Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and our Jobs

gordon ramsay's kitchen nightmares cooking chef jobs

Gordon Ramsay is actually really encouraging to the people trying to turn the business around.

I really thought Gordon Ramsay was a loud mouthed cook that just liked to take people’s head off from the media snippets I had seen. I wasn’t big on reality television so I never saw one of his shows until I ran across Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares show on BBC America last week and found it so interesting that I added it to the DVR schedule. I can’t verify that some of the stuff that happens on this show or any show isn’t scripted/rehearsed/planned ahead in some way, but the underlying cause here is that these restaurants are in a dire state of business and will go out of business soon, so the object is to figure out the problems and find solutions to give the owners in one week, and then the business owners have to take that knowledge and see if they can turn it around.

The thing I found most insightful was (aside from the cooking, of which I can appreciate more now that I am cooking more) that Gordon Ramsay is very direct when he finds something wrong that is hurting the business and nobody ever does that if you work in a  corporate environment. I wish there was a way that this kind of investigation would happen with companies, in a slightly less dramatic way. Sometimes a company or department is ailing for years and nobody wants to say the things that need to be said, and eventually it just dies.

I find it interesting that the problems I’ve seen in these restaurant businesses have been (in about 7 shows so far) either: 1. The cooks are either too slow or make food nobody likes. (in one case the cook was making food the owner wanted but nobody liked) 2. The food is great but there is a management issue and/or service problems. 3. The decor is not welcoming, clean or classy, but this is never the main reason, always a secondary one.

Within these problems Gordon Ramsay has to sort out the people who work there also and decide if they can do a good job if they aren’t already and how if possible he can transform their work. In several cases he found the head cook to be the main issue and suggested that they remove the cook from the job. After they were gone he found several lower level cooks with better skills and ability than the head cook that were just doing what they had to in order to keep their job. They were stuck working for someone who didn’t know what they were doing, but the lower level rank made it impossible for them to  do anything about it.

I think this is a huge problem in business too. People get hired and stay in a management position for 5-10 years and while they are there the world changes, technology changes and the industry changes. If people don’t keep learning (something that is really difficult to do with a full work and family schedule) eventually they will be completely out of date with their information and the business won’t sell/develop/produce enough or the right things to make a profit. It’s an over simplified view of things but the elements  are true, I’ve seen it many times. In these cases lower level worker people grit their teeth and deal with it because they have mortgages, kids and credit cards that they have to earn a paycheck for. The lucky ones leave and find a better job somewhere else, although there is always the risk that the new job will be the same way since its near impossible to get a feel for personalities before you get hired.

I think that a small part of the solution to this is that the mid & lower level people in a company need to have their opinions viewed as more important. These people know the details of what is needed to the tasks that the company survives on. Sure, some management experience is useful sometimes, but try to solve a programming problem if you’ve never programmed before. Try and manage the tech operations if you’ve never been an admin or be CMO if you have never been a media planner, analyst or advertising creative designer and your previous job was sales. It just turns out badly. It’s incredibly risky to turn to your employees and say “just get it done or else” even if you do have some understanding of what a problem is, if you can’t set the strategy for fixing it and get involved in the process. None of the people who do these tasks have any respect for the managers that demand things all day without any of the knowledge that gets the job done.

I think the large part of the solution revolves around how manager’s roles have changed. It is no longer sufficient to “manage” people without doing the job yourself while you are the manager. It’s a dual role but it is the only way managers can make appropriate decisions about the work being done since they are involved in doing some of it themselves. Gordon Ramsay is actually very good at this. When cooks leave or get fired due to poor work, many times he jumps in and is cooking in these small crowded spaces. (nothing like his restaurants). My current boss also jumps in a lot and knows the ins and outs of what we do, this is rare though, I’ve seen many who don’t.

I think the other job situation he has uncovered several times is how to turn things around for that person that is 2nd or 3rd in command who really does have the knowledge but have been sidelined for years under the direction of the head cook/manager. How do you get that spark back in someone who has been demoralized for so long? It is hard to work in an environment every day when you know that something is not the right thing to do, yet you have to keep working that way because your manager requires it in order to keep your job. It is related to the feeling that I think people have about determining their own destiny.

