ingredients + improvisation = keys to success anywhere?

A misadventure of the weekend for #pancaketweetup — which strayed from delight to despair to desperation to determination to diligence to deliciousness — made me ponder some key tools to success anyone’s workplace. What I learned: Ingredients and improvisation mean a lot.

For those who don’t know, #pancaketweetup is a monthly virtual online breakfast gathering via social media. It started as a joke between @LaneJoplin and I, but now attracts dozens of participants worldwide, has seen meals from every continent but Antarctica (here’s hoping) and even served as a signature part of the Canadian Post-Secondary Education conference (#pseweb). You can make other foods than pancakes, as demonstrated when I planned to pull together leftovers for what I originally termed Found-Object Omelette on Saturday morning.

The ingredients themselves were quality — eggs, green pepper, mozzerella cheese, sausage and pepperoni, most leftover from homemade pizza — and intriguing enough that my friend Dan Rapp the ad man dubbed it a “Pizza Omelette.” Fair enough. But then I kept having to add eggs to balance the multitude of other ingredients as the butter didn’t fold in and by the time I put it into the pan, it had all the makings of a grand train wreck.

Throughout the process, I kept improvising the mix, the consistency, the plan. Spatula in hand, I toiled ceaselessly once it hit the pan, until I released it was more like scrambled eggs than an omelette. With this new current emerging, I hoisted my sails to tack in this new direction and — voila — the result was what I called Pizza Scramble (see recipe). And you know what — it was really good! And enough left for dinner as well!

Yes, I’ve just bored you with my cooking story, but I have a point. The end product worked because I had good ingredients and no fear of improvisation. In the workplace, I’d say ingredients involve putting the right people in place and giving them the tools to succeed. And improvisation is a necessary part of any experience (to the point I recommend to students they take an improv theatre course).

With the right employees, you can accomplish a lot, even if they don’t necessarily fit into some kind of cookie-cutter hole. I like to work with folks showing enthusiasm, growth potential and willingness to learn over those who may look better on paper but won’t want to learn, grow and be part of a team. As for improvisation … when is the last time you’ve had a day that went according to plan? The ability to think on your feet, brainstorm new (sometimes crazy) plans and seek alternate routes to meet your goals when necessary are critical when management decisions may involve seconds, or nanoseconds. Where being able to turn on a dime is a trait beyond value.

Moreover, it reminds us the greatest adventures involve trying new things. As the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs … even if you don’t end up making an omelette after all.


1 Comment

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One response to “ingredients + improvisation = keys to success anywhere?

  1. You’re right about the fact that ingredients and improvisation are key elements. But there’s also skill involved, too. Not to mention taste. It doesn’t take much skill to create an omelette, but as you prepare more complicated dishes, skill assumes more importance. And with a complex process like baking, it’s critical. In the workplace, skill becomes important in assessing the time it takes to improvise and achieve a result. Sometimes, what you learn is worth the investment, but sometimes it isn’t. Going into a process or project with eyes wide open is important.

    I speak as someone who is used to opening the refrigerator and pantry and making dinner from what’s there, combined with what was fresh in the market today. Mostly I’m successful at creating something tasty, even delicious….

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