Tofu, invention, moving on, and rebounding

I frequented this small place in Beijing, which served inventive dishes. Their egg white wrapped tofu and walnut prawns both supplied visual texture and firm mouth feel. They served other dishes too; yet, one day the two dish were gone. They explained it “we don’t make those anymore.” I sampled the menu, yet found nothing particularly as inventive. So, I stopped going.

Restaurants can do okay on average food for a while, if they compensate with a terrific staff. Toss in a great wine list and, yes people will come back. They may be between chefs? Maybe the chef’s is amidst a personal crisis. Or maybe its owner is off starting her/his new restaurant? The point, people notice when something is off or does not work right. They will go with the flow, eat there, or continue to pay/work, as long as something else offsets it, convenience, staff, or price.

When something starts to slip, inventive dishes, an attention to detail, or great attitudes, people move on both physically and mentally. Physical movement rebounds are less challenging. Staff can coached to step up. New customers can be wooed with inventive recipes. Positive attitudes when facing challenges go a long way and build confidence. When people mentally move on, their mentality changes. Gone is the inventive spirit. Little gets celebrated. Challenges go unsolved or worse unaddressed. You hear, “we do it this way” all to often. When this mentality becomes part of your culture, rebounding is more challenging. So, why not just channel your energy to create a vibrant and dynamic culture that manages transitions well in order to sustain itself in the first place?

Image by dgray_xplane @ creative commons

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Things, struggling, done, & mediocrity

We all struggle with getting things done. There is just so much to do. Deadlines, lets come back to those. Done, in today’s vernacular, means lots of reflection and collaboration. Then there’s timing, which differs from deadlines. Too soon, no one cares. Too late, well no one cares. And lets try to avoid the prevalent culture of mediocrity. We hand things in because the next deadline looms. If it works, well enough move on! And creativity is great just don’t get too creative.  Will Rogers quote – Inspiyr @ Creative Commons

Lets just focus on the getting it done part. If you don’t start, well that’s not good. If you do start, you probably don’t start by thinking lets create something mediocre with a lot of rules and bureaucracy. You do some research. You find a whole bunch of relevant articles and many more non-relevant way more interesting ones. Most likely, “it” turns out to be more complicated than anyone thought. So, you collaborate with more people. You hold a few more meetings. Turns out, no one really gets “it.” Possibly it’s too soon or it’s just not ready yet.  Henry Ford quote – QuotesEverlasting @ Creative Commons

Done involves choice! Choose well, things will get done. Not everything, but some things. Look for signs, read tealeaves, or even check walls for writing. Yes, retreating to the comfort of answering email is much easier. Done means continually evaluating your pitch and make choices to more forward.

agreewithmeUnfortunately, there’s more. You will need a hard-edged belief. You will need a drive, one that challenges mediocrity. One that continually asks, “Is value being added?” There will be difficult conversations.  And, you must possess a willingness to fail. When no one is with you, then you are probably right. Dudley Field Malone quote – madingflick @ Creative Commons

Go slow. Take you time and be resourceful.  You will need to do your homework and sell, market, and promote hard to get “it” done. Look for passion and borrow some if necessary. Deadlines loom, but useful and forward movement counts too. If it is right, it will work; else why are you on the team?

Change – Slow Boats – Willingness

Loose-leaf tea, Mandarin collars, century old eggs, congee, and tofu help me balance normality in my life. Yet, twenty years ago, I didn’t like them. I actively avoided them. And I certainly didn’t waste any time reflecting or writing about them. Life works to compliment our existence, but only when we are ready.


Images by A Girl With Tealynac, & Kake Pugh @ Creative Commons

Growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio, I saw not many of the articles above. Yes, there were Chinese restaurants, but tofu on the menu, I don’t recall. Leaves slipped from the teapot occasionally, but I would fish them out with my spoon. And Mandarin collars in the land of button downs, blue blazers, and prep ties, pleeease!

Proximity alone is not enough. I moved to Beijing two decades ago. Yet, with apologies to Dr. Seuss, I refused to eat century old eggs. If tea was served, I produced my own bag. When tofu was offered, I politely declined. I was confident in my new surroundings, just not crazy. Or so I thought.

Appreciation is key. Congee, alone is pretty boring. Cook it slow enough, add the right amount of water, set an egg in the right way, add some picked ginger, peanuts, scallions, add a dash of soy or chilli sauce, and voila, you’re in business. Yet, pleasures, likes, and vices all come from somewhere. It starts with a story here, a recommendation there, or an introduction from a friend of a friend. Rarely do we find them just waiting around for us. Appreciation plus willingness equals change, especially when the process is repeated over time.

Passion is crucial. It plays a starring role and is referenced continually. Someone shows us a way. We  talk, we learn, and we connect. To you, it’s a game of straining tea with your teeth and politely spitting. To others it’s the process. How leaves open, float and sink. What the flavor is like between pots. Or possibly it is not the tea at all, but rather the social dynamic of the undertaking. Passion with a dose of imagination brings creativity.

Risk, failure, and resilience feature prominently too. Not all century old eggs taste the same. You can’t buy a Mandarin Collar jacket off the rack. Well, not at Brooks Brothers. If you want something to work, it’s going to take energy. Visit a tailor, order a mystery dish, live on the edge and try some loose-leaf tea. Will you get it right the first time, probably not? For me, it’s always that third fitting at the tailor when you hit it big.  Yes, we possess a finite amount of energy, but what else are you going to do, with it?

I get it. Teas is for drinking, not grazing. Rice is great when fried, not as soup. And tofu’s lack of texture creeps people out. Remember it is not about you. It is about seeing greatness in small things. These small things restore normality in an ever-changing world, even if only for a short time. Change happens with or without you. So, why not enjoy the ride?