Managing Talent: A Running Metaphor

When I first joined the cross-country team in high school I naively thought that running was all the same, you just ran. Then came the first day we ran hills. It was then that I realized that running has a lot more technique and skills then were initially apparent. One of the most important things I learned was how run down hill.

On that first day of running hills our coach told us to “really work it going up the hill and recover on the way down.” After reaching the top of the hill I began my “recovery” back down the hill (i.e. jogging slowly). However, I noticed that everyone else was flying passed me on the way down the hill. Not only that, but when they reached the bottom they seemed even more rested and recovered than I was.

After practice I asked one of the guys on the varsity team why everyone’s “recovery” speed was so much faster than mine. In true Southern California surfer fashion he said “Dude, you just got to learn how to let your legs go.” Let my legs go, what the hell does that mean? Is that some sort of weird surfer zen thing?

What he meant was, when running uphill you really have to churn your legs to keep moving. However, when you reach the top and start going down, your legs are already churning. With the help of gravity, your legs will keep churning unless you actively try to stop them. See also: Newtons first law. It is the same effect you get as when you drive down hill and put your car in neutral.

Once you figure out how to “let your legs go” you just have two things to worry about. The first is that you regulate your speed. Your legs can take you far faster than you can safely go, so you should constantly be regulating your speed to go as fast as is safely possible. The second thing is avoiding obstacles. It only takes a small rock or divot to catch you off guard and send you tumbling down a hill. The further away you see the obstacle the easier it is to avoid.

Managing talented people fundamentally uses the same technique as running down hill. Imagine your team as the legs and you, as the manager, are the head. When you have a talented team, they should be able to move incredibly quickly. While their ability to move fast is a good thing, it is your job as the manager to make sure that your team is going as fast as they can while still being safe. If you allow the team to move too fast they will eventually trip and fall. Hopefully its just a scrape or a bruise and they can get back at it. But sometimes the injury can be really serious and the recovery process is a long and painful one.

Avoiding obstacles is the second skill you need to master. As the manager you are the vision. You see whats coming both short and long term, it is your job to steer the team appropriately. You have to make sure you are tracking what is right in front of you as well as what is on the horizon. Its important to remember that the further away you see an obstacle, the more smoothly you can steer the team around it. If you are really good, your team wont even notice the small course correction you made a while back that let you “effortlessly” avoid the giant bolder that would have eventually blocked their way.

If there is one piece of advice I can give you about managing a talented team it is: “let your team go.”

Eatability Testing: Why don’t more restaurants do it?

Two things I’ve observed about people in New York is that everyone jaywalks and no one cooks. Everyone eats out all the time. However, since most people are busy, a large amount of food is served via takeout and delivery (as opposed to eating in). This presents a challenge that few restaurants seem to realize: the long delay between when the food is prepared and when it is actually eaten.

How many times has this happened to you, it is late on Sunday evening and you call one of your favorite restaurants for a little delivery. You pick your favorite item off the menu, place your order, and wait in anticipation. Thirty minutes and a cash exchange later and food is on your dinner table. You pop open the styrofoam container, grab a bite, and yuck, it’s cold.

Across the street from where I work at there is a fantastic Vietnamese sandwich shop called Num Pang. Their menu is filled with tons of delicious sandwiches like ginger barbecue brisket and hoisin veal meatballs. The trick with eating Num Pang is that you have to eat it immediately. In the 10 short minutes it takes to get your order and walk back to the office, the bread has already started to become soggy. If someone happens to catch you in the hallway you might as well say goodbye to your sandwich and hello to a (not so) hot mess.

This begs the question: why don’t more restaurants and takeout joints test the experience of eating food from their establishment? Prepare an order, put it on the counter for 20 minutes, and then have the chef eat it. Better yet, have the delivery person take it out with an order and then bring it back. I’d imagine most chefs would be surprised at the “presentation” and taste of their food after it has taken a bike ride through NYC in the winter. What was once a nice pad thai dinner will likely have turned into a cold ball of yuck.

Why don’t more restaurants do this? I think many restaurants are in for a rude awakening when they start eatability testing their menu.

Here are some of the most common missteps I’ve seen:

  • If you are serving something on bread (hamburgers, sandwiches, etc) then any sort of sauce or liquid on it is going to make the bread soggy within 5 minutes. If you can, just put the sauce in a container on the side. I’m sure some health-conscience customers would appreciate it as well.
  • If you have to serve it with sauce, make sure to put the sauce as far away from the edges of the bread as possible. Otherwise, the sauce leaks out of the sides and make the top and bottom of the bread soggy as well.
  • Separate hot and cold, just like you would at the grocery store. Styrofoam insulates surprisingly poorly, so packing a cold dessert on top of a hot soup is a bad idea. Account for leakage. Some well placed napkins can go a long way.
  • Account for the cooking and cool down that happen during travel. Talk to any chef in a food competition and they will tell you that residual heat can have a large effect on the taste of a meal. Account for the 10-20 minutes of delivery time for all to-go orders.
  • Test & iterate. There will always be surprises, so eatability test with different items on the menu to make sure that it is as good as you expect it to be.