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beach music or olive oil - inside out thinking from one of my favorite restaurants

"we taste 'em, the olive oils, usually three different ways - cold off a spoon, on a salad and then warmed, you know, not hot, but with a little tomato sauce... I'm still looking for the right one" "well, this is my second job and I haven't really tried the food. I hear the fish tacos are good."

You have a choice, pick a restaurant based off of those two quotes. Don't have enough info? One is a multi-million dollar investment, the other is a more modest joint. Still undecided? Ok, last clue, one has a tiki bar over looking the river and the other doesn't take most credit cards or reservations.

Last night Susan and I had an awesome date night. We kicked it off at the Virginia Museum which is winding down its Picasso exhibit. The collection is on loan from the Musée national Picasso in Paris. We had a great time exploring the same collection we had gotten to know well while living in Paris in a new but familiar space. Ironically, I lived across, like seriously front door to front door, from the Va Museum for two years and we almost never went. Since moving down the road we are going a lot more.

But back to the food. So after hanging with Pablo, we went to Mamma'Zu. We had the most amazing meal which wasn't a surprise to us, we've been there many times before. We had fresh ramps - a seasonal delicacy kind of like a wild leek. We devoured a bright green fava been puree. The courses went on and on, many off the menu. We were in foodie heaven. Why do we go back time and time again? Because its all about the food!

If Top Chef's Restaurant Wars has taught us anything its that the front of the house and ambiance matters, right? Some health care guy with a blog wrote about a hoity-toity dining experience in New York where the service, as much as the food, made the experience. Holistically, clearly the two go hand-in-hand.

Mamma'Zu is a little different. It is a bit like this place in Germany which blindfolds diners to heighten the food experience. When ambiance is removed, you focus solely on the food. Mamma'Zu has no blind folds - the place is simply dark and different. This place is a Richmond institution (need a primer? check this post). The paint needs touching up. Most of the tables are wobbly, maybe because there are some floor tiles missing. It is also a bastion of inside out thinking.

It is one of my top three or four restaurants in the world. Here is what I've learned from Mamma'Zu:

Inside out in thinking restaurant owners think: "What is the best dish I can serve tonight? Is this best olive oil to use? Can I make enough of these to serve or would I have to sacrifice quality."

Outside in thinking restaurant owners think: "Can I fit the tiki bar AND a faux beach scene on this same wall? Will more people come for drink specials or food specials? How does that guy across town make those pizzas, I want something like that."

See the difference? The inside out thinkers have a core, a focus. In this case, we are talking about food. Sinek talks about Apple and tells us Apple is first a design company. Everything they do is about making better designs. Compair that to Microsoft, a company founded on selling software. When Microsoft launched the Zune MP3 player, its as if they thinking "we are known for global dominance in operating system software, I know, lets make MP3 payers to compete with Apple." That is outside in thinking. It is away from their core competency, what some people call the "why". In the case of the two Richmond area restaurants above, one chef/owner has a clear why, food. The best food; nothing else matters. The other place seems to be motivated off shtick. Their why is unclear. Are they going for a great tiki bar? If so, why serve bland fish tacos at all? In their case, the end result is that neither the ambiance nor the food comes off stellar.

Outside in thinking does not have to occur to the determent of everything else. A novelty restaurant can be a cool tiki bar and serve great food. An italian place like Mamma'Zu could focus on both atmosphere and food. The difference for inside out thinkers is resources. If focusing on something else means you lose quality and focus on your core, then its out. Outside in thinkers have no problem with detrimental compromise.

You've probably guessed it, I'm on this 'inside out thinking' kick. True. Consider it with me for a moment. Inside out thinkers start with a why, core, reason, mission...whatever. The end result is almost always focused. As consumers of that finished product, we can almost always trace it back to its roots. In a great restaurant we say "wow, they nailed in the kitchen today." With technology we say, "it just works."

