Tuesday, March 1, 2011

1 Steaming Bowl of Porridge (Halim)

As I'm the Idea Chef, it shouldn't surprise you that while I'm cooking or thinking about cooking, I come up with answers to questions that have been plaguing me.  It's a kind of meditation for me.  This time, my cooking is inspiring me to write.

I'm making Persian style halim which is a type of porridge made with bulgur wheat, chick peas and lamb.  My recipe is a days long process that starts with soaking the wheat and ends with a 24 hour slow cooker extravaganza.  When it's done and you've ladled some of the porridge into your favorite bowl, the piece de resistance is this trifecta: melted butter, heaps of brown sugar and a liberal helping of cinnamon.  A nicely toasted piece of bread is advisable but not required per se.

If you've been raised on this stuff, as Amir has, the effect is instantaneous: silently eating as conversation would destroy the moment, a beatific smile, memories of earlier happier times with his mother and father, etc.  It doesn't matter how many times I've made it, he's instantly transported to a "happy place" and for a short time, all is right with the world.

If you're thinking of Pavlov at this point - you're following along nicely with my content gameplan today!  As a brief and way too cursory refresher, Pavlov's work was about reaction to stimuli without the involvement critical thinking.  It's this reaction to stimuli without critical thinking that I'd like to chat about today.

In this post, I bemoaned the lack of consistency of service and experience at Starbucks.  I wished that instead of all of the kerfuffle about a new logo, that they had spent some time improving overall experience to the point where it should be seamless to the customer.  After all the best thing about going to Starbucks is its worst: the expectation of consistency in drink preparation, barista expertise, cleanliness, etc.

Normally, I'd argue that reaction to stimuli without critical thinking is the death knell of good business.  We've all seen people not thinking creatively when it comes to customer service, for example.  They often say "No" or "We've not done that" instead of "Hm. Let me think about it."  And we've all seen businesses who won't adapt to the changing competitive environment because there is a presumption that their customers will always be their customers.  This sort of refusal to change and reaction without thinking is bad.

EXCEPT...  wait for it...

When it comes to the basics.  What are the basics?  Well, that's difficult to answer because it varies from business to business.  In a bakery, it's the lovely smell of butter, sugar, flour and vanilla combined together on the path to greatness.  In a hardware store, it's someone who can point you to the right aisle and confidently recommend the right (obscure) tool to help with your home repair project.  In a doctor's office, it's the security you have knowing that your health matters and you're on the mend.  And so on.

The core of what and who you are can never change.  It's the foundation, the bedrock upon which you raise the walls of your business.  You can paint, you can add on an addition, you can even remodel but all of those things rest upon the basics, that which you present to the world.  If you truly "own" who your business is and it's reason for being, this is one excuse I can think of for reaction without critical thinking.

It's this consistent, unbreakable foundation and this reaction without critical thinking that creates the "happy place" for your customers not unlike the "happy place" Amir goes to when he's having his porridge.  You could call it your brand's persona but, really, why confuse common sense with business speak?

Thoughts?  Do share!

Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef



  1. Heleem is delicious (yes, I'm still stuck in that happy place! Care to share your recipe?) Parissa. You raise a good point - the question is whether many firms know what their core truly consists of. And those who do (like Starbucks) tend to lose sight of it as they "insert verb here" (grow, diversify, expand, evolve, re-brand, etc.). Flip side - who's the ideal that comes to mind when you think of this happy place consistency?

  2. Best batch yet and it keeps getting better. It really rocked.

  3. Publius - I can't share the recipe as it took ages to wrest it from my father in law's secret stash. His feelings would be hurt.

    Now to your question: I have two answers for you: Intelligentsia Coffee which is a specialty roaster in Chicago and Zappos. I've blogged about both: http://678partners.blogspot.com/2010/10/focus-love-letter-to-intelligentsia.html and http://678partners.blogspot.com/2010/06/your-cultural-attache-post.html