Thursday, December 01, 2011

Viva la Pasta! - Spaghetti Management

Bo Hagström is a well known chef, and hosts Sun Food (Swedish: Solens Mat), a Swedish TV show. I met Bo when he signed books in a bookstore. His latest book, Viva la Pasta! is about, you guessed it, pasta!

Bo is on a mission: He wants to teach Swedes about pasta. As it turned out, with good reason. I got a short but interesting lesson.

Bo handed me two strands of pasta and asked me to feel them. One strand was very straight, and felt completely smooth. The other strand was different, slightly crooked. The surface felt slightly rough.

The straight, smooth strand is bad pasta, Bo told me. It is low on nutrients. It does not taste very good either. Because of the smooth surface, it does not absorb flavors from other ingredients.

The slightly crooked strand with the rough surface is great pasta. Much more nutritious. Because it is porous, it can absorb flavors from sauce and other ingredients.

The two kinds of pasta cost the same in the store. The bad pasta outsells the good pasta many times over. Pasta buyers lack the knowledge they need to distinguish between good and bad pasta.

"The cost isn't important," Bo said. "What is important, is the value you get."

I couldn't help laughing, because I realized it's exactly the same thing in my job. In your line of work to, I'm sure.

Imagine that you are a pasta-consultant. You want to teach manufacturers how to make really good pasta, and buyers how to choose the best kind. How would you do it? How would you convince manufacturers to make better pasta when the consumers don't know the difference between good and bad? When the consumers have never tasted good pasta, don't even know there is good pasta.

We can distinguish good from bad only when we have different things to compare with each other. With pasta, you can taste and feel the difference. And, it is no big deal if you buy a package of some brand you haven't tried before, and discover you don't like it.

It is much more difficult to try something new if it is expensive, if the stakes are high, and if it is difficult to assess the result. Picking the right ideas about leadership, management, and process design would fall into that category.

What I learned from Bo, besides choosing pasta, was this: I need to show potential customers something simple, like two strands of spaghetti. It must be something that can be felt, so the difference can be experienced.

Something to think about.

Of course I bought a copy of Bo's book. Pasta experiments await!

Oh, there is one thing more:

Suppose you have a pasta factory, and you want to make the very best pasta. For this, of course, you must have the very best process, so you start a Six Sigma program.

Will that Six Sigma program give you straight, smooth pasta, or crooked, rough to the touch pasta?