I also think people need to feel like they have some control/choice in their job situation and taking orders all the time with the knowledge that this is the wrong thing to do wears someone’s confidence down and turns off their creativity and enthusiasm for the job. I call this burnout. I don’t think burnout is from too many hours of work, burnout is from being at odds with your you are tasked to do for too long. And contrary to what people think, being at odds with what you are tasked to do is usually a management problem, the younger people who have been in school more recently are more likely to follow the rules, do things right and want to make things better in an idealistic way. I find that the higher level people who have been there a long time have little  knowledge about how the business technology/process works in detail and make demands based on outdated info, cut corners because they can get away with it and do old things because they have just always done it that way.

That said there are no easy solutions to these problems. Gordon Ramsay is a dynamic personality and he can work with these people one to one to discuss things honestly and figure it out, and in many cases this needs to happen on an individual level in business also. It’s not a company-wide initiative or something that has one solution to. The solution would be different things to different people, all very specific to their individual job and knowledge. And I think managers resist this discussion because they are insecure about the knowledge they may not have and don’t want to lose their job either. I think managers need to spend more time doing the low-level work or else they will be disconnected. Asking your employees to make suggestions or tell you the solutions is a cop-out too. If they have the all answers to problems all the time, they should be paid the same level as the managers who are really supposed to do that work. (or be the manager) So, there is no incentive for group management when someone is paid a higher wage to be the manager.

I suggest that managers/directors, VPs and C-level execs start digging in the trenches with their workers on a weekly basis and they will learn more about their jobs/departments/businesses than they thought possible and the business will be healthier as a result. The workers will hopefully have a better job situation where they do have some control over what they do because the expectations are in line with what they can provide, so they don’t get burnt out and have to leave. People also need more time to learn, but with homes, kids and regular 40 hours a week of work, I’m not sure how to fit that in, but it is an important part of the recipe for success.

Who thought Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares would suggest a new paradigm for American business? Its possible, let’s get to work.

And this recent article seems to support my idea that constant learning is the only way a workforce can stay competitive in the global chaos we live in.

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The Negatives of Social Networking Media

All the world is a Buzz about Facebook & Twitter these days. It’s almost like MySpace circa 2007, Google circa 2003 or Microsoft circa 1998. I don’t doubt the success, innovation or long-term viability of these social networking sites but I have seen that there are flaws in the system that mean that things won’t be perfect with the business along the way and we’re in for a bumpy road. Basically my point is that for all these sites give us in entertainment, social connections and opportunity they also have some negatives that are almost the equal and opposite pendulum action.

1. Time Suck – all social networking sites are using your time that you used to devote to other things. Maybe in some cases this is actually a better use of your time (instead of TV) but in most cases its time spent that you used to use for researching new information for work projects,  time actually spent talking with people in person (family/friends) or time spent doing things that really need to be done at work or home. Once the brain gets trained that you can go socialize instead of work at those times of day it’s a habit extremely hard to break. For all of us procrastinators looking for instant gratification its a real problem keeping up with work and affects the overall productivity of companies and the country as a whole. Internet access is much more prevalent and has far more users during the business day than it does at night, so there’s the proof. Unless your job is trolling these sites for sales prospects by “connecting” and making “relationships” with your customers, its a waste of time to spend more than 15 min a day.

2. Privacy – Of all the details analyzed about consumer privacy online (on Facebook) in the last few weeks the most suprising thing I’ve seen is that people really don’t care about their information online. Sure, nobody is going to post a ss number or cc number on their profile (duh) but they don’t really seem to realize the power of logging all their social interactions in one database and selling access to retailers and cpg companies who have even larger databases of information to analyze and strategize with. Is it really as fun when most of your friends are companies selling you things all the time? Twitter already has morphed into the largest opt in direct marketing platform I’ve ever seen. If people keep using it at this rate it will surpass email. The other obvious issues come with the work life balance thing and when people friend work makes and think nobody will see them rant about work or post drunk pictures on a sick day, but then again I’ve heard that its just people naturally selecting themselves out of the working pool.

