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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I usually blog about the books I've read and just write out my notes from the book. However, this blog entry is going to be very different. First of all, it is about a documentary I saw: Jiro Dreams of Sushi and its not going to be only the quotes from Jiro but my analogies to working as knowledge worker.

A little bit about Jiro: He is an 85 year old sushi shokunin who loves making sushi and perfecting his art everyday. His restaurant probably is the only one with 3 star Michelin rating. The restaurant has a tiny reception a bar with about 10 seats and the restroom are located outside. This is important to note when you compare it to other 3 star restaurants: Michelin 3 star

The following are quotes and my analogies (and that is why the documentary was so motivating):

Opening quote: " Once you decide on your occupation, you have to immerse yourself in work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate yourself in mastering your skill. That's the secret of success... and is the key to be regarded honorably"

Looking at the fame and success that Jiro has gained by dedicating himself to the one thing and only one thing - making sushi and improving day by day; it is an observation that I want to take back as a knowledge worker. These days its all about trying luck and moving on if it doesn't work but the real reason should be working on something you like to work and keep working.

Simplicity: "Ultimate simplicity leads to purity"
Fresh out of school kids today graduate with buzz words on their resume. Guaranteed there are a few you can count who are really smart and build the next generation innovations, but to be honest most are mediocre and they forget the simplicity and honesty will let the actual curiosity flourish and help them gain true knowledge. This knowledge helps them build a platform on which they can perform and gain audiences for their own thoughts and ideas. But simplicty is important.

Jiro simplifies, "It really comes down to making an effort and repeating the same thing everyday and improving on it"

Skill set building: One of Jiro's vendors explains the new generation mentality: " These days first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want is have lots of free time and then they want lots of money. But they aren't thinking of building their skills..."

My mentors have always taught me that love your job and not your company. Keep focusing on new and transferable skill set, it doesn't matter if you have to work on a low paying job or an office without windows for it. When you are a mid level manager in your organization and want to become a leader these transferable skills and experience will be the things that will get you that opportunity. So nothing comes quick and easy.. and there isnt a shortcut 99% of the times... everyone has to struggle hard to earn it.

Self Improvement: More than often people tell you that everything is perfected and you can really improve anything. A knowledge worker should always keep working for self improvement. If you compare yourself with someone else you are insulting yourself. The following quotes from Jiro explain why it is important:

"We came back to work after World War II. The masters said that the history of sushi is so long... that nothing new could be invented. They may have mastered their craft... but there is always room for improvement"

"All I want to do is make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top... but no one knows where the top is."

Above holds true because the measures of today are not good for tomorrow. Thus the fundamentals on which these measures are built keep changing and thus demanding improvement. If you are already having a mindset to improve the current measures then you are ahead of the curve.

One of Jiro's fish vendor says, "Just when you think you know it all, you realize that you're just fooling yourself...and then you get depressed"

Note on service delivery/Food critic: Masuhiro Yamamoto identifies the top qualities of a good chef, these qualities are really that any knowledge worker could evaluate themselves against as the qualities are for a professional in service industry. The 5 qualities are:

  1. Take work seriously, consistently perform at higher level
  2. Aspire to improve their skills
  3. Cleanliness : Attention to details. It is essential to check every detail
  4. Impatience/ Sense of urgency: This brings out the innovative person and shows capability to take initiatives
  5. Passionate: Of course, you cannot do any of the above if you are passionate about your work.
While the above are personal qualities the service provided by the individual to their company or clients should always be evaluated to the following three standards:
  1. Quality
  2. Originality
  3. Consistency
Mr. Yamamoto says, " It is never a disappointing experience at Jiro's. That's not short of a miracle"
As consultants/knowledge worker one should strive for a similar solution and service delivery.

I believe that I would like to think about service just like Jiro thinks about food by his statement, "In order to make delicious food you must eat delicious food. You must develop a palate capable of discerning good and bad. Without good taste you cant make good food. If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customer, how will you impress them?"

As a consultant/knowledge worker you are paid to know more about the solution or service and thus one should strive hard to know more than the person paying for your service.

