What does it take to win a million dollars?
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few – Shunryu Suzuki
The title of this BLOG was designed to both catch your attention and tell and interesting story. Its a story that I believe illustrates several of characteristics of great leaders. The genus of this story came from an interview I heard last week on NPR’s Morning Edition. Each year, Pillsbury conducts their bake off contest. Thousands of recipes are submitted that all have one thing in common, they use two or more of the Pillsbury approved products in some way. Once the staff of Pillsbury sorts through these recipes, they winnow down the list to 100 participants in the annual bake-off event.
This event is held at a hotel in Orlando. All the participants are invited to prepare their chosen recipe three times. once for the judges, once for display and once, should they choose, to share as samples with the audience attending the bake-off event. In 2007, Ellie Mathews was selected as one of the 100 finalists. Like anyone who is selected for this type of event, she was clearly excited and at the same time, she felt this was a great opportunity to learn the ropes of the contest so that she could return in the future with a real chance to win.
On the day of the competition, all the aspiring bake-off winners gather to prepare their recipe and await the decision of the judges. It is obviously a very hectic time and the participants are focusing on doing their best. Now the tension rises, as the judging begins. Over the course of the afternoon, the list is narrowed until, finally there is a small number of finalists. WIth Alex Trebeck of Jeopardy fame as the MC, the winner is about to be announced. Not only will this person gain great recognition for their accomplishment, they will win $1,000,000. As the winner is announced by showing on the large television screens the selected dish, Mary realizes she has won. She wonders privately if some mistake has been made. In the end, she just had the right originality that inspired the judges votes.
The interesting story of this accomplishment for me is understanding the characteristics in Ellie that supported her winning this competitoin. In the interview, we find that Ellie is modest about her accomplishment. She is clear to point out that winning this competition doesn’t mean that she is a great cook every night at home. We discover that she is a great experimenter. In fact, she has experimented with a number of seemingly odd food combinations in her search for the right recipe. At heart, she is not afraid to make a mistake. She views the process of innovation as a process of discovery. Discovery that will unfold over time through continuously looking at combinations that may not make sense to the intellect and knowing that she will often creates things that just taste awful.
Another thing that inspires me about Ellie is that she is not impressed with her accomplishment. Her humility is engaging. At no point did winning this competition define her. She is still the Ellie she was before her winning the competition. Sure, there are possibilities that she has that she didn’t have before and she hasn’t changed who she is.
As I reflected on these lessons, I wonder what is the cost of being consumed by an objective? I don’t mean focused, for I feel that is important. I mean so consumed that I loose touch with my core purpose and values. I know there have been times in my life when I become so obsessed with getting a deal or having a relationship or having my work appreciated that I have violated myself. The consequence was always the same. I may or may not have accomplished my obsession, but I always felt hollow at the end and the “victory” was never satisfying.