Coaching, Cooperation and Confidence

October 30, 2014

One of the finest moments in the life of a parent, and one of the most decisive moments in the life of a child is when he is better at something than his father or mother. For fathers is often a sport, and when it comes to football that moment is near for me. Sometimes we bring that moment closer by letting our kids win a game, but they don’t really believe. It does make them happy for a moment, but for their confidence it does not do much.

 

In companies it is often the other way around: the managers are usually afraid that their staff, or others in the company, will become better at something than they are. Sometimes they already are. They keep their team on a short leash and take a position of seniority by instructing their staff which method to use, and thereby create a dependency, because they are the experts. This serves no other purpose than boosting the ego and amplifying the senior position of the expert manager to confirm the power-relation. These people emphasize their own interest in an organization by claiming successes that should be attributed to others.

 

Leaders who hire people who are better than they are quite rare. Perhaps out of fear of being irrelevant.

 

This is a pity of course, because the organization will be weaker rather than stronger, and the full potential of the organization is not utilized. Moreover it is quite frustrating and demotivating when someone hijacks your successes to secure his own position. It will lead to conflicts. And: “Internal conflict is like an autoimmune disease: the technical cause of death may be pneumonia, but the real cause remains and hidden from plain view.” Negative circle …

 

We have a tendency to instruct. People working with me might recognize that. We think we know how things should be done; we give the order and request an update on the results a week later. In an environment with a lot of educated content experts this is not surprising: since our schooldays this is how we acquired knowledge: the teacher instructed us, we did our homework, and then she tested whether we had done well.

 

It may work, but this may not be the most motivating method.

 

There is also much talk about the “Master-Apprentice” principle. The Master passes his knowledge and experience on to the Apprentice, who goes to work right away, is continuously instructed and corrected and sometimes gets assignments to figure something out for himself. I would call this mentoring.

Mentoring comes from Greek mythology, where Odysseus, when he left for Troy, entrusted his home and the education of his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor, with the command: “Teach him everything you know.”

 

mentor

 

 

 

 

 

Still a lot like the schooldays.

For those who have no insecurities about their own position and relevance, and who dare to look at the potential of people rather than just their current performance, there is a third way: coaching.

If we create a coaching culture and use a management style that focuses a bit more on coaching instead of directly diving into the facts and methods, we could cooperate in such a way that our coworkers become aware of the possibilities for working smarter, and for removing obstacles to success, without handing over the responsibility for their work and their own accomplishments. Then everyone can claim his or her own success.

Success builds confidence, confident people to take personal responsibility, and so on. Positive circle!

 

Let’s help each other so, instead of trying to outsmart one another.

Not that this is exactly easy. John Whitmore, of whom more later, said: “It maybe harder to give up instructing than it is to learn to coach”.

 

My own first experience with coaching was not entirely voluntary. I will explain why. With one of my best friends I have a deal to learn something new together every year. We do this mainly because we’re both busy and otherwise we might spend too little time with each other, but also because new things are interesting. It was not easy to agree on what is interesting enough to learn, though. We looked at twenty weeks of furniture making, at ten days cooking course at Le Gordon Blue in Paris, at a curriculum at Harvard, and at some other things, but consensus was not reached. Therefore, the deal was adjusted: one year he decides, the next year I will. My choice for example was to follow a curriculum of Art History at The Hermitage. Ten weeks, one evening per week. For me a nice and safe option, with a classical education, and a history as a gallery owner in Amsterdam. Maybe I wanted to start my learning experience as an expert, and not feel inadequate or look like a schoolboy. When his turn came up last year he got back at me and opted for a course in Professional Coaching” I guess because he knew that I would otherwise never do that. I’ve already written about this before, and I am very glad we did it. Incidentally, as my revenge, next year we will follow a training course in Skydiving. This was my choice, because a long time ago he was selected to train as an F16 fighter pilot. He had to parachute jump, too. For some reason, after two jumps, he did not dare to jump out of a plane anymore. Dream gone, and replaced by a career in e-commerce, which turned out rather well. But still, this fear has always bothered him, and now he has to get over it.

