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Real Knowledge Transfer: "Learning to Make Pizza Starts with a Mop"

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Real Knowledge Transfer: "Learning to Make Pizza Starts with a Mop"

Jun 10, 2013  

Making Pizza

by Howard Cohen, CKM - Guest blogger
My first day on the job  -- mostly what I remember was Joe handing me a rag.  “When am I going to learn how to make Pizza?”   Joe looked at me and said, “You need to clean up the store and you need to mop the floor.”   I wanted to make pizza, isn’t that why I took this job?

It seems to me that most jobs had a job role that I saw and wanted to be in right away. I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to make pizza. Joe was having none of that, he handed me a mop.   I would mop the floor and clean the tables looking over the counter at the guys throwing pizza in the air.   I wanted to throw pizza in the air.   They made it look easy and it was awesome.  These guys would always do tricks and the pizza was always perfect.

Every night I would come home from school and head to the pizza shop to work.   Every night I would clean and mop.   I was getting frustrated that Joe wasn’t teaching me to make pizza.   I was losing my patience and my stellar performance on the cleaning job was lacking.

Then and NOW.. 

As much as I wanted to make pizza on the job, I had to earn it.   Believe me, I hated that.   I didn’t like to have to earn anything, I just wanted to do things.   I don’t think that I was any different than this generation in that I wanted to do what I thought I could, right away.    I didn’t want to clean the tables or mop the floor.   I wanted to make the pizza.   Joe wasn’t giving in.    From his perspective, if I couldn’t do a simple thing like mop the floor properly, how could he trust me with the job that made his business what it was?   From my perspective, I didn’t take this stupid job to clean tables, I took it to make pizza and be cool.   A pizza shop in the Bronx is sort of a big deal.

I didn’t learn to make pizza in Joe’s shop.   He never taught me and eventually I didn’t work for him anymore.   I don’t really remember if he sent me home or if I left on my own but regardless, I wasn’t there anymore.  My mother was of course disappointed but when it was time for pizza, I would still go to Joe’s and I had to carry my sorry self in there to face the music every time I wanted delicious pizza.  In other words, she held ME accountable not Joe . . .

Considerations for Leaders Today

The younger generation doesn’t like the way business operates and instead of waiting for the system to change by nature, they try to change it by being aggressive.  The problem is that companies give in.    There is value in mopping the floor and it is far more important to learn to do things we don’t want to do over things that we think we want to do.

It is also reasonable to recognize that business itself is moving at a different pace than it did just a few years ago.  That being said, market changes don’t always drive a  need to change overnight and alter successful behaviors in business.   If Joe had given me the leeway it would have been reasonable to consider that I may had tried to change his process in some way.  In other words, change his business.   Whether you're 8, 18 or 80 sometimes taking an inch could look more like a mile.

What would happen if organizations big and small stopped trying so hard to adjust and accommodate?    There is nothing scientific for what I am about to write, it seems that companies are quick to put the squeeze on the older generations and are more concerned with the needs of the younger work force.   While that seems to make logical sense on one hand, the lesson from Joe says something very different . . .

The only way that tacit knowledge transfer can occur with the people and technology of today is through trust.  No trust, no transfer.  Trust isn’t something that we get by being born and having wants, it is earned.    If I saw Joe today, I would thank him for his hard line.  It was good for me and it took a lot more lessons from others that had the same constitution for me to figure out that I had to learn to earn.

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