"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.