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Reading: The Restaurant and the Kitchen


The restaurant versus the kitchen is a potent education metaphor. The restaurant (or the U.S. education system) is a safe bet. It offers those in charge—and those who attend—control and consistency. By serving up a set menu, the restaurant assumes that permanent slots within society exist, and that we can tailor our young people to fill them. A place for every person, and every person in her place.

The kitchen is something else. It’s fluid; it makes growth possible for both the individual and the entire community. In exchange for predictability, the kitchen offers unfettered potential. The ones cooking are also the ones eating: they can cook off menu and eat when and what they want, with explosive results. There are lower lows and higher highs in the test kitchen than in any five-star restaurant.

Like the author of this blog, I spent a lot of time in schools that are restaurants. In the beginning, I failed classes for not following the rules. That didn’t feel so good, so I mastered a few recipes for success. I occasionally went off menu—sometimes by choice, and sometimes because of a forward-thinking professor. But for the most part, I got really good at following instructions, even if those instructions were to think for myself.

In the Medium article, the author notes his own progression from restaurant-style to kitchen-style: “I’ve grown to understand that instead of trying to adjust my career path to fit a set degree or attempting to gain mastery in a subject based on the curriculum outlined in a syllabus, it’s essential to start with the simple question: what do I want to learn?”

This is a vital question, and I’ve come to it at my own speed. In high school and college, I learned first, asked questions later. I invested effort to succeed in areas I later discovered were not for me. Even after college, I valued outside recognition over personal satisfaction. I didn’t always trust my instincts. However, these experiences brought me to where I am today. I tend to think nothing is wasted.

So, what do I want to learn? What would I like to whip up in Tradecraft’s test kitchen? Here’s a list of skills I want to develop or sharpen:

  • How to lead and work with others effectively.
  • How to be successful without an outside barometer for success.
  • How to recognize opportunities (and issues) that fall outside of tradition.
  • How to envision, develop, and test custom solutions to the above.
  • How to use traditional learning as a springboard for further growth.
  • How to learn from mentors experiences without over identifying.
  • How to listen for the unexpected.
  • How to fail gracefully, pick up the pieces, and salvage a lesson.
  • How to communicate clearly to a broad audience.
  • How to recognize what tools are right for the job.
  • How to get others excited about the things that excite me.
  • How to exercise creative ownership of an idea.

For all of the above, Tradecraft will hopefully be the ultimate training ground. I expect a practice arena; there’s less at stake (no one wins, no one gets fired), but the game is very real.