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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

A Business Lesson in a Family Dinner

Can a pot roast really shift your business worldview?

About 30 years ago – right before I got married – my bride-to-be and I were sitting in my future in-laws’ kitchen. As we sat, my mother-in-law was preparing a pot roast dinner, which, given her middle-America upbringing, shouldn’t be a surprise at all. As I slowly sipped on my Jack and Coke, I noticed she had cut off about one inch of meat from either side and simply discarded it in the trash. I sat there silently and tried to logically process why what just happened even transpired in the first place:

  • Perhaps the roast was slightly past the “use by” date, and the ends needed to be trimmed

  • Possibly, she felt the ends were simply too fatty for her future son-in-law

  • Maybe she wanted the roast to appear in more of a rectangular form

If you know me at all, then you know I had to ask her why she cut the ends of the beef – if only to satisfy my curiosity. For me, it was more than that as I was starting to fear that the meat was bought on special, well past its prime, and bordering on rancid. Also, at that point in my life, I only knew how to cook eggs, microwave popcorn, canned soup, and peanut M&M’s, so I thought I might learn something.

“Kathy, why do you cut the ends off the roast before you put it in the pan?” I asked a bit sheepishly. Her answer only served to inflate my curiosity. “Well, I don’t know. Gene’s mom always did it this way, so I have just always done it.” Gene was my future father-in-law and certainly knew his way around a roast, so learning the cooking trade from his mom made sense. However, the logic was still missing – I had to understand why. Thinking I might miss out on some family culinary secret, I suggested we call Gene’s mother (Grandma Menze) to solve the puzzle. Much to my surprise and delight, everyone was game.

After exchanging pleasantries, I provided some background on the topic and asked Grandma Menze, “So, why do you cut the ends off of a roast before you cook it?” She responded with a sweet giggle that provided as much joy as it did bewilderment. After catching her breath, she said, “I always cut the ends off the roast because I never had a pan big enough to hold the ones I got from the store. So, I cut it down to fit in the pan.”

As you can imagine, everyone howled in laughter. For decades, my mother-in-law trimmed her roast before cooking simply because that’s the way it had always been done. While cropping the meat was born out of necessity, the “tradition” continued because not one person – in over 40 years – had asked the simple question of, “Why?”

How many times in our business day do we simply do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done? The truthful answer might be a bit more painful than any of us would like to admit. Innovation and creativity die when we blindly march forward and do things exactly as they’ve always been done.

I firmly believe that processes and procedures should be reviewed annually – every single one of them. Look at them critically and ask yourself and your team why things are done the way they are done. For many of the components, the reason will be completely logical, efficient, and profitable. However, if you do this every year, I guarantee you’ll find things that don’t make any business sense, and people are simply doing what has always been done. When you uncover those roadblocks to progress, imagination, inspiration, innovation, and profitability will prosper.

Even something as simple as simply questioning that pot roast has meant my family has much less food waste. Yes, it’s a small thing, but the lesson is still the same: question everything.

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