Have you ever watched Iron Chef America? If you haven’t (Food Network, Sunday evenings, 9:00 p.m.), you’ve missed out. It’s a truly amazing show which pits one of the show’s Iron Chefs (top chefs Bobby Flay, Mario Batalli, Cat Cora or Masaharu Morimoto) against another top chef from somewhere in the country. The two battling chefs are then given a secret ingredient at the start of the program and then given just sixty minutes to create, cook and plate five gourmet dishes (which is simply an incredible feat, which you know if you cook at all). When their sixty minutes are up their dishes are then judged by a panel of three judges on three criteria; taste (up to ten points), creativity (up to five points) and plating (up to five points), with the winner, obviously, being the one who scored the most points.
Of all the Iron Chefs, Bobby Flay is probably my favorite. I love watching him cook. I like his ideas. I like his personality. I like his plating style. I’m always impressed by what he does–and I’m always impressed by the speed at which he does it (along with his two sous chefs). However, this past weekend, something happened that I didn’t see coming. I got bored.
Let me explain.Bobby Flay (at 15-7-2) has now completed twenty-four battles. After watching most of those battles, I’ve become pretty familiar (key word) with his style. So when they announced this past weekend’s secret ingredient, Blue Foot Chicken, I had some ideas about what Bobby would probably prepare (like I knew he’d probably do something with his sixteen spice rub and "bold flavors"). And I also had some ideas about how he’d probably plate his food (sauces, stacks, drizzles, etc.). What was interesting was that the judges did too. Though Bobby won (for which I’m happy), he won with one of his lowest vote totals (44 out of 60 possible points–which means he got several threes, meaning "average").
Now, think about that. One of the top chefs in the country, a veteran of Kitchen Stadium, got several "3s". How is that possible? Well, my guess is that if this was his first battle, his scores would have been higher. But this wasn’t battle one, it was battle twenty-four. And the judges, just like me, have watched and marveled at what Bobby does for awhile now, which unfortunately means that we’ve "figured" him out (at a low level, since obviously none of us could compete with his culinary abilities or talents). Or to put it another way, Bobby Flay has become somewhat predictable. And that is what caused me to experience something I’ve never experienced before while watching Bobby Flay, boredom.
So how do great chefs (or great companies) avoid that predictability? They do it by asking the Picasso question over and over again, "How can I (or we) do this differently?" In Bobby’s case that might mean cooking in a different style (Thai vs. southwest) or using a different plating style (watch Morimoto plate his dishes sometime), etc. The point is that if Bobby wants to score big again, he needs to be somewhat unpredictable in order to WOW the judges (and us) again. In other words, he needs to do things that we can’t see coming–which is the same thing that you and I need to do as well.
If our customers/clients perceive us to be too predictable, we’re in trouble. There’s nothing remarkable about doing what’s expected. It’s the unexpected that startles people and takes their breathe away. It’s the WOW that causes them to say to their friends, "You’ve got to check this out." So what are you doing with your clients and customers that’s become too familiar? What’s become too predictable? Change it. Why? Because eventually even the best become ordinary (unless they keep changing things up).