Jiro Dreams of Sushi and 6 Life Lessons

Originally posted on Huffington Post

Over the holiday period I decided to do what everyone aims to do over holidays: eat lots of food/get some exercise, connect with family and friends, read some books and watch a movie or two. The documentary I watched was Jiro Dreams of Sushi and the book wasInfinite Jest (long!). Suffice to say I haven’t finished the thousand-page novel but I got so much from Jiro that I had to share some lessons I learned. Six in particular that, as I type this, I will have to refer to as I live my life and build my business.

1. Become an expert at one thing and make sure you love it: Jiro Ono of the documentary is a sushi master and Michelin three-star recipient. He’s dedicated his life to the perfection of sushi. He’s spent more than 10,000 hours developing his sushi expertise (you can read more on this concept of gaining expertise after 10,000 hours of practice in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) and it pays off in the form of guests that wait months to have a seat at his 10-stool/outside-toilet restaurant. In the context of living your life in pursuit of what matters to you, 10,000 hours of learning does not feel so long. Some of those hours will come because of your personal interests (baseball, woodworking, origami etc.); I’ve been in the energy industry for over 10,000 active learning hours. It doesn’t feel that long because I love it. Find something you love and becoming an expert is not so much work.


2. Surround your self with other experts: While you are working towards your 10,000 hours there is nothing wrong with being an apprentice and finding experts that teach you along the way. Jiro, and afterwards his son, would go to the fish market every morning for the raw materials. Jiro was the sushi expert but there was the octopus expert, the tuna expert, the squid expert etc. Jiro knew he was an ‘apprentice’ in the octopus/tuna/squid world but trusted that these other experts would help him improve his own trade. The squid expert shared that “when I see good squid I think this is good for Jiro.” When you respect other people’s expertise, truly respect their expertise, they will help you along your own way to becoming an expert.

3. Never stop learning: And keep practicing. With every thing in the world there will always be new things to learn. As the world changes long-held beliefs fall and so you must continue to nurture your expertise or you will stagnate and fall by the wayside. The tuna expert said “I am always learning.” What changes about tuna you ask? I suggest that if he needs to keep learning about tuna then you need to keep learning about whatever it is you are looking to gain expertise in.

4. Keep innovating in your life: Jiro came back from war and his sushi master told him “there is no new way to make sushi.” That could have been it but Jiro chose to keep learning and improving. His desire to make new things or make things in new ways got him a Michelin 3 star rating (the highest restaurant rating) in 2008. What makes this amazing is the fact that this ‘restaurant’ has only 10 seats and an outdoor toilet! That would be ignored if you did not know about the innovative methods and commitment to expertise that brings people to those 10 seats. Innovate and you never know where it might take you in life and in your business.

5. Stand for something: Your stand, or value system, provides a contract with which people will engage with you. If your contract says ‘wishy washy’ then you should expect that is how you will be perceived and treated. If your contract says ‘I will create the best product and respect my customers’ then you should expect that will come round. Paraphrasing the tuna expert “I either buy my first choice or nothing, if there are ten tuna only one can be the best.”

6. Never forget that it’s about people: apprenticeship, expertise, knowledge acquisition and innovation all have one thing in common. The recurring thread is that life is about people. People, pardon the cliché, do make the world go round. Focus on learning from the people you meet, expand your horizon of experience with people who are not like you and it will give you a whole new way of looking at life. This will enhance your learning and consequently increase your experiences. And I dare say expertise.

If you take anything away from this it’s that it’s all about your relationship with people. Now I have to one day get over my aversion for sushi and go try to develop a relationship with Jiro and his sushi.

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