3. Logic – the other issues I’ve seen coming for a while have to do with how everything that is built from large databases online with lots of consumer data seems to not work properly. There is always some algorithm developed by a science tech guy based on some theoretical calculus and it doesn’t provide relevant results. Which brings me to a repeating theme of data right now: we don’t really know what to do with it yet. Nobody knows enough real info about their customers to target them. (who has a budget for that?) And the database people just like to say they improved things a statistically insignificant amount with an algorithm tweak. The marketing strategy/process should always start with offline real life information about people and products and then develop an algorithm to show you information in that way. I don’t know why it’s always done backwards but it will keep our results irrelevant and marketing dollars wasted for a long time to come.

Government Income Taxes in History

income tax brackets rates through history united states usa

income tax brackets rates through history united states USA

(click graph to see full size version) I was just looking at this really interesting infographic of the income tax rates for the United States over the last century or so. It is an interesting graph because it makes it very clear that the wealthiest people are paying the lowest taxes by percentage of any time in our country’s history. By contrast the low and middle class are paying the most they’re paid or close to the most. 

I’m not sure how the government got away with a 90% tax rate in any time period, but it sure looks like they did. As much as I think the wealthiest people need to pay more again, nobody deserves that.  It makes the 5-10% increase in taxes we need on the wealthy people making over 1 million a year now seem paltry and insignificant. 

According to the graph the yellow areas say that in the 50’s and 60’s if you made more than $10 million you gave 90% of it to the Government. Wow. (9 million?) That doesn’t really seem plausible although they tell a story about boxing matches being held only yearly for this reason. There has to be something between 90% and 35% though because these people are the cash cows of our country/economy and are the only ones that can actually pay for the fancy jet security and government health care. 

Also I found it interesting that in the early 90’s people making less than 10K had to go from 0% tax to 15%? That is a big loss for the part-time workers of the country and it happened just in time for me to start working at my first job. Someone making 9K would lose $1350 to taxes, a huge sum for someone who may be just scraping by. Previously in history this tax bracket was taxes between 10-20%, so it has been higher, but the logic seems difficult that the people who make the least are losing the least also. Maybe if more government programs like healthcare actually give back to this income bracket this will be a more justified expense.  

I am also surprised looking at the top income bracket at 50% through the 1980’s and it re-frames how to think about Ronald Regan’s presidency (known for cutting taxes), but seeing that he got a larger percentage of paychecks to finance things with during a time of de-regulation and government cuts, no-wonder he was able to make things work. I doubt he would have believed that the tax rates should go as low as they are today though seeing how much government is expected to provide. 

Seeing over time how high these income tax rates have been in order for the country to survive and knowing what people expect from government right now (more services), I think we will have to return to the previous income tax rates and raise business tax rates at the same time to make up the difference even in a good economy. We have a huge budget deficit, increasing costs and government loans that are ballooning (bonds that are declining in value). Things aren’t looking good. It’s all our civic duty to pay taxes and the country can’t survive without it.

Can ordinary people manage the risk in the stock market for their retirement?

I am beginning to think there is no way an average American can invest in the market and make any money for their retirement in a 401K. I was reading this morning that 5 and 10 year returns in the portfolios of most mutual funds are negative now when they calculated in the huge losses from recessions in 2001 and 2008 and the beginning of 2009. (Q1 hasn’t been kind) 

As an investor (for my 401K) I look at that and say: yuck! Why would I put my money in something that has no long term value?

My fiance sent me this article saying that now 20 and 30 years are the benchmarks for best overall performance in mutual funds and stocks in the market. Yikes! 20-30 years? Who has that much time before retirement? Who can invest for that long anyway?

