Monday, October 1, 2007

Too many cooks

You've probably heard the expression, "Too many cooks spoil the soup (or broth)." If you haven't heard it, read it aloud to yourself and listen. Don't get caught up trying to decide why they are cooking soup, and exactly how an increasing number of participators in a broth-fest can reach a point of diminishing marginal returns. It's just a metaphor to describe the situation that when too many people work together on a project, the result is inferior, especially if the kitchen is small.

Another adage that lends itself nicely to what I will eventually get at is this: If it's everybody's job, it's nobody's job. You actually may have not heard that one, but it is true.

Because of my upbringing and through the course of my existence in this world, I have learned to be self-sufficient. I prefer to work independently. I want to control the outcome of any situation. Unfortunately, in the real world, there are other people (you're probably one of them, especially if you're not me.) Sometimes we need to use . . . I mean cooperate with . . . other people to accomplish a goal.
Face it--somethings require other people. This might mean getting with someone to brainstorm a tricky math problem, getting a buddy to spot you on the bench press, or getting another person to press the button on the TV remote for you. We cannot be experts in every field. I don't know every loophole in criminal law, although that would be handy information. I don't want to cook my food for each meal (toast gets old quickly.) I hate ironing, so dry cleaners are valuable to me. You get the idea.

But when I have the chance, even if it requires a giant learning curve, I would prefer to do things myself, especially if it's the first time (I will not shingle a roof by myself in the Summertime ever again) and especially if the matter is of imminent eminence (like providing first-aid to my son as he lay in 350 degree cooking oil, running him to the cooling waters of the bath tub as I watched his skin melting off of his arms--I LOVE that kid.)

So recently, when I was faced with an opportunity to take the "bull by the horns," I stepped up and did so, but there was some horrible backlash. Toes were stepped on, feelings were hurt, reputations were impugned. Without getting into details, I did something that was supposed to be the job of two other cooks.

To keep the metaphor going, let's say that I'm the chef that's stirring the soup (mmmmmmmm soup.) Over my shoulder, I see the person who's supposed to be cutting up the carrots and another whose job it is to turn on the oven burner (what a sweeeet job!) Well, I notice that the person who is supposed to be cutting up the carrots is just finishing cutting up the potatoes for ANOTHER soup that was supposed to be done yesterday. The person who is supposed to preheat the burner coils is busy turning on other critical things like the lights and the air conditioner and the radio and the customers. So what do I do? Well, I run over and turn on the oven burner, grab the carrots and begin cutting them with with my left hand as I continue stirring the soup with my right hand--all without complaining. I'm a team player (as long as I can contribute independently, remember?) You would think that this is great on my part, but . . . . .

The carrot-cutter-uper and the oven burner-turner-on-er now have their feelings hurt. Even after I apologize for stepping on their toes (I WAS in a hurry, and I DO have size 14 shoes), they are noticeably hurt and embarrassed. The oven burner-turner-on-er immediately turns the oven burner OFF, then right back on. The carrot-cutter-uper yanks the knife from my hands and begins to cut with her left hand (incidentally, she IS left-handed).

Now I feel bad. But should I?
In the end, the job gets done. The soup gets made. At it was made in part by those who are being paid to do their jobs. To the soup consumer, they care not that I was an integral part of the soup touching their lips. They just want their soup!

Tomorrow I think I'm going to quit and open my own soup kitchen. I just need to hire a oven burner-turner-on-er.

1 comment:

Dmac said...

I grew up thinking this was biblical because my Dad referred to it everytime my dog went a day without being fed by siblings or me. I tried to rationalize the monetary savings we provided the family by reducing the Purina rations to Lucky.

This is a little story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.

Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.

Somebody got angry about that because it was Everybody's job.

Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done