Byron's Babbles

Loving A Challenge

This week’s leadership lesson (#13) from John Parker Stewart in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader, played off the story of the invention of the potato chip. The story goes that it was about dinner time during Moon’s second summer season on the Lake. Moon’s Lake House, owned by Cary Moon, was one of the finest restaurants in the Saratoga Springs, New York area, a historically affluent and resort community. A customer came in and ordered Moon’s Fried Potatoes, the well-known house specialty. The cook, George Crum (born George Speck) whipped up a batch and served it to the customer, who complained that the potatoes were cut much too thick. So, he sent the item back to be remade. Crum did his best to make them thinner, yet when the discerning patron got his second order, again he complained that the thickness of the potatoes weren’t to his liking. So, once again, the customer told Crum to try again.

Crum, none too pleased that someone would insult his cooking, cut the potatoes paper-thin, dumped them in a vat of oil, let them cook so long that they became hard and crispy, and then salted them heavily, thinking that these “fried potatoes” would now be inedible. When served the item, the customer took a bite…and then another…and then another, before proclaiming that the fried slices of potatoes were delicious. It became known as the “Saratoga Chip.” The potato chip was born – so the story goes.

When reading this I was thinking of a leadership workshop that I did this past week with my great leadership jazz partner Mike Fleisch. I took the participants to lunch at The Old Bag of Nails in Westerville, Ohio. This was a great place and we had a great waitress. She needed to be because I pulled my trick of letting our waitress pick all our food for us. I did not tell any of the group of eight I was going to do this. When our waitress brought the menus I promptly told her we did not need them. I used my friend, David Marquet’s line of “We are control freaks and for our therapy we are going to let you choose our meals.” I think this freaked her out at first, but then she began to view it as a challenge and really got into it. 

We did have two participants, however, that were having difficulty. I let everyone give a couple of guard rails, but our picky eaters were have trouble getting their minds wrapped around the idea of not being able to select their own meals. In the end they joined us in letting our waitress make all our selections for us. Bottom line: we had the time of our lives and awesome meals. We had awesome appetizers and I had an awesome Cold Water Cod Reuben on Marble Rye. Then, she brought Bread Pudding and the best Carrott Cake I’ve ever had. Everyone, even those who were challenged and uncomfortable at first, agreed we had a much better meal and a lot of fun because we had empowered our waitress to use her expertise to make our dining experience great. 

“Opportunities often come in unpleasant disguises that must be removed with effort and ingenuity.” ~ John Parker Stewart

Our group had the opportunity to try new things and our waitress, who said she had never done this before, was given a challenge and absolutely loved sharing her favorites on the menu with us. We then debriefed and had a lively discussion, which Mike captured very well on the graphic at the beginning of this post. Take a look – you’ll be amazed at what all can be learned during lunch. As Stewart pointed out we need to see challenges and setbacks as opportunities for innovation and creativity.


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