When you consider that most people’s salary starts dropping when they reach their 50’s (because employers don’t value old employees and can’t spend time/money updating their skills) you really have 25 years max to work with as far as investments for retirement.

You start your first real paying job with a 401K at age 25 and you may not be fully employable by age 50 although you will likely live to the age of 80 or 90.  There’s your 25 years to save and invest for 30-50 years of retirement.

I also think there is something else going on here affecting the 20-30 year market profit numbers. The US Markets benefited from a long term technology/innovation and growth curve from WWII to the 1980s. Personally, I think that was a one time deal and we will never see that kind of long term prosperity again.

Why? 1. Because we don’t understand enough about technology to innovate on that level again to create that much growth. 2. Because the US has higher paid workers than anywhere else in the world and everything gets manufactured and produced (and serviced) somewhere else. 3. Because we’re too complacent and have too much entitlement as a country of workers. Work creates wealth, not shell games with securities.

That brings up another point: We’ve been playing a shell game with our economy since the 1980’s. De-regulate, re-regulate, stimulus, fix, fund, trade, outsource, sell, leverage, whatever… It’s all a shell game to us worker bees and the internet has been the only significant improvement in technology to create new industries and jobs in the last 20 years. We need more than that to survive and prosper as a nation and a world.

I don’t know about you but I can’t stand to take that much risk with my money. I have some in a 401K but mostly my retirement is locked in a 5 year CD IRA at 5.25% that was a promotion this fall when banks wanted more cash reserves. I changed companies in 2006 and rolled over the old 401K to a bank in 2007 because I knew the 10 year recession was coming soon and I didn’t want to risk timing it.

There will always be people who game the market and come out ahead, but those of us without finance degrees, huge money to invest in undervalued markets or inside scoops will never really profit on the whole. Many of us will get out exactly what we put in and maybe less considering our lack of  investment prowess. So, in that level of risky why not just put it in the bank? Positive 3-5% sounds a lot better than negative 40%.

I hate the inflation argument that says that 3-5% isn’t enough to make money after inflation. Guess what? Inflation has been very low and inflation doesn’t stop when you have negative returns either. I’d rather have some money dependably than none at all when prices are higher. 

You may be asking why I want more innovation and less investment in the market? Doesn’t investment in the market lead to more innovation?

NO. Most of the mutual finds and stocks you can buy that are highly rated are in huge old (one trick pony) risk averse companies that have already peaked and can’t figure out how to do anything new. They sell shares to raise cash and then have old people make decisions like the old days. Venture Capital,  new small businesses and Universities are the place where innovation happens. If I could invest in those, I would. But then again I don’t have millions of dollars and apparently I won’t any time soon.

What are the best proven ways to fund your retirement and create wealth then?

1. Have a side job for extra income you can save (part-time weekends or evenings a few nights a week)

2. Own rental property for extra income (you need to live near it for this to work)

3. Have fewer kids if you’re contemplating having a family (ok we don’t always control this, and we love kids, but nobody is going to debate that they are expensive) 

4. Own a smaller home (smaller mortgage = smaller amount in interest paid (lost) to the bank)

5. Don’t go into debt on credit cards or car loans (hello! 25% interest, MONTHLY! on some cards)

6. Live frugally generally, keep your cars 10 years, don’t buy new clothes every month and don’t buy big ticket items like TVs and Computers every few years. Spread out the expenses over the long term.

7. Share what you have with others. Seriously, knowledge, help with projects, donating time and donating items you no longer need, as well as hand me downs between families help kids and neighbors live better within their means and help the community live better too.

8. Take care of your health. Eat less junk, lower fat, lower salt, lower carbs. Exercise daily. Take vitamins. Don’t work in an industry that has a side effect of cancer. Visit the doctor regularly and if something comes up treat it early, it will cost so much less in the long run. Heath issues start in your 30’s and get more frequent in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Expect to pay more every decade for health costs in your life/budget.

These are all real tactical changes we can make to save more money monthy and yearly that will get better returns than the stock market and help prepare for inflation. What else do you think can help?

