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Monday, May 04, 2009

3 Success Lesson's From Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares

I watch a lot of TV. While a lot of the TV I watch is good stuff (24, Lost, The Office), some is just ridiculous reality shows that I know I would be better off not watching and instead spending my life doing other, better things (The Apprentice, American Idol, The Biggest Loser).

One reality show I really enjoy is Kithen Nightmares with Gordon Ramsey. If you haven't seen it, the premise of the show is that Gordon Ramsey, a very successful chef, restauranteur, and TV personality, goes into a failing restaurant and tells the owners all the things they are doing wrong and how they can change it to be successful. Ok, maybe he doesn't "tell" as much as he yells, browbeats, goads, and insults them until they get the point. In fact, I have seen him quite frequently continue to browbeat after they get it. That's good television! There's nothing like watching a middle aged British man call other grown adults "donkey," and "stupid cow." Awesome!

If you have seen the show then you know that every episode Gordon basically tells them the same things.

Here I am going to share with you three of the things he says every single time and how they can apply well beyond the world of restaurants and reality TV.

#1) Be Good

Of all the episodes of the show I have seen, both the US and BBC version, I can only recall one time where he said, "wow, your food is really good, we just need to tweak the marketing." Every single other time he tells them how much their food sucks. Not surprisingly, almost every single time he says this the chefs don't believe him. It's like every person who gets Gordon to come to their show assumes that they have a great product and they don't understand why people aren't beating down their door.

This is a powerful but very tough lesson to hear: If you are not enjoying the success you really want, then chances are you aren't good enough yet. Yes, there are cases of undiscovered genius. Unfortunately, those are the stories we love to tell and hear and that Disney makes into movies. For every one of those there are thousands of examples of people who think they are good enough but really aren't.

If people aren't already beating down your door and clamoring to hire you, use your service, or buy your product, then you can be better. You will still need to market, but if your product isn't great then the marketing gets that much harder.

And the sobering thought is that the worse you are at marketing the more amazing you need to be.

I once did a customer service training where at the start I asked the group, "if you walked out of here better able to do just one thing, what would you want it to be." One guy says, "I think we're already pretty good. We don't need to be better at anything."

That my friends is the sound of mediocrity. Don't be that guy.

#2) Simplify

Many of the situations on Kitchen Nightmares include a menu that has way too many items on it. So big that in order to provide that much variety, the kitchen needs to cut corners and use pre-cooked and frozen foods. As a result quality suffers (see point #1). Gordon comes in and heavily pares down the menu until there are a small number of options that the chefs can prepare extremely well.

The lesson here is that there are only so many things you can do well. Unfortunately we all fall into the trap periodically of spreading ourselves too thin and trying to do too much. Stop trying to be all things to all people and pick a small number of things you can be absolutely amazing at, and focus on those.

The hardest part about implementing this is not letting go of the things you are bad it - that's easy! The hard part is letting go of the things you are good at. You'll resist stopping those things or outsourcing them because you'll say, "I can do those pretty well myself." Don't say that! You're not going for "pretty well" You're going for awesome! By letting go of the good you make room for the great.

#3) Get the Word Out

The final thing Gordon does in most episodes is to engage in some kind of big marketing activity. It could be sponsoring a big event, taking to the streets with a megaphone or dance troupe, or just getting influential people in the doors. He gets the word out.

Here's a hard lesson: A bad product with great marketing will be more successful than a great product with bad marketing. You can't sit in your house waiting for people to find you. (Ok, there is an exception, and I say this with some hesitation from fear that it will be taken the wrong way: you can be successful with almost no marketing. But to do so you have to be sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ridiculously good that you are close to being the best in the world at something that there is a demand for. Think you're there yet? No. No you are not.)

You have to get the word out. This doesn't mean that you have to engage in marketing activities you hate (I plan on never making another cold call again. I would sooner give up my dreams and take a job as Lindsay Lohan's "damage control" specialist). Find activities you like and would be willing to consistently do, and then do them!

It's not complicated. Be Good. Simplify. Get the Word Out. There are more lessons I could pull from the show, but those three are enough to make anyone successful. Now get out there and do it.

If you don't maybe you are a donkey or stupid cow.


Mike said...

Great post, Avish! I especially agree with your first post. To make the jump from hobbyist to professional requires a lot of self-critique, ongoing self-motivated teaching, and being open to people giving you constructive feedback (even if it ends with "stupid cow"). At the end of the day, you are charging clients for what you do. The more amazing you make their experience, the more they'll come back to you and refer you. The way to make their experience amazing is to always strive to learn more about your craft, always strive to improve your skills, and never settle for being "good enough".

Avish said...

Very true Mike. I think everyone says that they believe in continual improvement, but at the end of the day few people a)take the actions to really keep improving, and b) have the self-confidence to admit that they can get better. You combine those two and you're ready to go!

Larry Wenger said...

I liked your post too Avish, and I come to reading it directly from Robert Middleton's web site, who is a marketing guru I have been following for a few years now. Especially liked the thing about giving up stuff you think you're good at - that hit home.

Larry Wenger
Workforce Performance Group