Invisible (but critical) Ingredients

Gerwig 2014-09-17

Are you a cook? A baker? A chef? Or, like me, simply a lover of great food? Some of you may eat anything placed before you. And perhaps, it tastes the same to you, more or less. Nothing wrong with that. But the rest of you enjoy the nuances of a finely prepared dish. Whether it’s Indian, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, French, Mediterranean, Brazilian, “American,” or something else, you enjoy and appreciate a fine meal, savoring each bite.

I admit that I’m a bit eclectic when it comes to food. I enjoy good friend chicken, street food, BBQ (all types!) and finely prepared dishes that typically come from 5 Star (and expensive!) restaurants the world over. While I’ll drink coffee of poor quality that’s been burned sitting around for hours, I much prefer strong coffee made from freshly ground beans (preferably from Indonesia or Vietnam). And I’ll drive out of my way (perhaps a couple hours) for a nice meal that is unique and tasty. Yes, I’ve eaten Spam, but I prefer a bone-in ribeye. Yes, I’ve had a Coors Light, but I much prefer a Stone IPA. Yes, I’ll drink Maxwell House, but I much prefer coffee made from freshly ground (milled actually) Sumatran beans.

Perhaps I could blame it on my mother. You see, she always used good ingredients in her cooking (which was excellent by the way, and still is). From homemade tortillas to real butter to special olive oil, her dishes always started with great ingredients. Ever hear the phrase, “garbage in = garbage out”? This is definitely true in cooking. You can’t take low quality ingredients and make a masterpiece. True, you can take great ingredients and ruin them in the cooking process, but to have a great end-product requires great, high-quality ingredients.

The same is true of other products by the way, not just food. Ever seen a world-class suit made of polyester? No. Ever heard world-class music from a $15 guitar or a $50 piano? No. You see, the end-product is, in large part, a product of its ingredients, its raw materials.

But as important as great ingredients are to a world-class end-product, it’s equally important to include all the ingredients. Leave out one of these ingredients (or raw materials) and you’ll end up with a ruined dish you throw away or a product you have to scrap or rework into a lower quality (and valued) item.

I can remember tasting many dishes that were “in process” that didn’t taste right. Perhaps I’d left out the salt, or the butter, or the eggs. Sometimes we overlook seemingly simple and routine ingredients because we’re focused on the larger, more exotic, and costlier item. This is a mistake.

Think about a producer of world-class leather goods. They can prepare or buy the most expensive piece of leather in the world, but if their cutting instrument isn’t sharp, or their thread is cheap or their adhesive fails, the final product won’t look good or last. The value of the end-product will be diminished.

Think about a creatively decorated cake that has all the “bells and whistles.” It may look world-class, but if the baker forgot to add sugar, it will not taste good.

Think about an exotic manufacture of sports cars who forgets to add a key catalyst during their plastic-producing process. Perhaps the plastic looks ok initially, but dries up and cracks after only a couple months. Or course plastic shouldn’t be in an exotic sports car at all, but that’s another story.

People in your organization are like ingredients. Some people are “stars.” They are loud, extroverted and perhaps obnoxious. You always know they’re around. They take credit for everything regardless of whether they truly did anything. I’m reminded a bit of world-class soccer/futbol teams. Who are the top paid players? The strikers. The goal-scorers. And yes, they typically have big egos and cause tension within the team.

On the other hand and in truth, perhaps the most valuable member of the team is the goalie or a mid-fielder or a defender. They don’t get the same level of attention as the world-class striker, but perhaps they help win more games. Perhaps they elevate the play of those around them. If you’re a futbol fan, undoubtedly you’ve seen a mid-fielder race down the field, shred the defense and make an incredible cross only to have a striker toe-poke the ball into the net. Granted, the striker had to be in position, but all the work was done by someone else. Yet who gets (or takes) the credit? The striker. They run around, gesture and let everyone in the stadium know it was “their” goal.

Think about your own organization. Who are your “invisible” but critical employees? Those who don’t necessary want the limelight, those who simply want to win and to help their teammates improve. What I believe you’ll find is that sometimes (perhaps most of the time), those who take the credit, get the recognition and receive the awards aren’t your most valuable players.

Whether in a food dish or in an organization, there are invisible, but critical ingredients (or people). Without them, there is no success, no world-class dish, no championship. Please don’t overlook them or take them for granted. Take the time to look, listen and discern how you evaluate those in your organization. Rarely are those clamoring for the spotlight your MVP. The “true” MVP is often an overlooked, invisible ingredient that is absolutely critical to the success of your organization. Don’t wait until it’s too late to let them know you recognize and value their contribution.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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