Massaging the Octopus: Jiro Dreams of Startups

The other day I want to go see Jiro Dreams of Sushi--a documentary about an 86 year old sushi chef working out of a 10 seat restaurant in a Ginza subway station.

Oh, did I mention that the restaurant is rated 3 stars by the Michelin folks?

This guy is like a throwback to another era.  He doesn't feel as if he's gotten to the pinnacle of his craft yet.  Forget Gladwell's 10,000 hours.  This is a guy that has been making sushi for 75 years and he doesn't feel like he's quite gotten there yet.

 

Watching the movie made me think a lot about what's going on in the startup world right now--how you can hack together a project over a weekend and get funded.  You can jump into an incubator program and take it to the next level after just three months.  In the NYC tech scene, you can quit your Wall Street job, move into a coworking space, and call yourself an entrepreneur all in the same day--good idea optional.

Watching Jiro made me wonder if we all need to slow down a bit--and hold the bar a little bit higher.  The movie is titled as such because he makes sushi in his dreams--waking up in the middle of the night to write down ideas.  How many entrepreneurs applying to all of these "get started fast" programs have had a problem chase them down like that and make them obsessive about solving it?  It took me 9 years from when I first got interested in career paths to deciding to do a company around it--and given the outcome I probably should have thought about it longer.  Bryce just asked yesterday, "What possibilities are you losing sleep over?"

What also struck me about Jiro is how he continues to hone his craft and how the goal isn't faster or cheaper, but better.  He talks about how he used to massage the octopus for 30 minutes and now he does it for 45.

That's 45 minutes of massaging an octopus.  The key there is that it's not him doing the massaging--it's an apprentice.  At Jiro's restaurant, you first massage the octopus, then they maybe let you cook the rice, then perhaps put you on egg sushi.  The egg sushi guy made 200 batches before they found his product acceptable.  I don't think today's generation of startup employees really appreciates apprenticeship and learning anymore... they learn to solve short term goals, like "Tell me how to sell."  If you tell them you'll need to make 1000 cold calls before your first sale, they're out the door.

The other key takeaway for me is that Jiro recognized that his success is due to his team--and what you're really doing as an entrepreneur isn't trying to do all the work yourself, but to create processes and set standards that other people can work within.  He admitted that 75% of the work is done by the time it touches his hands, yet he gets all the credit for making it.  What he does deserve the credit for is creating the organization and that organization's dedication to perfection.  As Dennis Crowley once said, "The hard part is building the machine that builds the product."

I'd highly recommend that every entpreneneur and startup professional goes to see this movie and asks themselves the following questions after:

  1. How am I dedicating myself to pursuing excellence in my craft?
  2. Have I built a sustainable organization where high standards are maintained and pursued vigorously as a goal?
  3. Does everyone in my organization see themselves as part of something larger than themselves?
  4. What is perfection in what we do?
  5. Does everyone in my organization see a path for themselves to grow in their role and gain greater reponsibility over time?

On that note.. I'm hungry... and heading to lunch.