How to keep learning new skills as we get older

I used to think that it was weird to not be learning all the time. You spend 9 years in grammar school, 4 years in high school and if you are lucky, 4 years in college. All total,  that is 17 of your first 21 years in school with daily lessons, lectures, homework, required reading, tests, quizzes, projects, essays and exams. Then you have to make the jump to the working world whether it is in business or other areas and you still have to learn, but it is everything not included in your schooling. How your company works, how people work, what is required there and all their multitude of processes and products.

At that point you usually meet someone much older than yourself that has no idea what is happening in technology. And not just high technology, they don’t get basics that most people use just to function daily like email, pivot tables or search engine optimization. What you don’t know is that they are the future you. They don’t want to change because they say they have just done things this way all these years and it has always worked with paper files, binders, phone messages and post it noes. You look at them and their outdated clothes and rows of beanie babies around their cubicle like they have 3 heads. How can they work this way? How do they get anything done? How can a company value someone antiquated like this over me who has all this knowledge and ability (yet with 0 experience). 

Then time marches on. You become acclimated with the business environment and get promoted or jump to a better job a few times. You balance social, personal and work life stuff and think wow it’s a lot to manage and are always tired. Then some of you have kids and are even more tired. Then you wake up one day and realize that you have become that antiquated person you ran into years ago because they hired some younger workers that are all gung ho about getting ahead and talk about things you don’t understand. Now all college grads come to work knowing how to build databases and web sites even if they got a degree in English? How can they know so much so fast? 

You wonder how 10 years flew by and you haven’t really added anything new to your skill set because you work 50 hours a week, have a relationship on weekends and laundry/dishes/cat/cleaning/reading/few social things weeknights. (you don’t even watch TV for god’s sake) How can you go to school at the same time? If you have kids, how can you exist on less than the 4 hours of sleep you get now just so you can spend time learning? And when will you ever get around to painting the garage? How is this possible when some mornings you come to work 1/2 asleep with 2 different shoes on?

Are companies going to only hire new youngsters for all the positions because they make less money and have more tech skills? How much does experience matter?  Why did it piss me off for weeks when the new wordpress.com backend system was launched, and nothing made any sense anymore? I didn’t have time to spend looking for hours for where everything had been moved to and was just mad that it wasn’t where it was before and it took forever to post. And there was no communication from those adsense loving wordpress people about where everything had been moved to. They thought this was self explanitory? (Not!)

I think I started to recognize some of these changes happening to me in the past few months. I never planned on stopping learning and the things I chose to learn about in my spare (and fleeting) time were never really panned out useful things. So, back to the drawing board. I feel like I need a lot more technical skill to remain ahead of the curve in my job and be able to keep finding great work over the decades to come. And I want to do that along with have a family and marriage and the whole kit and kaboodle. I don’t think this is a women’s issue anymore either really. Men face the same questions as they get off the fashion bus and start looking, sounding and working more and more like their fathers.

Another thing I realized the other day is that I may try and shop at more contemporary stores, but I basically dress exactly like my mom. And she is 67 and I am 32. I used to hate how my mom dressed, and now I am her?  Is this just the arrival of the long plateau of middle age? Are the middle ages of me going to be anticlimactic and uneventful? Or how can you bridge multiple generations, technologies and social groups all at the same time while still getting 8 hours of sleep at night? 

I don’t know how this is all going to work. I suppose many people don’t write about it on blogs, or maybe even recognize the change until they can’t find bleached jeans and high tops at Kohl’s anymore. But it bothers me because I don’t want to stop learning and get left behind. Especially when the economy keeps changing so much every year and the jobs go with it. How do you not get outsourced when literally everything can be outsourced today? How do you keep going to school when most universities require full time attendance of a degree program and not piece mail courses as you need them? How do you find time to do homework when you have bills to pay and garbage to take out and emails from your boss? Even reading was hard to get back into after years of not focusing like that for an extended period of time.

