Feb 17 2014, 12:30pm CST | by Forbes
When I am home, I am surrounded by chefs. My husband is a passionate cook and my two daughters are self-proclaimed foodies. Our Vitamix blender is probably the most-used tool in our house and the Food Network has a monopoly on our television set. Shows like Chopped, Iron Chef and Restaurant Impossible are among the favorites in the Bagley household.
I usually get some work done while my kids and my husband are glued to the television. Every once in a while my attention drifts to the TV and I find myself surprised by how much you can learn from these shows – not only about cooking, but about entrepreneurship and innovation.
Let’s take a look at Iron Chef, for example. The Iron Chef Kitchen Stadium, as the set is called, is full of entrepreneurial ingredients that would make for a healthy business. In each episode, a challenger faces off against one of the resident “Iron Chefs” in an hour-long cooking competition. The competitors and their sous chefs have 60 minutes to deliver five dishes based on a secret ingredient that’s revealed just prior to the cook-off. The chefs are judged on taste, plating and originality.
The show’s most successful chef is Michael Symon. He has the highest winning percentage of the active Iron Chef’s and just recently became the first ever Grand Champion, defeating his fellow Iron Chefs in tournament. On top of it, Chef Symon is a successful entrepreneur who owns acclaimed restaurants in Cleveland and Detroit, co-hosts several TV shows, has authored numerous cookbooks and has his own kitchen product line.
We’re lucky to have Chef Symon in Cleveland. Many credit him for helping to save downtown’s restaurant scene. So I reached out to him to get his insights on entrepreneurship and innovation.
“Every time you open a business – whether that’s a restaurant or a tech startup – you are taking a risk. While that can be nerve racking, it is motivating, too,” Chef Symon says. “Competing on Iron Chef is no different. The show is all about taking risks and challenging yourself.”
“Successful Iron Chef competitors must be the best at what they do, be creative and perform well under pressure,” he says. “I think that’s also true for any entrepreneur, especially in this increasingly competitive economy.”
“Besides having a great idea,” he adds, “I think the key ingredient to any successful business is passion. It’s what keeps you going, even when nobody else believes in you.”
I totally agree with Chef Symon and have found there are eight other lessons entrepreneurs, chefs or not, can learn from watching Iron Chef:
1. Keep your cool: Iron Chef competitors are under intense pressure. They have 20 minutes to deliver the first course and another 40 for the next four. The heat is on so to speak. Entrepreneurs, startup CEOs particularly, feel it too. Investors, partners and customers often don’t have patience and expect results quickly. Successful Iron Chefs and entrepreneurs keep their cool and focus on the task ahead.
2. Assemble the right team: Even the most accomplished Iron Chefs couldn’t pull off five dishes in 60 minutes by themselves. They rely on their sous chefs to do their part, and to do it well. Successful businesses, large or small, are rarely a one-man show. They are products of teamwork. The key is to hire people you can trust, are committed to excellence and want to win.
3. Be in charge: Iron Chefs are the some of the best in the businesses and have earned that distinction either through their off-camerawork or as contestants on The Next Iron Chef. They know they are in charge for a reason and exhibit leadership in competition. Entrepreneurs who have built their own businesses have earned that responsibility too. Successful teams need strong leaders.
4. Find the right words: Strong leaders communicate effectively with team members, particularly in stressful and challenging circumstances. They know when to motivate, criticize or encourage. At times decisions have to be made and communicated quickly. Whether you’re facing a dish that’s undercooked or a business decision that seems overwhelming, finding the right words boosts productivity and morale.
5. Find your secret ingredient: Iron Chef competitors are in part judged on creativity. In relatively little time, they have to figure out how to incorporate the secret ingredient into their dishes and prepare something unique. Successful entrepreneurs also figure out their secret ingredient, what separates them from competitors. They are committed to innovate by doing things differently or doing new things.
6. Hit the curveballs: Iron Chef contestants are thrown a “culinary curveball,” a new ingredient, equipment or plating device they must integrate into their remaining dishes. How well they respond to this challenge affects their overall score. Entrepreneurs are thrown these curveballs all the time, too, whether these may be changing consumer habits, new competitors or something else. They either strike out or hit them out of the park. The most successful entrepreneurs are not afraid to swing.
7. Don’t get distracted by the chaos: The Kitchen Stadium can be quite the chaotic place. Vegetables are sliced here, soup is boiling there, chefs are running around, and camera teams follow their every move. All the while the chefs are under scrutiny from the judges, the host and floor reporters. Navigating this chaos can be difficult. Startup entrepreneurs often feel they are in a constant state of chaos, too. The key is to not get distracted and remember the long-term goal.
8. It’s all about the presentation: Before the Iron Chef judges get to taste each dish, the contestants get to explain their creations. They point out their unique approaches, stress the beautiful design and, of course, mention the ingredients. Sometimes they even give instructions on how to enjoy the meal and respond to questions. In all, it’s a neatly packaged “pitch.” Entrepreneurs, who sometimes struggle to articulate the value of their products, could learn a thing or two from the chefs.
Source: Forbes Business
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