“Mise en Place”: Become More Efficient in the Kitchen and in Life

Mise en place is a French term which means “putting in place”. It’s most frequently used in a culinary context, where it signifies that you should prepare all your ingredients and put them in place together with the necessary tools, before you start cooking. This simple concept is one of the most common and effective tools used by chefs and amateur cooks, which is why it’s a required skill in culinary schools.[1,2,3]

 

Picture of prepared ingredients and tools in the kitchen.

(It’s pronounced ‘meezon-plas’, in case you were wondering.)

 

Applying ‘mise en place’ in the kitchen

There are several steps to applying this technique:

  • First, choose a recipe and figure out which ingredients and kitchen utensils are needed. Doing this before you start cooking allows you to spot missing items before it’s too late to get them or to change a recipe.
  • Prepare all the ingredients so that they’re ready to be used: measure what needs measuring, chop what needs chopping, etc.
  • Group ingredients and utensils together so that they’re easy to find and use while cooking.
  • If there are ingredients that require special preparation (e.g. nuts that need toasting), you can take care of them before you start everything else, so that they don’t cause a delay in the middle of cooking.
  • One caveat: if you prepare accordingly ahead of time, you can use periods of waiting in order to get things ready for the next step in the recipe. Otherwise, use these waiting periods in order to clean up as you go along, instead of leaving all the cleaning to the end.

 

Applying ‘mise en place’ in other areas of life

I refer to mise en place as a philosophy (what chefs believe) and a system (what chefs do). Later in this book I refer to it as an ethical code. Mise-en-place is all those things…[including] the mind state of someone who knows exactly how to think, plan, and move.

Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-en-Place to Organize Your Life, Work, and Mind

While mise en place is a practice that is most commonly associated with working in kitchens, many people use it as a guiding principle in order to increase their productivity and improve their workflow in other areas. There are some superficial differences in such cases: your ingredients aren’t food, your environment isn’t a kitchen, and your tools aren’t kitchen utensils. However, the idea behind this technique remains the same: better planning and preparation ahead of time facilitates the work process. This is especially important in jobs and processes that require a high degree of concentration, where even a small distraction leads to a significant interruption in your workflow.

In general, the concept of preliminary preparation and planning is the one most commonly associated with mise en place. In practice however, mise en place is a system which encompasses additional concepts, such as slowing down to speed up, which entails that it’s better to take longer to perform an action, if it means that doing so will lead to improved performance and save you time in the long run. These concepts and others are covered in the “Work Clean” book, which contains an in depth discussion of mise en place, and how it can be implemented in your life.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • Mise en place is a technique which can be used to improve your workflow.
  • It is most commonly used in reference to cooking, and mainly means that you should plan your process before starting and prepare your ingredients ahead of time.
  • This technique can also be implemented in other areas of life.
  • In practice, mise en place encompasses additional concepts, such as working more carefully in order to save time in the long-run.

 


The Illusion of Transparency: Why You’re Not As Obvious As You Think You Are

“Individuals often believe their internal states are more apparent to others than is actually the case, a phenomenon known as the illusion of transparency. In the domain of public speaking, for example, individuals who are nervous about delivering a public speech believe their nervousness is more apparent to their audience than it actually is.”

The Illusion of Transparency and the Alleviation of Speech Anxiety

The illusion of transparency is our tendency to overestimate how well others can discern our emotional state. This cognitive bias is attributed to people’s inability to properly adjust from the anchor of their own point of view when attempting to take another person’s perspective.[1,2] Basically, since our own emotional state is clear to us, it’s difficult for us to assume that it isn’t as clear to others.

 

Graph illustrating the difference between how much you think people know about you, versus how much they actually know.

 

A set of studies on the topic shows several instances where the illusion of transparency affects people in everyday situations:

  • When faced with a stressful situation, people assume that their emotional distress is more obvious to others than it is in reality.
  • Liars significantly overestimate how well others are able to detect their lies.
  • People eating something that tastes bad assume that their disgust is more apparent to observers than it actually is.

 

What you can do about it

Now that you are familiar with the illusion of transparency, it’s time to take advantage of that familiarity. You can do that by understanding how this bias influences your own self-perception, and by understanding how it affects other people’s thought process. Below are a few examples for how your understanding of this phenomenon can be implemented.

  

Public speaking– simply being aware of the illusion of transparency can allow you to deliver better speeches.[2] The following text was used by researchers in an experiment which showed that speakers who were informed of the illusion of transparency before giving a talk, appeared more composed and gave a better talk than speakers who were not told about it:

“It might help you to know that research has found that audiences can’t pick up on your anxiety as well as you might expect. Psychologists have documented what is called an “illusion of transparency.” Those speaking feel that their nervousness is transparent, but in reality their feelings are not so apparent to observers. This happens because our own emotional experience can be so strong, we are sure our emotions “leak out.” In fact, observers aren’t as good at picking up on a speaker’s emotional state as we tend to expect. So, while you might be so nervous you’re convinced that everyone can tell how nervous you are, in reality that’s very rarely the case. What’s inside of you typically manifests itself too subtly to be detected by others. With this in mind, you should just relax and try to do your best. Know that if you become nervous, you’ll probably be the only one to know.”

The Illusion of Transparency and the Alleviation of Speech Anxiety

 

Identifying liars– as we saw earlier, liars will often assume that the person they are lying to can tell that they’re lying, even when they can’t.[3] If you suspect someone is lying to you, keep this in mind when questioning them, and use it as leverage and as a way to pressure them to say the truth. Conversely, if you’re the one doing the lying, keep in mind that the person that you’re lying to probably can’t read your emotional state as well as you think they can, and use this to alleviate some of your own pressure.