Since my brain doesn't easily shift gears, and since most of these posts are about healthcare, we'll briefly explore the inside out theme in the healthcare construct. Healthcare leaders, both clinical and non-clinical, have the similar challenges to restaurant owners. Is it mediocre fish tacos with bad beach music or an almost obsessive focus on olive oil? Is it a fancy waiting room or is it spending that one critical extra minute more with a patient? The experience at Per Se taught me when the resources exist, one can build an infrastructure of service and experience to go along with a myopic focus on quality. Bridget Duffy tells us when we focus on that inside core belief, the rest (revenues, clinical outcomes, quality) will follow.

If you want to experience inside out thinking next time you are in Richmond, visit Mamma'Zu.

What healthcare leaders can learn from computer animators

  The Pixar Story

I'm a fan of documentaries, increasingly so since I started  graduate school. Since I don't have much time for casual reading these days, it is nice to sit down to a two hour film and walk away feeling like I engaged my brain. A few days ago the little magic gnomes that live inside the Netflix site (how else do you explain Netflix? Has to be magic gnomes) suggested The Pixar Story as a documentary I might like. They were right!

The Pixar Story is ostensibly about the founders and founding of Pixar, the motion picture studio known for their computer generated feature films. I found the underlying story of culture and leadership to be absolutely fascinating. Pixar founders Ed Catmull, John Lasseter and Steve Jobs knowingly created a culture of support and teamwork which in turn propelled the company to the top of motion picture studios in a remarkably short period.

Culture is one of those elusive things within an organization; paradoxically, it is both hard to define and immediately palpable. I think of culture as the result of the intersection of personalities and work product of an organization. Certainly leadership has a lot do with contributing to both aspects and setting a pervasive tone, a theme which is carried throughout. In the case of Pixar, Catmull, Lasseter and Jobs knew the work. They all had backgrounds making them experts in their respective areas. When they formed Pixar, they assembled a team of other experts whose skill sets were complimentary. Their work product was a singular focus (there is that Jobsian approach to inside out thinking) on telling the best stories and using computers to do it. The stories are first and foremost and their passion for them drives them to push the bounds of animation technology.

Their personalities, along with the rest of the Pixar team, further contribute to the culture. One of my favorite in the film quotes comes from Lasseter, discussing his approach to supporting his staff: "Give 'em creative ownership of what they do so they can be proud of it for the rest of their lives." What a powerful statement. Lasseter believes in giving people enough latitude in their work, in this case creative work, to produce something in which they will have a lasting pride. When is the last time we heard that, particularly at the individual level, in most organizations?

As I think about Pixar my brain turns towards healthcare - hey, thats how I'm wired. Can we adopt Lasseter's mentality in regards to patient care? Can we give people enough ownership in what they do so they can be proud of it for the rest of their lives? Breaking his quote down, ownership is another way of saying empowerment. Jobs might tell us to remember our core competency; what is our work product? If it is caring for everyone who walks in our doors, then how do we support empowering everyone to make delivering holistic care their top priority? As the old joke goes, no one is ever remembered by their job title - we don't usually see a tombstone which reads: "Here lays John, he was great at email." I personally believe our impact on the world is measured by our actions and the affect we have on others. If we truly support our employees making patient care their number one goal, they will undoubtedly produce work they should be proud of for the rest of their lives. What could be more professionally satisfying than saying, "I helped someone today."

You can watch The Pixar Story via Netflix streaming.


waxing on about ideas and their success

I've never had much artistic talent. It hasn't been for lack of trying. I've taken up several stringed instruments and although I'm not ready to call it quits on any of them, I never exactly mastered the open C scale either. However, I've always been slightly envious of great artists. They have in common are the risks of their ideas, their convictions to their success and the associated payoffs. When I saw this post on the great Bad Banana Blog- a site who's fantastically witty Twitter profile beguiles the design and art oriented site and makes one wonder if they are even connected - I was struck by a thought:

Give me the means to build my dream and I will

Looking at these images, there is not much practical value to the design of the Hergé Museme. I mean that in the truest definition of practicality, a crooked staircase is not the easiest to climb. Although, even given my green interest in design and architecture, I appreciate the art involved. There is something to Christian de Portzamparc who designed Hergé. Someone, maybe many people, gave de Portzamparc enough latitude, trust, money and faith to build his vision (and honor Hergé).

