Too many chefs

20140104-141845.jpgRecently, I observed what, to me, was a rather entertaining situation at a take-away food outlet. After putting in a rather large order for five people, I watched as the staff gradually, or was that rapidly, succumb to stress. The boss, clearly getting more and more anxious, started berating his team which consisted of, I am assuming, his wife, daughter and a fourth non-related staff member. First, he and the wife began to bicker back and forth in their native language. While not understanding the words, I have heard enough of said language to realise that it wasn’t happy talking. The daughter then took a few shots but preferred to keep her head down, literally. Then the hired help was told in English that they had done wrong. The help stood her ground, pointed out where the boss had gone wrong, while at the same time tried to work out what he needed now and accommodate.

Now, I’m not sure why there was this apparent need to complete the order quickly… Well actually, I do a few good guesses, but in the situation they were all unnecessary. Habits and presumptions have a way of guiding your actions, if you let them. No doubt past patrons have expressed displeasure at the time and efficiency of service, which if you ask me is more a problem for the patron, not the serving staff, as most patrons really have little concept of how long it takes to prepare such things. So rather than establishing a reputation for good quality food preparation, they have focused on speedy food production. Two things point to this conclusion;

  • There were three chefs and one getting supplies
  • The very clear sense of urgency expressed in the chefs
  • Too many chefs spoil the broth. I think this reference is more to do with the idea that too many people with ideas will simple create a messy concept, but in this case, I would like to use it to mean too many feet means more chance of getting in each others way. This is what was happening here.
    Add in the expectation that they had to prepare the food quickly (I was quite prepared to wait myself) and the presumed pressure of a very large order, and you have all the makings for a possible walk out, and as I walked out with my order, I wondered if there might still be one.

    A few nights later, I witnessed a completely different scene at a different store. There was less staff, they all had clear rolls, and by the end of our order, they were still smiling. This second store had found a balanced working environment.

    In a way, I deal with this concept elsewhere. In a data storage service, for example a HR payroll service, or hospital medical records service, there is an ongoing battle between quality and quantity of data. By quality I mean accuracy and detail, and by quantity I mean speed of entry. The two rarely co-exist. If you have your teams focus on quantity, you do so at the loss of quality. If you focus on quality, then you have to be prepared to wait a little longer.

    There is an odd overlap however where quality and quantity actually harmonise. It is very hard to explain directly so I will try in directly. When you focus on quantity solely, you actually can reduce not only quality but quantity also. This occurs when the same people entering the data in the first place are also responsible for correcting any mistakes they may have made. The more mistakes they make, the more of their time is spent fixing them and the less on entering new information.

    The opposite is true, if you focus on quality solely, the you reduce quantity and quality of data. This occurs when you are providing statistical and analytical services based on the data being recorded. If it is taking too long to enter information, then any reports that are being generated will not be current thus impacting the overall quality of the reporting service. Consider the impact this may have on employee payments where the information may be one or two weeks old.

    In between these two extremes is a happy balance where a focus on quality and quantity as a balanced medium can actually help each aspect.

    Now let’s return to acting. As an actor, you are confronted with these similar opposing forces;

  • a quantity of lines to learn
  • a fixed period of time to learn them
  • the combined, and sometimes changing, intentions of the director and/or writer
  • the need to invest time and thought in to character development
  • the impacts of life challenges such as the need to pay bills, support a family, etc
  • It is a real balancing act and finding that harmonious space within can often be quite a challenge. With experience it gets easier but never becomes easy. In a way, the struggle is useful as a reminder of real life as your character develops, so I find that using the feelings that come from this process add an edge.

    Like the situation with the chefs in the kitchen, to work a kitchen of creativity well, you need to balance all the ingredients, tasks and staff appropriately. Allowing your thoughts to be influenced by too many outside sources can great confusion and result in a muddy result. You need to maintain control over what comes in, what stays out and how it all works together. This means learning to say no, to yourself and to others.
    The biggest concern to me as an actor is the unsolicited “helpful” advice, and I’ve been offered my fair share. Some of this advice, I am sure, has been an attempt to unsettle me, while others have been genuine helpful gestures if a little mis-guided, and yet others have actually proven useful. You do not have to accept everything you are offered. This is power.

    One occasion I will recount was during a stage production where is was choreographing a complex sword fight between to two key characters. A member of the crew wanted to sit and watch which I had no objection to. During the session, this person offered some suggestions as to what could be done, which initially were quite good, and I incorporated some of them. This served only to encourage the observer who proceeded to offer grander and more elaborate directions and moves, which actually went against the desires of the overall show director, and would have been in contradiction to safety regulations. Eventually, I had to calmly, politely, yet firmly tell them that their ongoing suggestions were not useful, and then reminded them that they were not the fight choreographer. They left taking a certain amount of umbrage, which was fine with me as they no longer took any active role in telling me what I should be doing.

    What was happening here was that the extra advice became unformulated, random and rather elaborate. Being the type of person that I am, I tried to give them (initially) some consideration before deciding to use them or not, and this slowly created a slightly chaotic situation where my initial plans were now being rewritten not by one person, but by two. With safety an important concern, and just a little of my ego, I needed to regain control and rebuild the vision for the scene. Learning to say “thanks and no thanks” can make all the difference in a scenario like this. It enables you to take control of your part by putting up a barrier that says, you’ve gone far enough.

    This may sound like a little contrary to my earlier blog about asking for help. Realise that asking for help is another way of taking control. You are giving permission for someone to offer assistance. You can also tell them to stop at any time. You can’t work in isolation and you can suffer from information overload, so getting that balance is your job.

    As with everything else, while I use my years acting as the basis for my personal development, the lessons learnt here apply equally to every other aspect of my life, but don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself sometime. It’s easier than you might think. You just need to do.

    Leave a Reply

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    Blog at

    Up ↑

    %d bloggers like this: