came out, contains a brief explanation of what it is: a simple system that helps you focus your actions and accomplish your aims

  • Planning is prime. Be ruthlessly honest about time and timing.  It’s the only way you can set it up right.
  • Arrange spaces so you can perfect moves. Place things so you can make your moves with just the flick of your fingers.  Know how you move and place your dishes of prepared ingredients and your tools right where you will be able to reach them when it’s time to use them.
  • Clean as you go. Keep your tools and your station as organized as when you first started.  This knife goes in this space.  The chopped chives go right there. Everything that is no longer needed does not belong at your station.  You’ll need it later so if you’ve got a breathing space, wash up the thing you’ve used and put it aside for when you’ll next need it.
  • Know what to start first. Start the longest process first.  It will be done by the time you get to the shortest process and by the time you’re done, you’ll be at the end.
  • Do not wait to finish. It isn’t finished until it’s delivered.  As soon as it’s ready, let it go.
  • Slow down to speed up. Don’t panic when things get hectic.  Calm your body, calm your mind.  Hurry opens the door to mistakes.  Get it right, and fast will happen.
  • Open your eyes and ears. Balance your internal and external awareness.  Remain focused and open.   Be receptive.  React as needed to the world around you but stay focused on what you are doing.
  • Call and call back. Streamline and confirm essential communications.  Follow up, update your team and turn information into intel you all can use to work together well.
  • Inspect and correct. Excellence requires vigilance.  Check your work.
  • Aim for total utilization. Avoid wasting time, space, motion, resources or persons.  Figure out how to tap into the flow of using them all and making them move in the direction you want them to go.  Look to create a synergy that you can step into.

The real is that mise-en-place is about being able to “work clean.”  It’s not about “creating order,” as in, “Gee, wow, I’ve organized my desk and doesn’t it look clean and cool?”

What mise-en-place says is, “I’m committed to move through all of these many steps I need to do and get them done right.  When I’ve finished with all the steps of this project  I am on now, I’ll wrap it up and deliver it.  Then I’ll resume my stance at my station, put myself in a position where everything is in place for me to work on the next project, and I’ll deliver that one.”

With mise-en-place you can repeat as needed for as long as necessary and it all gets done right every time.  You think about the process of making something from start to finish, and then you set up a system so you can get it done.

The system you create and maintain will allow you to stay focused on the most important thing at each moment.  What you need to do to accomplish something gets done faster and more proficiently because everything you need to do it is right there in front of you.

It’s cooking, planned and executed like a military campaign, and the moves are eminently transferable to other life-things as well.

A companion YouTube video, also published by Rodale Press, The Daily Meeze is a short introduction to the 30-minute daily planning session that Charnas recommends as a way to take mise-en-place out of the kitchen and apply it to regular life.

You may be able to figure out your own way to make your “meeze” your own.  Think about it.

Here’s a poem:


I SHOW UP

I suppose one thing there is

That can be said about me:

I show up.

It isn’t much, that.

Not earth-shaking….

I raise no mountains.

 

It’s not like I’m riding

On the waves at Jaws,

Throwing myself down

The face of some

Massive wall of water,

The epitome of Cool.

 

I show up.

What needs to be done

Gets done because of that.

The gears get oiled,

The wheels keep turning

And nothing comes

To a screeching halt.

 

I show up.

By Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit:  “Dongjiadu Mise-en-place” by Gary Stevens via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.

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THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

THE TEN THOUSAND HOUR THING

Everybody’s heard about how putting in 10,000 hours  working on a particular skill-set pretty much “guarantees” that you will be very good at using those skills.

The number makes the “rule” easy to remember.  It’s so nice and round.

It’s also more than a little intimidating!  Ten thousand hours apparently translates to about ten years, after all, and I’m not sure whether that includes time for eating, sleeping and doing all of the other stuff humans do.

On top of the sheer immensity of it all, there is a caveat hooked onto that number:  any self-improvement and skill development that occurs after you’ve reached a certain level of skill is actually tied to how you spend your time practicing and expanding on what you do.

WHAT IS IT REALLY?

The 10,000-hour thing bounced around scientific circles since the 1970’s.  Why, the Big Brains wondered, did some people achieve an extraordinary mastery in some discipline while others did not?

It was in 2005 that a research team headed by Neil Charness, a psychologist from Florida State University, published the results of a decade-long investigation of The practice habits of chess players.

Their findings were popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book, OUTLIERS, and all of a sudden every man- and woman-in-the-street was urging their offspring to put that nose to that grindstone.

THE SCIENTIFIC STUDY

Throughout the 1990’s the Charness team placed ads in newspapers and posted flyers at chess tournaments, looking for ranked players to participate in their project.  They eventually recruited over 400 players from around the world.