 

Negotiations– in negotiations, people tend to believe that their motives and intentions are more transparent to the other negotiators than they actually are.[4] Take advantage of this by realizing that you are probably overestimating how obvious your thoughts are to the person you are negotiating with, and by taking into account the fact that they are also probably worried about you being able to read them too easily

In addition, there is another important takeaway point here. In negotiations and negotiation-like situations, including informal conversations with your friends or romantic partners, it’s likely that the other person isn’t as aware of your preferences as you think they are. This means that they often can’t tell what you actually want unless you express it directly, even if you’re sure that they can. Because of this:

  1. Don’t always assume that other people can know what you want based on implicit hints. Express what you want directly when necessary, or use less subtle hints.
  2. Understand that other people may think that they are being obvious about what they want, when in fact they are using overly-subtle hints. Either ask them explicitly what they want, or account for this subtlety when interpreting their actions.
  3. When each person in a negotiation assumes that they are sharing more than the other people involved (because they think that everyone else can easily read their intentions), they may end up closing up if they feel that the situation isn’t fair. This can lead to a problematic downward spiral where everyone keeps holding back more and more. Recognize when this situation occurs, and do everything to avoid it by addressing the problem openly.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • People overestimate how obvious their emotional state is to others.
  • This is a cognitive bias known as the illusion of transparency.
  • Understanding how this phenomenon affects your own thought process and the thought process of others can be highly beneficial in many social situations.

 


“Follow the Follower”: a Lesson in Strategy from Sailboat Racing

Sailboat racing offers the chance to observe an interesting reversal of a “follow the leader” strategy… The leader imitates the follower even when the follower is clearly pursuing a poor strategy. Why? Because in sailboat racing (unlike ballroom dancing) close doesn’t count; only winning matters. If you have the lead, the surest way to stay ahead is to play monkey see, monkey do.

The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life

America’s Cup is a prestigious sailboat race, and one of the world’s oldest international sports competitions. In 1983, the American boat Liberty was leading 3-1 against the Australian Australia II, in a best-of-seven competition. Since they needed only one more victory in order to win the cup, it appeared that Liberty was ready to extend the US’s 131 years long winning streak.

Right at the start of the race, Liberty took the lead when Australia II was penalized for crossing the starting line early. The Australian skipper then attempted to catch up by sailing to the left side of the course, in hopes of catching good winds. The American skipper decided to keep his ship on the right side of the course, believing that it would have more favorable winds.

Soon after this, the wind shifted in favor of the left side of the course, leading Australia II to win the race. Following this victory, Australia II went on to win two more consecutive wins, thus winning the cup and breaking the long-standing American winning streak.

 

Picture of a boat sailing.

 

What should have happened

In this situation, the speed of each ship depended on the wind, and each ship’s skipper can only make an educated guess regarding which course is the best to take.

Since the Liberty was already in the lead, if it had simply imitated the strategy of the runner-up, Australia II, it would have sailed at the same rate as her, thus maintaining the initial advantage, and winning the race. Regardless of how sureLiberty‘s skipper was that his course was the better one, the smarter strategy in this case would have been to imitate his runner-up.

 

Recognizing when the strategy is applicable

“Follow the follower” is by no means a strategy that always works. In the above scenario, there are only two ‘players’, and the only thing that matters in the race is whether you win or lose. However, if these conditions were different, the strategy may have been ineffective. For example, if the race had more than two ships, and changing course was not an immediate action, so that the leading ship couldn’t always adjust to match the runner-up, then the strategy wouldn’t necessarily work. This is because each follower can take a difference course, while the leader can only commit to one of those courses.

In addition, the original scenario discussed here is a relatively clean and simple view of reality. There could have been other considerations that affected the American skipper’s decision:

  • Maybe it’s considered more prestigious to win the race by a bigger gap, and imitating the loser’s strategy can be construed as a lack of confidence.
  • Perhaps there is a high cost or risk in changing course, which could have caused the ship to lose its advantage.
  • We also don’t know how confident the American skipper was in his choice of course; it’s possible that his calculation showed a very high probability that his original course was significantly better.

While these reasons don’t negate the fact that imitating the runner up was the correct choice from a purely strategic perspective, they offer some possible explanations as to why the American skipper made the choice to maintain his course. If, for example, the benefits (in terms of prestige) that come from winning the race by a large gap were significant enough to be worth a small chance of losing, then his choice may have been smart after all. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that the choice of strategy was driven by ego, and not from careful calculation.

This illustrates an important lesson regarding the applications of game theory in real life: reality is messy. There is a reason why simplified models are preferred in game theory; the more factors you add in, the more complicated the game becomes.

 

Summary and conclusions

  • In certain cases, the best strategy for the leader is to imitate his runner-up.
  • By doing the exact same thing as his follower, the leader can win a ‘race’ by maintaining his original lead. This is true even in cases where the follower select a non-optimal course.
  • Be selective in using this strategy, as it’s only applicable in certain cases. For example, it may not be relevant when there are more than two ‘players’.
  • Once you are familiar with the strategy, the important thing is learning to recognize situations where you can implement it.
  • Ego may lead people to avoid using this strategy. Make sure to overcome this issue in yourself, and to take advantage of other people’s failure to do the same.

 

The sailboat example and the rationale behind the strategy come from “The Art of Strategy: A Game Theorist’s Guide to Success in Business and Life”. It’s a good read for someone looking to understand basic game theory and how it applies to real-life situations.

I recommend it over the earlier version of the book (“Thinking Strategically”), because that’s what the authors themselves recommend. However, the difference between the two versions isn’t too crucial.