Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Cooks and mistakes

The editors of Don"t Try This at Home: Culinary Catastrophes from the World's Greatest Chefs, begin their book by quoting a famous French gastronome that "the truly dedicated chef or true lover of food is a person who has learned to go beyond catastrophe and to salvage at least one golden moment from every meal."

One of my goals in Nonprofit Leadership and our project on CED and Mistakes is to provoke and support more open conversations about things that don't work -- mistakes, failures, and even catastrophes. Why can top chefs share mistakes when we see denial, blaming, and cover up about mistakes in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. You might dismiss this comparison as irrelevant because serving a good meal, even a lot of good meals in a short time, doesn't seem as consequential as making war and peace, solving vexing social problems, or running on the trains on time. Good point! My response is that unless you develop a culture of talking about mistakes, however small or inconsequential, you don't have the backbone and skills to do it on a larger scale. In much of our work, trial and error by failing small builds better judgement. This is not to say that one can avoid all mistakes -- but we can learn and be more mindful.

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