Dave Snowden

The chef & the recipe book user

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ChefHatOne of the key metaphors I used in my keynote at KM India was that of the difference between a chef and a recipe book user. Its not a new idea, I first used it in the Tom, Jason & Linda project back in IBM days (another of those stories we need to record). The metaphor is used to illustrate the difference between theory-informed and merely repetitive practice. Its also tackles the danger of anti-intellectualism that is all to prevalent in the managerial classes.

The basic story line is a simple one, when the recipe book user cooks a meal then they get out their best practice document, copy out the list of ingredients and go shopping. As they prepare to cook said ingredients are all neatly weighed out and arranged in small bowls on the work top. The recipe book is open on a stand and its instructions are followed step by step. If they are guest in the kitchen, they may want to have it fully re-engineered before they can even start to cook, especially if they were trained in one of the larger management consultancies cooking schools. If anything goes wrong disaster ensues and you will end up with a take away, possibly flavored by the residual traces of carbon from the earlier catastrophe. In contrast the chef turns up and produces a brilliant meal from whatever you happen to have available in your kitchen and garden.

Its a key difference; the chef understands the principles of cooking, taste, etc. As a result they can adapt to the present and evolving future, they are not constrained by best practice, they are liberated by true knowledge.