 

jump

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes we need a bit of external help and pressure to make you us aware of what we do not know or what we can do but are not doing. In the end, it remains our own responsibility what we do with it.


How to build a business – Agility and Innovation

March 24, 2013

Recently someone drew my attention to the report NL2030, published by BCG. The authors believe that in the Netherlands, to enable further growth of our prosperity and wellbeing we need to adopt a radically new business model. That raises some interesting questions, such as “Does something like  Dutch business model even exist?”, “what would it be based on?”, and: “why does it need to change?”.

The premise of the argument of the authors seems to be that country specific advantages that we used to have in the past, such as geographical location, infrastructure, and the associated foreign language skills and commercial spirit, no longer give us a any benefits. Thus, we are dependent on business benefits.

The World is flat

Ok. What do companies have to deal with? They are faced with an accelerating speed of change, mostly through technological innovations, with customers who have more and more specific wishes, and with a world that becomes flatter. I assume the authors are referring to Friedman’s idea of a global marketplace and almost realtime access to data, information and ideas from virtually anywhere

At first sight it seems to me that those are circumstances in which good companies could flourish.

The final step in the reasoning of BCG: If changes take place faster and faster we need innovation talent and social adaptability. People that love change and a society that facilitates it. And unfortunately – says BCG – those are not qualities that The Netherlands excels in.

The World Economic Forum, by the way, does not agree. In their “Global Competitiveness Report 2012-2013” they rank The Netherlands in the top ten, and they say: ”

The Netherlands continues to progress in the rankings, moving up to 5th place this year. The improvement reflects a continued strengthening of its innovative capacity as well as the heightened efficiency and stability of its financial markets. Overall, Dutch businesses are highly sophisticated (4th) and innovative (9th), and the country is rapidly and aggressively harnessing new technologies for productivity improvements (9th). Its excellent educational system (ranked 5th for health and primary education and 6th for its higher education and training) and efficient markets—especially its goods market (6th)—are highly supportive of business activity. And although the country has registered fiscal deficits in recent years (5.0 percent of GDP in 2011), its macroeconomic environment is more stable than that of a number of other advanced economies. Last but not least, the quality of its infrastructure is among the best in the world, reflecting excellent facilities for maritime, air, and railroad transport, ranked 1st, 4th, and 9th, respectively.”

WEF Framework

For this ranking the WEF not only considers the traditional country-specific conditions such as infrastructure and education, but also markets as well as “Business Sophistication and Innovation”.

True or not, BCG makes a number of recommendations that are valuable, such as: Find opportunities in international niches, instead of catering with a broad portfolio of products or services, exclusively for the domestic market. And another one that makes sense: Based on expertise, focus on process orchestration (from design to production to sales and distribution) and not on performing all the activities yourself.

Finally they sketch the agenda for the Dutch government, and frankly I got a little confused here. Of course, good education is important, and of course we must educate scientists to conduct fundamental research. And naturally talent should be encouraged, and for some students we need to accommodate more generic international courses such as those offered by University Colleges. But how is that different from what our education system offers already and why not leave those choices up to young people? They will choose what they want, and what the market needs.

The labor market will become more flexible much faster than the government can take measures to stimulate this. Professionals trade historic rights for autonomy, relevance and networks of peers. Unions are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

The government should just step back. Buy-in from society, changing laws and regulating the labor market? No idea how that would help anyone. De-regulation would help, but if making laws is core business, what can we expect from a government.

Companies can orchestrate processes, but the government cannot orchestrate businesses. Entrepreneurs will.

The most useful recommendation is perhaps: to use more English as business language. The size of our own market is the limiting factor, but now the world becomes easily accessible; many markets are global, technologies enable shorter go-to-market times, and there is no reason why we should address these opportunities as a country, or why companies should be chauvinistic. And we don’t. In our company we have been communicating in English from day one. We have employed people from the US, South Africa, Australia and other countries.  Starting a business in The Netherlands is not difficult, and many of the best-educated and most innovative people are independent, or are willing to accept positions in those companies where their talents are appreciated and developed.

Business Sophistication and Innovation are the key enablers for success in a rapidly changing world: Agility as a strategy. Most large companies have been mainly striving for efficiencies, and cannot adapt or adopt change.