Here is what I have been doing about it and working on over the past years and what I would like to continue to work on:

1. About 2 years ago I started reading books again. I read TIME every week, but that is pretty short. I found it hard at first to just read for an hour at a time because I had gotten so multitask happy with the internet and channel flipping.

2. I also decided it was time to start pushing back sometimes at work and saying No. You literally can’t do that when you start out, and sooner or later you have to set limits and not do everything for everyone else when you have a limited time to do it. The whole idea of urgency and priority come into play and they shouldn’t be anyone else’s priority or urgency but yours. People will negotiate and try and get as much from you as possible but it’s not in your best interest if it’s not really in your job description.

3. The last year was one where I decided it was time to have a self hosted blog. Everyone and their sister had one but me, and it wasn’t supposed to be impossible or anything. So, I bought a url and went to town for about 2 days straight truing to figure out how this wordpress thing worked, researching themes, plugins and all the possibilities and building it. It was a great learning experience although it has nothing to do with my work.

4. This year I had a client that insisted on a different data process than what we usually provided and I had to learn Pivot tables. I still don’t know them to the extent I need to probably, but it helps immensley. I still have more of the high end Excel stuff to learn.

5. I also had to learn Access. I guess 2 days in a class can’t really teach you everything though so I should either retake the class or take another one because my skills there still don’t match what I need them to.

6. I also wonder about math and statistics. I should really go back, take the prerequisites and then statistics. This is what I get for not taking it initially because I didn’t want to work in business. Sheesh. This is by far one of the hardest things to do because, I am not fantastic at math, it has been about 14 years since I have taken a math class and it means driving back to the community college I attended a million years ago. It also entails weekly classes and weekly homework. This could be 10 hours a week or more. Where am I going to find 10 hours a week? Where do people who have kids find that time?  Is sleep allowed?

7. I also think it is time I got better at this friends/networking thing at work and outside it. I have never been that great at the social stuff, but I am meeting more and more people who weren’t necessarily either, but because there are some ground rules in business and no need to act like Jr High kids anymore, they are pretty good at it now. This helps get things done faster when they need to be, and it makes work and life generally more fun. It also helps not to work with assholes.

8. What I would also like to do more of is learn about web pages and building them, coding and sleuthing out issues with them. This comes up with work and would be an asset.

9. Long term I have to get into databases and SQL. I have no choice. It will mean more classes and more time than I know I can find and afford, and that isn’t even the expensive part like tuition.

But what is the alternative? To be outsourced in a few years? To be relegated back to the minimum wage jobs that we had back in college but would be even more difficult to get since they would rather hire energetic young people now, with better tech skills?  The way I see it, the only way to survive is to go onwards and upwards. I have to keep learning things whether I have time for it or not.

Finding Broadband in the UK

I have a bunch of coworkers that fly overseas to the UK several times a year and they say that things are somewhat similar living there but there are always more differences than just the dialect. One difference is the technology for broadband. More people are catching on there now, but the popularity had lagged behind the US for some time. I am not sure if it was because of infrastructure or just not as much popularity. I also just read that online advertising is booming there and all over Europe so maybe their bubble is starting now? Anyway, if you are someone going to move to the UK or live there now, a broadband company I have heard about offering wifi broadband is BT Consumer Wireless Services. They are equivalent to an AT&T or Verizon here. And wireless makes more sense over there anyway. Why not get wi fi rather than rip up walls to install cable? It just makes more sense.

When spamming someone bites you back

I am almost in shock of this post on the wired editor’s personal blog that discloses the emails that he has blocked because he got unsolicited emails pitching Press Releases for products, services, and who knows what else because he is a PR person in public lists. I have to say it was a bold move to do that and he must have had clearance from his employer to do it.

It would have worked if he just blocked them personally, but publishing the list holds this to another level. A public standard of corporate acceptability. And that has gone out the window in buzzy boom market and companies where the greed level is high and the oversight is low. I applaud him for publishing them and it is very entertaining to read through the 199 comments on the post. This brings the issue into the online conversations of a lot of people and may even influence the future actions of overzealous PR people.