Kendra and I were travelling this week for a really great family event. My side of the family doesn’t get together very often, and this one was special as we joined with a branch of our family that we hadn’t had contact with for 28 years. On top of that my kid sister Karen had turned 50, giving us the reason to get together and celebrate. The day before the festivities started, Kendra and I decided we should try out a highly rated restaurant in Toronto known for its tasting menus.
Kendra and I are foodies so the prospect of five courses of fine food, each a surprise limited only by any allergies or strong dislikes of certain ingredients, was really compelling. Not only did we consume five unique and beautifully presented dishes, but the chef prepared each of us a different tasting at each turn meaning 10 different dishes were presented throughout the evening.
We swapped plates half way through each course so that we experienced all of it. It was quite an event overall. An exercise in choice, variety, uncertainty and novelty. I’m glad I did it, but it somehow I felt unfulfilled. The interesting thing about it is I’m not quite sure why I say that. I think there is some lesson in this as to how it feels to be learning experientially in a space that we already know how to exist in.
When we think about it, we have been trained for years how to eat a meal. We sit down and generally follow the same rhythm every supper. The salad comes first (or not), then the main course, followed by dessert (or not). If we choose to have wine, we choose a wine for the dinner and have our glass. A key to this whole process is that we are generally in control. At home, we know what is coming. In a restaurant, we order what we want. The tasting dinner was the exact opposite. We couldn’t ask for what we want. We could only say what we don’t want. We didn’t face uncertainty once, we faced it five times (10 if we count each other’s plates). We also had no control over the wines we were served as we opted for three ounce pours to match a course or two. In other words, we were out of our comfort zone.
So how did that feel? Exhilarating but strange would be my answer.
The variety and surprise were enlivening. The idea of not knowing what was coming next really got a sense of adventure going, doubled by the fact that the wine pairing would appear shortly after. There’s an energy that comes with a novelty.
The strangeness was really about doing something very familiar in an unfamiliar way. We take comfort in our routines. There is a safety in them. There is certainty attached to them. In Tony Robbins’ terms there is something here that makes us be aware of our most basic need of certainty. In Maslow’s terms there is something very basic about the need for food, and thus I think when someone messes with our mealtime patterns we feel it at the core of our needs/self.
When we change something as basic as the way we consume food, perhaps our subconscious mind questions whether we should be focused on higher order needs. In the Robbin’s model, variety comes after certainty. In the Maslow model, security comes after basic physiological needs such as food. In some way, is it possible that our various levels of needs were at conflict with each other throwing our subconscious into confusion?
As leaders, are we aware of the levels of needs at which our team member are engaged? Do we recognize when they feel threats to their most basic needs such as security of income to the mortgage or certainty of what their job will be tomorrow? I think that is the first trick. If our team members don’t feel we care about their security they will do it for themselves, which might include choosing to work somewhere else.
The second trick is to understand that when our team members feel that those needs are completely fulfilled and they start to look for the next level. Do we get so focused on ensuring our team feels secure that we forget that they have a need for variety, for significance and for growth?
In terms of the metaphor at the beginning of this post, do we ensure that our team knows that a good, solid, traditional meal will be there for them when they need them, but on a regular basis tasting menus will appear when they want them, and perhaps even the opportunity to be involved in the preparation of the meal?