So, that brings us back to Thomas Friedman (The World is Flat) and John Kotter’s article in the Harvard Business Review (“Accelerate“).

This last article has received quite a bit of attention in the industry. Kotter explains why change is unnatural to large hierarchical organizations, and why a better approach, which he calls a dual operating system, is needed to be both agile and efficient.

He proposes the creation of a volunteer (self steering) tribe drawn from people from all corners of the organization, at all levels. These people will form a network that works in parallel with the existing hierarchical structures.

The two entities form a Dual Operating System, each contributing to the vitality and viability of the organization in a different and complementary way. The network’s task is to propose and co-creation the strategies of the future, while the hierarchy continues to operate as efficiently as possible. Exploration and exploitation as two sides to the same coin. Highly aligned, but loosely coupled.

The network strategy will involve no additional costs or overheads, as staff are invited to volunteer their time, knowledge and ideas to contribute to the future of the organization in a capacity that differs from the date-to-day work.

Good companies in the Netherlands and in other countries understand that besides Exploitation Exploration is crucial. That changes are opportunities and not always threats. For years we have been calling this the power of the Network, of Intrapreneurship and of Effectuation – and we have never needed the Government (or BCG) to help us with it.


How to build a business – demotions

March 14, 2013

There has been a lot of publicity lately about demotions and salary cuts for older employees in IT Services companies like Capgemini, whose market value does no longer justify their salaries.

 

Like they did not see that one coming.

 

What is this fuss all about?

 

Of course people are aware that the number of years you are with the company and the number of times you had your salary raised has no correlation to the value you will bring to the clients. Many years with the company? Maybe that has given you insights in the internal organization, or maybe you can manage or coach younger colleagues. That is not very interesting for a client, who wants practical knowledge, results and tangible benefits.

 

 

Especially now, with a much more dynamic and flexible labour market, clients are much more critical and service providers see rates that feel the pressure of the crisis. So how could they have put themselves in this situation? Probably everyone has always been focused on the short-term, because collective labour agreements have dictated that salaries be raised every year, because clients were never the most important stakeholder in companies like this?

In The Netherlands we have almost four hundred collective labour agreements. In only six of them demotion as an instrument is part of the agreement. Unions, whose members are to be found under the older employees, have every intention to keep treating demotions as a taboo.

 

The whole idea of demotion is not new of course. In 2000 the Wetenschappelijke Raad voor het Regeringsbeleid published a report suggesting that “the salary profile and the productivity profile” are getting out of sync. Their solution: more flexibility in salaries, no automatic correlation between age and salary increases, and ultimately demotion.

 

So what is the alternative and how could they have prevented this?

 

First of all, is seems more logical to correlate pay directly to productivity or market value. This can be done by paying basic salaries, plus additional components for both individual market value (measured through billable revenues) and company performance.

 

The question both companies and their employees will have to start asking themselves is how they can influence revenues per employee. Market value is determined by what clients are willing to pay based on the perceived benefits – although most people seem to think rates are determined by smart sales people. The employee feels he has limited influence on his market value. This of course is not true.

It can be increased by development though experience, training and smart matching. The first two are up to the professional. Matching – placing the professional on the assignments where he or she can add most value – is usually done by sales people. Unfortunately usually the match is made based on competences in CV’s and not on Character, Values, Culture and soft skills.

 

Our solution: make groups of professionals responsible for their own success and value. Self Steering teams determine what kind of professional education and training they need, and they are stimulated to build a network of clients. With some commercial training they are able to help the sales people not only with leads and opportunities, but also with better matches for proper rates.

The budget available for salaries and other compensation has a direct correlation with the revenues generated. The team members together determine their  own salaries. Demotion: a concept of the past.


How to build a business – Net Promoter Score

January 30, 2013

Two things have always been crucial in the assignments we do for our clients: what are the benefits we create (expressed in Economic Value or Cash Value Added) and are they truly excited and delighted by what we do. Over qualified resources, continuous support by peers and validation of the results are key in accomplishing this. But at least as important: are we able to measure and prove it? benefits Management has developed into something of a specialism, especially if you do not only measure in financial or quantitative terms, but also in areas like Risk, Scalability, Agility, Motivation.

