Q: Some Japanese chefs have a "problem" -- their restaurants earned one or more Michelin stars, the world's biggest culinary honor. The chefs say they cook for their customers, not strangers, and they don't relish the attention. Top Western chefs have a beef, too, saying Japanese chefs mostly stick to tradition, so their dishes aren't as praiseworthy. The two cultures seem to define success differently. What are the consequences of each approach, and is one better than the other?
There are, in fact, two distinct ways to look at success. One is to create something that uniquely separates itself from the competition and causes people to experience something new. The other is to achieve a specific goal that is agreed upon by the masses.
It's like influencing people with different abilities to create customer loyalty. I have had some employees over the years I tell, "Go out and use your unique gifts to do something so special that our customers will love us above all others." Then to some I have said, "Please stick to the process and don't doing anything that will cause people to hate your guts!"
There are two separate core areas of effectiveness. You need both to be considered extremely good at what you do. Macaroni & Cheese is never "a complex mix of sophisticated flavors that borders on the divine," but if you don't screw it up, it's considered great by most kids and seemingly edible for the average adult.
If you are a traveler, then you have eaten at great restaurants in San Francisco, Houston, New York or New Orleans (port cities have a culinary advantage) where the food was so fantastic that even the garnish on the plate was weirdly delicious. It is, as we all know, possible to be so creative that though you have achieved a level of greatness, no one wants what you have.
It's like the Ronco "Pocket Fisherman" advertised in the '70s and '80s on late-night TV. It's based on the premise that if you find yourself in a situation where some impromptu fishing would be in order, you'll be ready with a plastic, miniature rod and reel that you always keep in your pants! It's like these motivational speakers who want you to walk over hot coals. It's an ambitious idea, but the number one result of strolling through fire is usually burned feet! They didn't even try fire walking in the disturbingly popular Jackass 3D movie. I, personally, would prefer to have someone just tell me I could walk through hot charcoal if I had to with a combination of faith and speed.
So, tradition obviously has some great appeal because we know what we are going to get and have a way to measure it. If you eat sushi in the U.S., they often put mayonnaise in it to make it more appealing to American palates. If you eat food in Japan, they use a weird, "bad" fish sauce that for most westerners tastes like low tide at the boat ramp.
Unfortunately, both of these are traditional in the cultures where they exist. So when it comes to defining success, it's easy to say: "It depends on where you are being successful."
The real truth is that we need learn from each other's concepts of success so in the future we know that being good at what you do is about the desired result of those we serve, not just our own opinions.