Sometimes Things Are Just Too Easy, Aren’t They?
There are “tried-and-true” techniques that are so simplistic that we doubt whether or not they will even work. We often try to re-evaluate, improve upon, and complicate them. An experience I once had while working in a hospital kitchen reminds me of how we try to make some things more complex than they really are.
I was new on the job in the kitchen of a mental health hospital. No, I was not a patient. I was on a work-study program associated with the Psychology Department of Ohio University. As a 17-year-old freshman, I thought I knew everything about everything.
My shift started at 5:00 am and ran until 2:30 in the afternoon. It was perfect for a young fellow who enjoyed the sun and fun in the summer. I could work a full shift and be at the local pool early enough in the afternoon to thoroughly enjoy the day and, more importantly, college girls. It was also true that while I did have to work my way through school, the way I was doing it caused many of those girls to believe that I was “wealthy” enough not to have to work and, therefore, worthy of their attention. I did not disabuse them of that notion.
During the first week on the job, the supervisor asked me to prepare the potatoes for breakfast. That meant peeling and washing about 200 pounds of potatoes so that they would be ready to be cooked by about 6:00 am (breakfast was served no later than 6:30 am). So, as soon as my shift started, I started working. When explaining the assignment, the supervisor told me to retrieve the potatoes from the storeroom, take them to the potato peeler to get them peeled, and then wash them in a large sink. Then, I was to present them to Charlie, the cook who would turn them into fried potatoes for breakfast. I was to do about 25 pounds of potatoes at a time.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t born yesterday. There was no way I’d be seen wandering around that kitchen looking for a mythical potato peeler that didn’t exist. I was not about to be the butt of that joke — no, Sir.
I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.
I smiled, accepted the assignment, and headed for the storage area to get the first 25 pounds of potatoes. Potatoes in hand, I walked out to the back receiving deck with a knife in hand and began to peel potatoes. In fact, I was very good at peeling potatoes and had no trouble preparing the entire 200 pounds, 25 pounds at a time, and delivering each quantity to Charlie.
I dutifully completed my task each day, and all was well. I was especially proud that I had not fallen for the potato peeler joke. After three weeks, my hands were sore, callused, and suffering from minor cuts, but I was proud of myself for not falling victim to a newbie joke.
Then one day at about 5:45 am, while I was on the back receiving dock peeling potatoes by hand and enjoying the dawning of the day, the supervisor finally found me. She was irritated because she couldn’t find me and assumed that I had slipped off and wasn’t working. Her annoyance quickly turned to surprised confusion when she looked down and saw that I was peeling the potatoes by hand.
She asked why I wasn’t using the potato peeler.
I smiled, wondering why she wouldn’t give up that ruse, and told her I knew that I was the potato peeler and that the joke wasn’t going to work. With that, she barked at me to get up and follow her. She paraded me through the kitchen announcing in a voice for all to hear that I was about the dumbest college kid she had ever encountered.
She walked me right up to a strange machine that had a drum on it that was large enough to hold about 25 pounds of potatoes, with ribs on the inside and a water faucet at the top. She explained very carefully that you put the unpeeled potatoes into it, turn on the water, and start the machine. The machine would then turn around and around, gently tossing the potatoes against the ribbed inside of the barrel. The water-soaked potato skin would then easily rub off, and all 25 pounds of potatoes were peeled in a matter of minutes. I had been hand-peeling potatoes for three weeks — hundreds and hundreds of pounds of potatoes — and this was my first time seeing the “mythical” potato peeler.
I ended up being the butt of a joke anyway — just not the one I expected.
Thinking back on it, I am amazed at how arrogant I was just to assume that I knew enough about commercial kitchens to “know” that a potato peeler did not exist. I had never been in a commercial kitchen before. I had all the information I needed to complete the task efficiently.
Did I listen? No. I knew better. I didn’t need my supervisor’s knowledge or experience. I knew it all, didn’t I?
I made one of the biggest mistakes that people can make in life — I didn’t listen to the people who have experience. I assumed that I just had to know better, but the truth was; I didn’t know better.
There’s nothing like experience.
It beats education every time.
The only thing better is a combination of the two, or at least a willingness to learn from other people. Which is, after all, what education is, isn’t it? There are many techniques readily available with which to lead a great life.
But many people don’t try to look for something simpler and better. People fail to recognize that other people’s experiences can be substituted for their own.
Did you hear that?
Other people’s experiences can be substituted for your own. You can dramatically reduce the learning curve and rapidly enhance your success just by listening to those that have been successful.
Now, that’s just too easy, isn’t it?
So, when you read something or hear advice from someone who’s been there and done that, do yourself a favor: listen carefully and give it a try. From now on, when you think you know better, think for a moment about the potato peeler. Sometimes the simplest of ideas can have the most significant impact.
Written by Al Ferguson
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