Customer satisfaction, or even Client Delight is another challenge. Luckily this topic has been addressed some twenty years ago, by Fred Reichheld, a consultant from Bain & Company. He spent years researching enthusiasm, loyalty and commitment in customer relationships. Surveys did not seem to provide the answers he was looking for, partly because the answers from dissatisfied, undifferentiated and enthusiastic customers were so different that they could not drive any management decisions on improvement.
For answers he focussed on the happy customers only and decided to measure their enthusiasm by asking them one question, that he thought related directly to their loyalty: how willing were they to recommend the firm. We see this unpaid marketing department at work every day, nowadays through recommendations on the internet, and more than anything else, by the Like button of Facebook.

Like

Back then, it was a new concept, which he called Net Promoter Score, or NPS. More than the financial benefits our clients have, and definitely more than the revenue we generate, the level of loyalty created is key to success, and yes it is similarly important to measure the level of frustration and disappointment of those who might become active detractors.

With growth come more formalized processes, more dashboards and reports. close relations and intuition alone is no longer enough to keep track of our performance, and the time has come to also implement this process: Basically all that is required are three steps

Step 1.: ask each and every client one question: “How likely are you to recommend us?”, and have them score the likelihood on an eleven-point scale from 0 to 10

Step 2: Break the results up in three categories: those  that gave ratings from 0 to 6 are “Detractors”, the one that logged a 7 or 8 are “passively satisfied”, and only the score of 9 and 10 represent the “Promoters”.

Step 3: Compute the score by only looking at the difference between the Detractors and promoters: %Promoters – %Detractors = %Net Promoters.

NPS

So far so good. That is to say: there is potentially a lot wrong with NPS. A 0 score and a 6  have the same impact on the score, but from the client’s perspective there is probably a large difference. Also 0% detractors and 60% promoters gives the same result as 20% detractors and 80% promoters. So we want more: we want to know what are the reasons behind the score, and we want to be able to act on specific cases if there is reason. It is a one-question-only thing some say. If you do not understand the data you cannot act others argue. It seemed so simple

Now, three decisions need to be taken. Do we ask this question only, or do we ask more to find out what drove the score? Do we ask the questions ourselves, or do we get more honest answers if someone else asks them, and do we ask face-to-face, by phone, or by mail/online?

More discussions. We asked for advice. The specialists gave us options. One question, a few questions, many questions. Open questions, closed questions. Damn.

We asked more advice. some of the reactions were outspoken, almost emotional:

On line surveys are no more effective than written… only difference is the envelope.

The problems with written/on-lines include…

  •  Only outliers are motivated to respond… those who are very happy or very unhappy… so you get skewed results.
  • You don’t know who actually responded (the VP’s emo-punk daughter? An Admin? The dog?
  • The spontaneity (and any associated honesty) is lost.

Why in the world would anyone follow-up by phone to a written survey?

Respondents should NEVER be “followed-up” on unless they specifically request it.

Even if their responses are negative!

No respondent wants to justify their response or discuss it further… unless they ask for it.

The right way to do it is to be sure you ask enough open-ended questions in the survey to get the info you need without follow-up.

When you follow-up (and especially if you quiz them on any response), you bias or destroy their future cooperation.

Phone is best, 3rd party, brief is good.

Okay, we got the message.

So this is what our survey looks like. Two questions, preceded by an e-mail, asked by phone, by someone the client does not have a personal relation with:

1. Based on the work Qhuba did for you, how likely is it that you would recommend Qhuba, on a scale from 0 tot 10?

2. What factor had the most impact on your answer

  • the character and behavior of the resource (like integrity, cooperation)
  • the competences of the resource (knowledge, execution power)
  • the benefits realised versus the cost
  • the cooperation with other people in our firm
  • the relation and connection you have with our network
  • something else

Now I have one last question: How likely do you think it is that the NPS score we log and the answers to these questions will help us create more value for happier clients?


