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From Soul Searching to Asian Burritos

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 24, 2013

Is merciless self-examination and cold-eyed self-awareness necessary to achieve personal and organizational goals?

Some theorists think so. In a New York Times piece "Secret Ingredient for Success," Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield write than in interviewing high achievers they were surprised to discover that self awareness was as important as talent, persistence dedication and luck. Sweeney and Gosfield are authors of the forthcoming book The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well.

They highlight the story of David Chang, a Korean American chef, owner of the Momofuku restaurant group, which now has eight restaurants from Toronto to Sydney, a PBS TV show, and other food related enterprises. Chang had apprenticed in noodle bars in Japan and cooked in some of New York's best restaurants. His dream was a fine noodle bar in Manhattan. A New York Magazine story describes the evolution of his efforts. He worked 18 hours a day and wasn't making it. One night he visited a packed restaurant where he knew the food was not as good as his. After a brutal assessment of himself and his market, he changed his dream.

The Times story tells how Chang and his cooks, at an economic low point, abandoned traditional noodles and created wild combinations of everything they'd like to try-tripe and sweetbreads, and duck sausage rice cakes with kohlrabi and mint. Customers liked it and business blossomed. Rave reviews followed. A Village Voice review praises such cultural mash-ups as fried Brussels sprouts with fish sauce and Rice Krispies. The New York piece tells about Chang's extraordinarily successful Asian burritosBon Appetit magazine describes many of his adventurous menus, including one collection that features rock music he felt aligned well with his culinary creations.

Double Loop Learning

Sweeney and Gosfield quote business theorist Chris Argyris on why it's so hard for people and organizations to reinvent their goals. The way we learn, he believes, can prevent change. Argyris, now 89 and a professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, has written that most people do what he calls "single loop learning." He has described that as a process in which people and organizations find an error, correct it, then continue doing the same things with the same policies and plans. He has said it's akin to a thermostat that has been programmed to know when the temperature is too hot or too cold and adjust the heat accordingly.

Double loop learning, by contrast, would challenge the governing variables themselves, and question the goals, values and rules in play. The thermostat could question why it's set at 68 degrees, and what else it might be doing. David Chang, Sweeney and Gosfield suggest, offers an example of double loop thinking. He didn't make a better noodle bar, he created new ways to prepare, present and promote unusual cross-cultural cuisine. Inventing a new dream is harder than tweaking an old one. But Argyris and other theorists think the reinvention and the thought and learning behind it are the route to achievement. Read Argyris's arvard Business Review article on "Double Loop Learning in Organizations" and a biography and summary of some of his work here.

Tags:  buscell  business  complexity matters  education  learning 

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