What would you do with enough latitude, trust, money and faith to build your vision? Do you have a dream that you could articulate and bring to fruition?

In the traditional sense most of us, and the same was probably true for Christian de Portzamparc, will need to prove ourselves over a series of small, incremental steps. To propose a radical idea, no matter how committed you are to it, is a risky thing. I love imagining both the confident creative "ah-ha" that de Portzamparc must have experienced juxtaposed against the frightful, risk that came with presenting this design.

I'm inspired by this building, its impracticality and its existence. It is someone's vision and to bring a vision this unique to reality deserves applause in itself. What great ideas go unfulfilled because someone doesn't present them, or worse, someone else is unreceptive? How many great things are built as the result of taking a chance on something seemingly risky?

See the rest on Bad Banana

Seasons Greatings

Its all about .ME

google profile I am not a huge fan of the "personal brand" sentiments. Something about pushing yourself on people rubs me the wrong way. That said, I do really like the idea of controlling your own identity online. After all, if you don't own it, someone else will!

In the past I have used iWeb and .Mac to compile a list of all of my internet profiles. The challenge was remembering them all and keeping up with the static page. Google has recently introduced Profiles ( where you can claim your identity across the net. It appears that the more your tell it, the smarter it gets. Start with creating a profile and linking to your homepage or twitter account. Pretty soon google starts finding other sites on the net that appear to belong to you - facebook, flickr, vimeo, etc. Additionally, when someone searches for your name, your google profile will appear at the bottom of the search results. That means the likelyhood of someone finding the real you is much higher.

Not only is Google Profiles a great way to control your presence online, it is a powerful aggrigrator of our online selves. Take a look at mine - and you'll see what I mean. Things get even more fun when you use a vanity domain and point it to your profle. In my case, I have used NickDawson.ME which redirects to google profile. A profile and a .ME domain is an easy way to share your online contacts with anyone. Imagine creating a business card with nothing but your .ME address. "Want to reach me, here is a one stop shop".

Hiding in the Spotlight - coming to Richmond!

Four years ago my grandmother got a phone call. "Is this Grace Dawson?, the Grace Dawson?" Calling from Florida was a voice of a family member she had never met but was nonetheless inescapably tied to. Greg Dawson had set out to write the story of his mother and her sister - a story which had been partially told in our family for years. That version went as follows: As young girls Zhanna and her sister Frina were separated from their Ukrainian Jewish parents during WWII. At the end of the war the two talented musicians who were discovered by a US government official, my grandfather, himself a devoted music lover. Larry Dawson helped arrange for them to travel to the United States. They were proceeded by only a letter to my grandmother. There was a lot of speculation about the trauma the two hand endured but few detailed had survived the years.

After living for a period with my Grandmother and her young children, both girls went on to attend the prestigious Julliard school of music in New York. Zhanna eventually married Larry's brother.

Now the full heartfelt and moving story is being told;  how the girls were able to survive and how music played such an important role in their survival. Greg Dawson has published Hiding In The Spotlight. As a family we could not be more proud of this story and wish Greg much success.

Greg will be in Richmond Virginia, speaking at the Library of Virginia on Friday June 18th from 6:00pm - 7:00pm to speak about his book and the increadable story of Zhanna and Frina. Details can be found on Greg's site here.

Social Pulse - new version and permanent home

A few weeks ago I posted a very rough draft of a "white paper" called Social Pulse. Shortly after, I shared my thoughts on how the 1999 book The Cluetrain Manifesto is still a wake-up call to healthcare organizations today.

I have been refining those thoughts, as well as correcting some typos and am excited to say that Social Pulse is nearing version 1.0 status. To make it easier to find, there there is now a dedicated page on this site that will always link to the latest version. You'll find it at on your iPhone

got a mobile device with a browser, maybe something like the iPhone? Check out the mobile version - now much easier to read on smaller devices.