How to build a business – Conversations

January 27, 2013

In the KLM lounge of Atatürk Airport in Istanbul, waiting for my return flight to Amsterdam, I  am going through my notes. The last two days were good: lots of conversations with people in charge of Telecom Operators in both Turkey and Saudi Arabia. This involved multiple diners and lunches, and real exchanges on personal, business, political and cultural subjects. In Europe, a meeting usually lasts exactly one hour, involves one cup of coffee and one topic. For people in sales chances are they want to pitch something, hoping this is a solution to the problem they assume their client has. If so: deal. If not: off you go.

In our business, we believe finding the problem, or the opportunity is more important than solving it. So we want to listen, ask questions and find out what is driving who, and why.

Now I am going back to the first pages of my notebook, and find scribblings I made last summer. I think I turned them into another blog posting already:

In our search for what is cooking in our network and in the world of Strategy Execution we have organized What’s Qooking events: a combination of content and cooking in a workshop format. With small groups of twelve to fifteen people we have listened, cooked, discussed and eaten. To take this one level higher – and because cooking with a group involves quite a few concession in timing and results – we have decided to look for top chefs to do the cooking for us. Where to find the chefs?

Looking for a book called ‘In search of the stars”, about all he sixty-eight three star restaurants in Europe, I went to a bookstore and guess what: the clerk was a foody too. High class cooking, but lately mostly with insects. The new world: as nutritious, and much less of a burden on the environment.  I was not immediately enthusiastic, but he invited me for a workshop anyway. For this, he had chartered a local chef to cook in the bookstore. 

Now this chef had once had a very talented sous-chef, who became a freelance home-cook, and was looking for new clients. Introductions were made.

This is the point: you go somewhere to buy something. A simple transaction. But when you have the time and the curiosity to turn a transaction into interaction you will discover the Power of Conversations.

So, this is how we got to know a very enthousiastic young cook, who now cooks at home every month, for a group of ten to fourteen people, who do not have to participate in peeling the potatoes and cutting the onions, but can spend an evening having conversations. We call them the Third Thursday diners and believe me, everyone is looking forward to What’s Qooking this month.

And something else about questions and conversations: they are not only the key to finding things out, and getting to know people, they are the key to sales as well.

Sales has for a long time been our biggest challenge. Not because we could not sell, but because we did not want to.

In our network, where prospects or clients can be tomorrow’s staff or partners, we prefer interaction over transaction. Actually we want someone we are having a conversation with to clearly indicate that he wants to be a client for a while, instead of us telling him we want to be a supplier.

This posed two problems: our partners, who felt this way, were reluctant to show commercial behavior, and our commercial people, who did not have this reluctance, did not have peer-to-peer conversations.

The conversations of course serve many purposes (relationship, interest and curiosity) as well as finding the issues that keep our clients from sleeping at night, or from implementing their strategies. So finding the problem is not the issue, positioning ourselves to solve the problem is.

Traditionally, the ABC of sales people was: “Always Be Closing”.

Daniel Pink, in his recent book “To sell is human” proposes to replace this with a new ABC: Attunement, Buoyancy, Clarity.

Attunement: Bringing yourself in harmony with individuals, groups and contexts. This takes a bit more humility and curiosity than most people can muster. If you do not connect, and if you do not both inspect (ask questions) and respond (listen to the answers and do something with the information provided) you will not sell.

Buoyancy: Dealing with an ocean of rejection

Clarity: the capacity to make sense of murky situations, as Daniel Pink says. Identifying and framing problems takes two long-standing skills and turns them upside down. First in the past salespeople were adept at accessing information. Today they must be skilled at curating it – sorting through the massive troves of data and presenting to others the most relevant and clarifying pieces. Second, in the past, the best salespeople were skilled at answering questions. Today, they must to be good at asking questions – uncovering possibilities, surfacing latent issues and finding unexpected problems.

Big words. Not sure if they will stick. We are not sure if they cover the whole approach we have to sales either. Our way is CCCCC: Connections, Confidentiality, Conversations, Clarity, Cooperation. We hope they are so obvious  they don’t require a book to explain them.


How to build a business – Ten Questions

October 16, 2012

We have been in business for several years, we have more than sixty world-class people working with us, worked for eighty-eight world-class clients, held one hundred and fifty-three management meetings and published numerous internal and external documents. At some point it seemed to make sense to bring it all back to ten basic questions. The answer to those questions should describe all the major aspects of our business. Answers that all of our people should be able to give, when the questions are asked.