When you eat at Jiro today, he develops a daily course of meal, there are no options to pick from and you pay $19 per minute for that course. Mr. Yamamoto says that it is like listening to Jiro's symphony the course has a cadence to it and lets you experience the food better. A consultant should strive for similar things while delivering service or solutions to their clients.

Example of the meal course Jiro had in the documentary:
HIRAME - Halibut
SUMI-IKA - Squid
AJI - Horse Makerel
KOHADA - Gizzard Shad
HAMAGURI - Hard Shell Clam
SHIMAJI - Striped Makerel
KURUMA ABI - Wheeled Shrimp
SAYORI - Half Beak
TAKO - Octopus
SABA - Makerel
UNI - Sea Urchin
KOBASHIRA - Bay Scallop
IKURA - Salmon Roe
ANAGO - Salt Water Eel
KANPIO-MAKI - Dried Ground Roll
TAMAGOYAKI - Grilled Egg

As my manager says, "Dont show up and throw up". Have a plan like a symphony or orchestra and unravel the cadence with the right tempo.

Treating your peers correctly: As a knowledge worker your peers are essential to accomplish the project at hand. The work passes multiple people and thus each one adds value and makes sure that the service is delivered correctly. 

Like Jiro says,"When we have good tuna, I feel great while I am making sushi. I feel victorious"

This is possible because of the good fish vendor picks. So if you are up the stream worker make sure that you do the job right.

Resources in any organization are like natural resources, so do not wear them out because of your lack of knowledge or improper work. As Jiro's son talks about vanishing fish and how that affects his fathers dream of making good sushi, "Business should balance profits with preserving natural resources"

Managers should also ensure that knowledge workers are treated right as they try to balance profits.

Random note on lean organizations: There is no specific reason why I draw this analogy, maybe just because I've worked with lean organizations and have learnt that there is no space to hide in lean organizations. Jiro talks about tuna and that resembles lean organizations "Each tuna has its own unique taste. But it is the leaner meat that carries the essence of the flavor".

In today's fast moving world organizations rely on their partners and source work and this allows them to build fast reacting organization for the new world. Jiro relies on the fish suppliers from the market. Jiro states, "We are experts in sushi but.. in each of their specialties the vendors are more knowledgeable. We've built relationship and trust in them." 

Life Lessons by Jiro
  • Studying hard does not guarantee that you will become a respectable person
  • Always doing what you are told doesn't mean you will succeed in life.
  • Always look ahead and above yourself. Always improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft.
Being Lucky: A lot of people blame luck. Jiro was 9 years old when he left home and never looked back. He did not teach his kids that if things don't work out you can come back, he told them there is no place for them to come back. Jiro never got a chance to see his father after he was 7 and couldn't even be by his deathbed.

Jiro says," I didn't want to have to sleep at the temple or under the I had to work just to survive."

There are probably many people out there who would kill to be in the position that you are as a knowledge worker and thus the only way is to work hard and go up. Never dishearten yourself by the amount of work, just keep working and improving.

When do you stop: Quote by Jiro: " When to quit? The job you worked so hard for? I've never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. I don't feel like retiring" (Jiro is 85 years old)

Monday, January 21, 2013


Just finished reading Mohnish Pabrai's book: Dhando

Lot of copying from Warren Buffet's value investing principles but at the same time telling how innovation doesn't always lead to competitive advantage. Interesting read - boring if you already have read Ben Graham's Intelligent investor.

Wanted to document the principles of the Dhando value investing.

Key principles of Dhando:
  •          Invest in existing businesses
  •          Invest in simple businesses
  •          Invest in distressed businesses in distressed industries
  •          Invest in businesses with durable moats
  •          Few bets, big bets, and infrequent bets
  •          Fixate on arbitrage
  •          Margin of safety—always
  •          Invest in low-risk, high-uncertainty businesses
  •          Invest in the copycats rather than the innovators.
      Not very insightful notes like my other posts but if you are thinking of a business then you could evaluate it with the above principles and you will find out if there is a moat of competitive advantage for the business.