I am convinced that the world would be a better place if more people would learn how to think more clearly. That is, if they learn how to formulate a concept that has more than a passing resemblance to the point they are trying to communicate.
Last week, Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield offered to explain the secret of success. They concluded that it lies in the capacity to perform a brutal self-examination and self-assessment. It is all about gaining self-awareness.
For the uninitiated, that means: an introspective voyage of therapeutic self-discovery.
They attempted to buttress their point by describing restaurateur David Chang’s efforts to turn around a failing restaurant:
Mr. Chang could have blamed someone else for his troubles, or worked harder (though available evidence suggests that might not have been possible) or he could have made minor tweaks to the menu. Instead he looked inward and subjected himself to brutal self-assessment.
Was the humble noodle bar of his dreams economically viable? Sure, a traditional noodle dish had its charm but wouldn’t work as the mainstay of a restaurant if he hoped to pay his bills.
Mr. Chang changed course. Rather than worry about what a noodle bar should serve, he and his cooks stalked the produce at the greenmarket for inspiration. Then they went back to the kitchen and cooked as if it was their last meal, crowding the menu with wild combinations of dishes they’d want to eat — tripe and sweetbreads, headcheese and flavor-packed culinary mashups like a Korean-style burrito. What happened next Mr. Chang still considers “kind of ridiculous” — the crowds came, rave reviews piled up, awards followed and unimaginable opportunities presented themselves.
Did Chang go to therapy and beat himself up over his failures? Not at all. Did he do a relentless self-assessment of his strengths and weaknesses? No, he did not.
He put his past failure behind him and refused to self-examine.
He did not belabor his failure. He did not ask what he had been doing wrong. He set out, with his staff, to do things differently.
He did not ask everyone to sit around in a meeting brainstorming. He did not ask anyone to do a brutal self-examination. He did not even make a plan.
He let everyone loose and let it all happen as it would. His principle was: what would you like to eat? It had nothing to do with self-examination.
Hdid what the French call bricolage. It means: constructing or creating something by using the materials available, almost like a pot luck dinner. It doesn’t mean following a recipe or even forcing the world to conform to your vision of what it should look like.
When Sweeney and Gosfield suggest that Chang was questioning every aspect of his approach, they are simply wrong. He was not questioning anything. He simply set out to do things differently.
Had he spent his time belaboring the reasons for his failure, nothing would have happened.
Sweeney and Gosfield also offer the example of Martina Navratilova, a tennis champion who reacted to a loss by deciding to work harder at her game:
The tennis champion Martina Navratilova, for example, told us that after a galling loss to Chris Evert in 1981, she questioned her assumption that she could get by on talent and instinct alone. She began a long exploration of every aspect of her game. She adopted a rigorous cross-training practice (common today but essentially unheard of at the time), revamped her diet and her mental and tactical game and ultimately transformed herself into the most successful women’s tennis player of her era.
Navratilova’s transformation had nothing to do with a brutal self-assessment. Her experience on the court had already told her that her approach was ineffective.
The only question was whether would accept or reject the verdict of reality.
Note well, she did not explore everything she did wrong. She did not try to find out why she had gotten lazy. She instituted a new training regimen and worked harder at the tactical and mental aspects of her game.
This has nothing to do with a brutal self-examination. The authors should know enough about formulating a concept to avoid misleading their readers.