 

Here are the questions:

1. Where do we come from?

2. Why do we exist?

3. What do we look for in our resources ?

4. How do we behave?

5. What do we do?

6. How will we succeed?

7. What is the one most important thing right now?

8. Who must do what?

9. How are we organized?

10. How we make decisions and deliver on them?

 

And here are the answers

 

1. Where do we come from?

Qhuba, founded in 2007, is a fast-growing network organisation with more than sixty Partners, Staff and Associates (‘Qhubans’). Qhuba means drive, the drive to work together, to learn, to grow and to succeed.

 

2. Why do we exist?

We exist because we believe running companies can be fun and strategies can be implemented successfully when people of character and competence work together.

Qhuba believes that strategies are best executed by a multi-disciplinary leadership team that takes collective responsibility.

 

 

3. What do we look for in Qhubans ?

Regardless of whether they are Clients, Candidates, Network Partners, Prospects, Associates, Staff, Associate Partners, Partners, Managing Partners, Equity Partners, Practice Directors, Shareholders, or Friends, we expect:

  • Character (Integrity and Intentions)
  • Competencies (Hard and soft skills)
  • Network
  • Track record
  • A drive for Autonomy, Mastery, Contribution and working with Peers.

 

4. How do we behave?

We are Independent, Reliable, Uncompromising, Connected

 

5. What do we do?

When organizations look for support in the successful execution of their strategies, we provide (introductions to) people with the right character and competence. We can do this based on Client Value Pricing, on temporary assignments, on the client’s payroll, for a success fee or without a fee.

 

6. How will we succeed?

Together Qhubans use conversations to build a network of world-class professionals to make clients successful by providing capable people and by arranging introductions, opportunities and exposure, meanwhile building a highly recognised organisation as a platform for professional and personal growth.

 

7. What is most important right now?

Increasing Reputation in our network

  • Increase NPS with clients by delivering results
  • Increase credibility with prospective clients through content-marketing, sales and references
  • Increase Trust within Qhubans through growth and success
  • Increase Reputation with candidates through marketing

 

 

8. Who must do what?

Strategy, Structure and Reputation:   Wouter Hasekamp

Network:                                              Tjibbe van der Zeeuw (Liesbeth Hans)

Knowledge and Research                   Liesbeth Hans

Publications:                                      Hotze Zijlstra

Marketing:                                           Wouter Hasekamp, Rachelle Nall

Enablement and Support:                  Dennis van Alphen (Tom Kisters, RikJan Kruithof)

Portfolio:                                             Partners and Practice Directors (Peter Rappange, Mohammed Chaaibi, Gerard Kok, Evert-Jan Tazelaar)

Sales:                                                 Mario School (Susanne van Kleef, Gerard Kok, Evert-Jan Tazelaar)

Delivery:                                             Tjibbe van der Zeeuw (Beatrice Friebel)

 

 

 

9. How are we organized?

Qhuba is organised in Practices that address specific areas of expertise, without losing sight of the collective goal: strategy implementation across disciplines. Practices in the portfolio of Qhuba are:

  • Interim Management
  • Recruitment & Executive Search
  • Programme and Portfolio Management
  • Lean and Transformation
  • Finance and Benefits Management
  • Sourcing Support
  • Lean IT
  • Cloud Consulting
  • The Qloud Company

 

 

10. How we make decisions and deliver on them?

We believe in Collective Leadership: given our values and despite different intentions and goals we want to be able to operate as a tribe of peers, each contributing as a person and as a professional, without giving up our autonomy. Starting points for this ‘Tribal Democracy’ are:

  • Freedom of Thought
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Freedom of Choice
  • Freedom of Dissent
  • Radical Transparency

 

 

Conditions for participation in decision-making are:

  • Trust, which consists of Character (Integrity & Intentions) and Competence (Capabilities & Results)
  • Transparency of Information and Opinion. Silence equals disagreement. This is our first rule of engagement.
  • Commitment, both active commitment and formal commitment. This is the second rule of engagement
  • Accountability; there is zero-tolerance for lack of Trust, lack of Integrity, lack of Transparency, lack of Commitment, but also for Passivity, broken promises, non-performance
  • A shared definition of success made measurable and a focus on results. One team, one goal.

