In English, Personal Observation

Lessons In Team

I watched a rerun of the first season of MasterChef US last night. It’s a TV game show contest for amateur cooks to win the MasterChef title and a $100,000 prize. I already knew who would win the competition, yet it was interesting to watch the episodes that I missed.

In last night’s episode, the remaining ten contestants are divided into two groups, blue and red. Each must prepare burgers for 100 hungry truckers. The winner of the challenge would be the team with the most votes for best burger from the truckers.

The blue team was led by the winner of an earlier challenge, and he picked best people to be his team members. The red team comprised of who were left.

As expected, the blue team had a very good start. They were well organized. Everyone knew what to do, and there was a clear sense of direction. When the first truckers arrived, they were all set and ready to serve the burgers.

The red team were at first a mess. They made a mistake of mixing blue cheese into the patty, and the cheese melted right into the hot grill. They basically ruined their first batch. But they quickly adapted their strategy. They made a new batch of burgers with all the tastiest ingredients thrown into it: meat, pork bacon, barbecue sauce, and cheese. They even put double meat patties when ordered.

The tide turned to the red team’s favor with votes for their burger adding up fast, and soon they were leading the tally. The judges came to the blue team with the red team’s burger and told them to taste it, and to adjust their recipe to match. But the blue team leader adamantly refused, saying that the red team’s burger was disgusting, and the blue team’s burger was better.

The truckers however, disagreed. In a short time later, 51 of them voted for the red team, making them the winner of the challenge.

Here are the interesting lessons:

(1) Do what is best for situation at hand, not what can serve your ego. The judges said that the chefs should think like a restaurant owners and serve what the customers wanted: gourmet burger, or simply the tastiest and satisfying burger. The greatest mistake would be to putting your ego first by serving gourmet meal for a non-discriminating crowd who are just looking to satisfy their hunger. The red team was able to discern this, and won the challenge.

(2) It is not shameful to admit that we are running the wrong strategy, and adjust necessarily. It’s better to be a humble winner than an arrogant loser. This was the blue team’s mistake. They were so confident that their burger was the best, they refused to accept the fact.

(3) Sometimes starting wrongly doesn’t mean that all is lost. As long as we can keep our spirit up, make improvements, and focus on getting better results, there is always hope that we can finish proudly.

(4) Never underestimate your team members, although they may not be considered as the best. What matter are:
A. Strong leadership with clear focus and ability to make quick decision
B. Spirit of camaraderie. Team of underdogs with excellent L’esprit de corps can still put up a relentless fight. A “Dream Team” can turn out to be a “Nightmare Team” if its members are more interested in assigning blame and defending ego.

Let’s go team!

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In English, Personal Reflection

When In Doubt

“To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting.”

Stanislaw Leszczynski
Selected Polish king 1704-1709, 1733-1734 (1677 – 1766)

We always have doubt when we first travel to a strange place. I remember the first time me and several friends going to a certain destination in Bandung relying entirely on vague directions scribbled on the back of a crumpled receipt from a fastfood restaurant. I had to reconcile three things during that journey: the unclear directions, the dubious street map, and the actual condition that we found. After a frustrated, futile search to find the elusive landmarks described in the direction, we added the fourth item into the confusion: direction we solicited from people that we met on the street.

There was a point in that experience when all the four items so contradicted one another that we found it impossible to be certain of which information was the most reliable. When that happened, we had to make a faithful choice to use one as our own sole guidance.

Facing challenges in our lives, either personal or professional, can be quite a nerve jarring experience. The tough reality is that every day is a new path down which we have never traveled before. There are people with similar experiences from which we can draw ideas, but there will be one or more differences in our circumstances that make our problems uniquely different from that of other people’s.

We therefore can only use them as “possible solutions” instead of the only solution.

One of my favorite TV series was “Star Trek: Next Generation.” When facing a situation dire to the safety of the Starship Enterprise, Captain Jean Luc Picard would call a quick, standing-up conferences of his top officers. He would concisely state the problem, and ask for their ideas. He would then make a decision that was either an adoption of one of his officer’s idea, a combination of several ideas, or his own idea. He could never be sure of the outcome, but he would ask for inputs and decide one that was considered to be the best under the prevailing circumstances.

That is what we can do when having to make tough decision.

1. State the problem
2. Understand the cause
3. Gather important information on possible solutions
4. Choose one that is considered to be the best.

In my experience with my friends, we ended up choosing to forget the maps and the written direction, and go with the bystanders directions.

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