Before I was a marketer, I was a line cook. On my first day in a professional kitchen, I got the assignment of peeling and dicing a 10-pound bag of carrots, a 2-hour task that I needed to finish in the 1.5 hours before dinner service started. About 15 minutes in, the chef said to me, "Talia, I need you to come help me strain this stock."
I was confused. What about the carrots? Would I have enough time to finish them? Maybe he meant after I was done? "But, chef..." I started to explain myself.
"Nope," he cut me off. "Whenever I ask you for anything or say anything to you, the correct response is just 'yes, chef.'"
If you've ever been in a restaurant kitchen, you'll hear this phrase (or "Oui, chef!") on repeat every 10 seconds. Because when the chef speaks, there is only one acceptable response. Does this mean you need to drop whatever you're doing and immediately do the chef's bidding? What the phrase really means is "say yes now, and figure it out later" or "make it work."
Kitchen work is hard, back-breaking, fast-paced, and rewarding enough to keep you coming back for more, no matter how hard you got your butt kicked.
Moreover, the pithy sayings from my three years as a line cook now help me to be a better marketer. Here's a look at four.
1. "Would you eat it?"
On the line, there were times when a sauce or dish didn't come out perfectly, and I wondered whether it should be served. If I asked any chef what he or she thought, the answer was always the same: "Would you eat it?"
In marketing, you can easily lose yourself in the goal and not think about the person on the other end. Maybe you've created a landing page that follows all the rules for converting but looks like hell. Or you've written a keyword-rich blog post that will boost your ranking but barely makes sense. You need to ask yourself, "Would I 'eat' this?" If the answer is no, then consider cooking up something else from scratch.
2. "Where's your notebook?"
If your sous chef wants to give you a recipe on the fly or the person who was on your station in the morning shift wants to let you know what to prep for dinner service in an hour, you can't say, "Wait a second while I get my notebook." As a cook, you must get used to having a notebook and pen (also good for labeling food containers!) available at all times.
As a marketer, carrying a notebook also comes in handy because I seem to get my best ideas at the most random times. As much as I love a good brainstorm, inspiration typically strikes in the middle of a long, boring meeting. So, having a notebook handy to jot it down is key.
3. "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."
When you're cooking, you're on your feet for 10-12 hours a day. The temptation to take a load off by leaning on a countertop can be hard to resist. But you better learn to resist it—or the sous chef will come by with a sponge and a pan full of soapy water. Same with marketing, where a productive streak can easily be ruined by a "lean" like a trip to Facebook.
If you have time to check your newsfeed, you probably have time to do that small, boring task you have been avoiding. Though the Facebook breaks do happen, I try to squeeze in a "clean" like editing a blog post or responding to a few emails list before I check log in.
4. "Bad ingredients equal a bad dish."
In the kitchen, you save as much as possible using every part of an ingredient. Chicken necks and wing tips get roasted and turned into a rich sauce, a pig's head gets turned into head cheese. But there is a distinction between what's usable and what's not.
One day, in preparing a mirepoix for a stock (which would become the basis of many different dishes and sauces), I peeled and cut up carrots (there's a lot of carrot work when you're just starting out in a kitchen). I was instructed to put the peels and dirty ends of the carrot in the trash. When I asked why we weren't using every part of the carrot, the chef explained "If you use horrible ingredients, it's going to taste horrible." I had a great respect for the idea that even in the most elemental stages, you had to hold yourself up to a standard of quality.
The same holds true in marketing, where the sum may be greater than the parts, but the parts still have to rock. In marketing, this can mean taking care of the details, such as the grammar in a blog post or the names on a list, or just ensuring every element of something is great.
* * *
Cooks need to work quickly and efficiently; they rarely have time for second-guessing during a busy dinner service.
Marketers, on the other hand, have time to brainstorm, play with ideas, and iterate. Moreover, my current boss would probably fall on the floor in disbelief if I answered, "Yes, boss" to everything he said. However, sometimes, agreeing now and saving the arguments for later can make the work go quicker. Also, saving the arguments for later gives you more time to think about your arguments.
Marketers can benefit from taking off their marketing hats and putting on a chef toque making quick decisions and— to borrow another kitchen phrase— do less talking and more rocking.
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