 

Success is measured by:

  • Client Benefits Realized and Nett Promoter Score
  • Staff retention en recruitment
  • Revenue – Margin – Profit

How to build a business – What’s Qooking

May 26, 2012

In our search for what is cooking in the Qhuba network and in the world of Strategy Execution we have organized What’s Qooking events: a combination of content and cooking in a workshop format. With small groups of twelve to fifteen people we have listened, cooked, discussed and eaten. To take this one level higher – and because cooking with a group involves quite a few concession in timing and results – we have decided to look for top chefs to do the cooking for us. Where to find the chefs?

The Michelin Guide seemed a logical starting point.

Since the weather was nice and I was in town anyway, I decided not to use Amazon for once, but to walk to the good old-fashioned bookstore. Not the most efficient way to buy a book as it turned out. The first bookstore did not stock Michelin Guides, but was kind enough to direct me to a colleague which they assured me would have them. So I walk further into town. On my way to the second store I passed my tailor. He called me in for an espresso, and enquired about the suits he had sold me earlier. As I explained why this was not a day to buy suits (too warm to try on anything, and besides the suits he makes last too long) and where I was going, we came to talk about three star restaurants. He warned me not to try to visit them all, because the last guy who tried – probably – did not survive.

In the summer of 2008 the Swiss gourmand Pascal Henry executed his plan to visit all sixty-eight top chefs in Europe in sixty-eight days. Everyday he ate at a different restaurant, drank a few glasses, and spoke at length with the chef. Henry kept a diary with notes, menus, and occasionally a note from a chef or sommelier. On the fortieth day of his journey he was in El Bulli. As usual he had ordered the Chef’s menu which here consisted of many small courses. His hat, his notebook and wallet where – this was also usual – on the table. Towards the end of the meal he walked out, never to be seen again. Maybe he jumped of the cliff, maybe the idea that he would for the rest of his life have to make the concession of having to eat less exquisite meals, maybe he was abducted by aliens who wanted to know how eartheners eat. We don’t know. This story is written down in a book by an author who has also written a book about etiquette together with my tailor.

intrigued, but not deterred, I continued to the next bookshop, and then to the next. A good time to reconsider the merits of e-commerce, with their long-tail strategies. Online you will find it all. But what you mostly find is transactions, less interaction. And that is exactly what you get with people, in shops.

The last shop I visited did stock the Michelin Guide. The guy behind the counter advised me to also have a look at a book called “In search of the Stars”, written by a Dutch chef, Paul van de Bunt, who undertook, with his wife Sandra, a similar journey as Mr. Henry. The differences are clear: they took a year to visit all fifty-four three star restaurants in Europe, and they lived to write a book about it. The book was not the goal by the way. Paul just wanted to learn, to see and taste the innovations, and to talk about them with his colleagues. Then for every restaurant he visited he created a dish, inspired by the chef he talked to. Obviously, he did not see them as the competition, but as people with a shared passion.

Cooking appeared to be a passion shared by the bookseller, too. When I told him about my “What Qooking” plans, he suggested that our first stop should be a new restaurant in Utrecht, called Podium. The chef Leon Mazairac worked for Alain Ducasse in Paris.His style he described as “no pretentious but lots of ambitions”. That sounds about right for us.

He just happened to have the chef’s business card in his pocket, and – talking about innovation – invited me to come to his bookshop next week where the chef would prepare insects, which are not only an answer to food shortage, the inefficiency of raising cattle for consumption, but are apparently quite tasty, too. I asked him if he would eat them, and of course the answer was yes.

 

To prove his point he produced a package of dried grasshoppers that he was going to prepare that night. Quite interesting. Probably coincidence. Wonder if he would have produced as double edged commando knife if I had asked him about the “SAS Survival Guide”. Quite a useful little book, by the way.

Anyway, I have all the information to plan our next What Qooking event, and however convenient e-commerce portals may be, they do not offer the Power of Conversations. As I said: the network enables interaction rather than the transaction.