Saturday, June 7, 2008

Learning from Reality TV

OK, I admit that I like Bravo's Top Chef.

A few years ago, when we were brainstorming themes for Microsoft's annual Intern Puzzle Day, I asked an intern in my group if he had any suggestions. He offered up what I thought was an absolutely awful theme -- reality television shows. Later that day, the Puzzle Day planning group met to pick the theme and, even though I didn't like it, I put the suggestion on the list and made a case for it. And, lo and behold, it became the theme that year. Just shows what I know!

To me, one of the important things in teamwork is keeping my own biases in check -- presenting and even supporting ideas that I personally disagree with rather than filtering them through my own biases. I had no idea how many reality shows there were, but there were and are tons, and the theme really worked quite well.

Fast forward a few years and I'm now addicted to Top Chef. It's a great show (my love of creative cooking doesn't hurt) and Tom Colicchio is one of the best people on any reality show. As you might expect on a reality show, there are lots of personality clashes and things like that. But, I'm going to write about something different -- two really great moments.

In Episode 9, "Wedding Wars," the winning team included Richard and Stephanie. Richard, cooked like a madman and really was a key force in their win. But, Stephanie made a wedding cake! A gorgeous wedding cake! In a day! She took on the hardest part of the challenge, knowing that if she failed, she might go home. She took the risk for the team. But, their team won and Richard was appointed the winner. And he immediately said, "I'd like to give it to Stephanie."

This week, in Episode 13, "Finale Part 1," Stephanie picked eliminated contestant Dale as her sous chef. She butchered a whole pig and prepped it with Dale's help. Then, Dale messed up and left out the pork bellies overnight. By morning, they were ruined, too dangerous to serve. Yet, Stephanie knew that being mad at Dale would have served no purpose -- in fact, getting made at Dale probably would have hurt her chances by effectively destroying her team. So, she looked forward, rather than backward -- she moved on, kept her team together, nailed it with a great replacement dish, and ended up in the top two with a spot in the finals.

You don't see a lot of moments like these in reality TV and, sadly, we don't see many moments like this in the corporate environment either.

Bonus thought: My idea for next season's Top Chef. A Pro-Am challenge, pairing each chef (the Proessional) with an untrained but serious cook (the Amateur). And I volunteer to be one of the amateurs.