I Love MasterChef

The first season of the MasterChef show just ended in Romania. We are quite good at importing stuff like X Factor or The Voice but, MasterChef was a bit more special. It is a show that presents a mix of challenges where both team-work and personal professional skills are essential to win. Just like in real life – right? THAT was the part that fascinated me: matching the experience the contesters had during the show with what I see around me every day at work. Simple stories, but somehow, we still make these mistakes. Here are some examples.

Wake-up! You are a manager now!

In this challenge, the contesters were split into 2 groups. Each of the group had to elect a captain to coordinate them. They had to prepare food for a hole lot of people. At the end, their clients voted the best team. The team that lost was asked “Why do you think you lost?”. Interestingly enough, all provided the same answer: “Because the captain started cooking instead of organizing the team. Each of us did what we thought best.”

There is one thing you need to understand once you agree to accept the team manager role: your job has changed. This does not necessarily mean that you will no longer do the things you have done so far (cooking in this case). It just means that you have to do other things first like making sure that each member of your team knows what he/she needs to do.


After a long day of tests, there were 2 guys that ended up with the lowest score. One of them was supposed to go home, so the final test was setup. “You have to cook something tasteful in no more than 30 minutes” one of the judges said. The first contestant decided that this is his moment to impress the judges. So he started to cook the most complex dish he could think of. The second one thought: “OK – I only have 30 minutes. What could I do in this time that is also tasteful?”. What do you think happened? The first contestant presented an unfinished dish, full of compromises. The second one, presented a simple salad, which was so good that the judges advised him to patent it.

Make sure you understand what is required from you. If I am asking you to deliver an algorithm that does something and that I MUST have it in 3 days, it does not necessarily mean that I also want the most optimal solution. If after 3 days your tell me that you are still working because the solution you selected is so complex that 3 days were not enough, I will be disappointed. If after 2 weeks you come to me and tell me that you have just finished the best-in-class algorithm that does what I have requested, I might not care. Make sure you understand what it is requested from you and deliver as such!

Always having the last word…

There was this guy who was quite good at cooking. Not sure if he was one of the best but he was for sure above the average. The criteria for leaving the show is supposed to be cooking skills. Something else got him out: he always wanted to have the last word in a conversation. And this was no longer OK when one of the judges was making an assessment and was trying to make a point. Having the last word even in this situation was not at all appropriate. “You may be a good cook. But you know what? I would not want to work with you in the same kitchen. Your experience with MasterChef finishes now. Thank you!” was the final assessment from the judges.

This was debated in various forms, the most popular version being "Intelligence (IQ) vs. Emotional Intelligence (EQ)". It’s about the fact that being able to deal with people became a much more valuable skill than the technical ones. Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers" notices that having a higher-than-average IQ is not the prerequisite for success. Having good EQ, however, increases the chances of success dramatically. And I agree with this. I’ve worked with many brilliant technical people that was so hard to deal with and I was so relieved when this collaboration ended. I have also seen guys that really know how to handle people. “I cannot say exactly why, but I really want to work with this guy” said one of the big executives about someone having this skill. All of them (no exception) are seen as invaluable assets for the companies they work for.

Leadership styles

MasterChef had 3 judges: the first is in his twenties, the second in his thirties and the third just above forty. All are great cooks. At some point during the show, the 3 judges had to take the lead of the contesters groups. That was the first opportunity for us to see them acting as leaders. It was a pleasure to see 3 leadership styles at work:

  • the youngest judge was everywhere: screaming, giving orders, very hands-on when he saw mistakes. He knew how things should come up and his coaching style implied showing to the unexperienced ones how to deliver those results. He was taking the dishes from the contesters hands to apply corrections himself. That was really great for the newbies to learn from the master.
  • the second judge (around thirties) clearly had a more hands-off style. He was still screaming, he was still in control of the entire process of creating the dishes and he was guiding his team through each decision they made. But he tried to limit himself of giving advices and he made corrections himself only when there was the need to teach.
  • the third one was yet another story: relaxed, no screaming at all, throwing jokes from time to time. He gave you the impression that he saw them all and that he knew all the possible outcomes from this experience. He watched his team at work and his interventions were more like questions or hints that were “injected” in contesters heads to help them make the final decision. He was preaching to the group: “When cooking, there are no rules in combining ingredients. No rules… as long as the outcome is delicious.”

It was fun to watch 3 leadership style. It was funnier when I linked this with my experience. I remember using the first leadership style 8 years ago when I have received the first roles that involved coordinating people. All mistakes were corrected by my hand. I needed to do this because I felt the only responsible for the final outcome. The second style is where I am today. I am no longer the guy that corrects the mistakes but I still need to have my eyes on most of the balls that are up in the air. The third leadership style is where I want to be. To me, this is the leader that has lived so many experiences in his life that chances to be taken by surprise are so little. This is also the leader able to grow talents: plant an advice, ask a question but let them figure out the solution in their own unique way.

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One Response to I Love MasterChef

  1. Pingback: The most important habit is DO | Learning Routine

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