For each player, the scientists collected a detailed history and created a timeline of their significant training and practice events.  The players were asked questions like these:

  1. At what age did you start playing chess?
  2. What type of training did you receive each year?
  3. How many tournaments have you played? When?  Did you win or lose?
  4. Were you coached? By whom?  How?

And so on…

The Charness study not only asked the players how long they practiced, it also asked what the players did when they practiced.  What the Charness team found was that chess masters dedicated five times more hours to serious study of the game than the players who plateaued at the intermediate level.

THE HOW OF THE MASTERS

The grandmasters focused on what Anders Ericsson, a colleague of Chandress, called “deliberate practice.”  These players chose to do activities that stretched their chess-playing abilities where they most needed stretching.  As Ericsson would say, the grandmasters challenged themselves “appropriately.”

The grandmasters studied the moves of historic gamesmen.  They memorized important game strategies until they could recognize the start of a game-winning gambit.  They studied counter-moves and practiced blocking or subverting their opponent’s efforts as well.

In this YouTube video, “Deliberate Practice,” calligrapher Esteban Martinez allows his viewers to watch as he practices writing his kanji.  It is a beautiful thing to watch.

COMPETITION DOES NOT FURTHER

An interesting sidelight was the finding that, after a certain point, tournament play really did not significantly improve playing skill.

The better guy wins.  Period.  If the better guy is you, you’re just using your skill well.  If the better guy is not you, then you lose the game and probably don’t learn much that is new.  The improvement to your game playing, if any, is a small “don’t-do-that-one” insight.

Hundreds of follow-up studies in a diverse array of fields validated the Charness team’s finding that deliberate practice is the key to excellence.  If you practice deliberately, you do get very good.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Assorted life-coaches and other advisors will usually give you the following pointers after they’ve explained about the hours.

  •  In order to get past “good” you have to take on projects that are beyond your current comfort zone. You have to bite off more than you can chew, but not so much that you choke on it.
    • Because the project is an exploration of new territory, you are going to have to shift into high gear and pick up chops. Hustle becomes the order of the day as you try to keep all those spinning plates going on that forest of sticks on your stage.
  • At some point you will go into overwhelm.  If you keep on going past that point, you will break through your  former comfort zone barriers.
    • That’s when your “comfort zone” gets bigger.  That’s when you’ll succeed at pushing back the fences and walls that enclose your zone and all of a sudden you’ll have more space to move.
  • It is a good idea to measure and get feedback on everything when you’re heading onto new territory. Measure, track, and listen your way to a new understanding.  Then you’ll be able to repeat your successes and avoid the potholes and bogs into which you’ll probably fall the first half-dozen or so times you do this.

WHAT MOST ADVISORS DON’T SPELL OUT

All of that practical advice is good and righteous.  They are very likely to work just fine in real life if you actually do them.  However, most of the advisors do tend to touch on (and then bypass) a most important point.

It seems to me that what you are really doing during all the rest of the 10,000 hours as you work towards mastery of the skillset of your choice (after you get “good enough”) is deliberate practice.  No matter what other skills you are refining and perfecting, the one that is the meta-skill, fully transportable into every endeavor, is that one.

maui-trees-at-sunrise
Maui Trees At Sunrise by Derek van Vliet via Flickr [CC BY-SA 2.0]

Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that mastery requires practicing deliberately over time.  [Doing something over and over without conscious thought (like a caged hamster running around a wheel) is not deliberate practice.]

As you work your way towards becoming a superb artist or a magical performer, a superlative farmer or a business-magus extraordinaire, you will also be learning how to pay attention to details without drowning in them.

You will be learning how to focus down on the essentials of a thing, learning to suss out what matters and what does not.

You will be developing the capacity to turn your hand to any task, even when it is outside your comfort zone.

More importantly, you will be developing grace and agility, the confidence and the trust that you will be able to deal with anything that life throws at you because, like the chess grandmasters, you will develop a very large repertoire of mindsets, strategies, and moves that work as you move along your way to your own mastery.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The Real is “deliberate practice” is just another phrase for what the wise guys call “mindfulness.”

To me, it’s a cool thing to know that a person can get to that without having to sit in a corner folded up like a pretzel, trying to breathe right.  I have a hard time sitting still and have spent a lot of my life failing at that one.  It’s good to realize I won’t actually have to.

What do you think?  Your comments are always welcome….

Here’s a poem…


WAITING

Waiting properly, not stagnating,

Not caught in indecision,

Patiently doing what is essential,

Right, real, and true,

Letting time work its changes

One by one by one.

 

When the time comes to move,

You will know it.

There is no need for haste.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Chess by Bob Vonderau via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below.

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