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The Secret of Success - Just Add a Little Cumin


If you thought that is article was about cooking then in part you would be correct. But it is about a lot more than food and cooking, it about great food and mastering cooking and what cooking can teach us about business.


After you have been in a career for some time if you are successful you get asked for the formula or recipe. It doesn't matter if it cooking, selling, managing or plumbing. There is a belief that there is a formula for success. I hate to break it to you but the formula does not exist. Reality is that we find our own way and if we analyze multiple examples of success we will find many similarities and as many differences.


What is Cumin?

Cumin is from a flowering plant known as Cuminum cyminum. It is seeds, each one contained within a fruit, which if dried are used in the cuisines of many cultures in both whole and ground form.


Ground Cumin is a quintessential spice in a variety of curries, marinades, soups, and a few spice blends, including curry powder, garam masala and taco seasoning. But it can be used to flavor meat and vegetable dishes, as well as soups and stews.


Once I spent an afternoon in the office of a master chef, yes the restaurant kitchen. I had known Max for many years and eaten often at the restaurant owned by Max and his brother. Max had been working on a new dish and we tasted as he cooked and then he said "let's add some Cumin". Now I think of Cumin as a spice in curry but Max explained that a little Cumin can make a big difference, like a secret ingredient. It came from experience. He went on to explain that all chefs have their secret ingredients.


A recipe does not make a great meal



There was a shelf that was covered with recipe books and Max's note books. He looked at them and said "because you have recipes doesn't mean you can cook a great meal". What Max had that I did not was training, experience, a great sense of taste, knowing how flavours complement one another and the ability to experiment. He might cook variations of the same dish a dozen times before he gets it the way he wants. But then he can replicate it as often as needed. He also had the tools and understood his trade craft.

Max had formal education in a cooking school in Europe and had also apprenticed with a Michelin hatted chef.


So what did I learn from Max?


It was, that cooking from a recipe does not necessarily mean you are a chef or even a cook. I also learned that training and practice were important. But most of all that success is achieved following many failures.


Can you create a recipe?


When you look at a recipe for food it contains some key features.

  • Description.

  • Preparation and cooking time.

  • Cooking method and temperature

  • The ingredients and amounts required

  • Number of servings produced

  • Steps for each ingredient

  • Accurate nutrition information and food type (Vegan, Gluten free etc)

  • Notes and special requirements

Obviously you need an idea of what you are producing and the knowledge and skills to provide the necessary detail. But there is no idea if it will be edible without cooking and trying it. The worst case scenario is that you can make people very sick if you don't know what you are doing. Reality is that we cannot all be master chefs and indeed we may not want to be.


The XX keys to success in business

(Replace XX with any number you like.)

I am sure you have seen the articles with catchy titles like "10 Steps to Business Success" or similar.

Let's call these the recipes of business management.

We have all read them but how often do you get to the end and think of at least one additional step that should have been there. YES it's your Cumin. Of course if you can't add anything else and the recipe is all you have then you might be lacking some essential elements; ingredients, experience, trade craft, tools or just passion.

I have been asked on numerous occasions what I think are important steps to be successful in business. Success does not have a formula with ingredients that can be mixed together and out pops success.


In order to succeed you have to fail.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” - Robert F. Kennedy

Teachers are essential


George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Those who can, do; those who can't, teach” for a play, Man and Superman, in 1903. It has often been used against teachers in a derogatory way. Of course there have been many amazing people who have been both doers and teachers like Albert Einstein. We all have teachers in our past that we admired and have been essential to us getting to where we are today. They were successful in their own way and their students are the proof. But they might not have been expert mathematicians or literary geniuses. Teaching is a way of life and has that core capability of being able to pass on skills and ideas. So just as not all Chefs can teach how to cook or how to become a great chef, not all successful business people can teach you how to start and run a successful business.


Try a Google search for "steps to business success" or similar and you get over 500 million results. Even on the first page there are multiple choices and fundamental confusion. There might be some great tips and ideas amongst these 500 million pieces of content but they are useless unless put into context. So if you believe that blindly following a set of steps will get you to success then unfortunately you are wrong.


How many NO's before a YES?


For any of you who has been involved in sales in your career you will know that you cannot make a sale before the customer says "NO". The first sales manager I ever had told me that I must get four NO's before I can get a sale. Sometimes it took a lot more than four NO's.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” - Winston Churchill

If you have been Googling the recipe for success and reading some of the 500 million results then my recommendation is stop now. Go to the kitchen and bake some muffins. There are plenty of simple recipes. Will this help you understand success? Maybe. If not at least you will have some (nice) muffins.

Oh and don't forget to add a little Cumin.

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