Father’s Day 2016

I’ve written previously about the influence my father had on me as a leader here. The key takeaway from that old post is how I learned that sharing what one has is what a leader does without hesitation. It’s a high bar to have, and it’s something that guides a lot of what I’ve tried to do in my life when having the opportunity to partner with others.

Today I wished my father a Happy Father’s Day, and was struck by how his response was, “Too many of these. Too many.” I was initially puzzled. He went on, “They will soon be gone.” He was referencing how being 81 years of age, there’s a certain sense of reality for him that things will end. What can you say back?

I encouraged him to think positively about the future, but I’m not his age so I haven’t the slightest idea that he needs to hear. He then went on how he went to a restaurant to celebrate last night with my younger brother. I asked, “Was it good?”

“Of course not.” he said confidently. “Because I was a cook for a long time in a restaurant (referring to when he was younger). And the food you put out for people is lower quality than you can make for yourself.”

This didn’t make much sense to me, because if you read my previous post, you would take away that a cook’s greatest happiness is serving food of the highest quality. So I asked him to continue.

“Because it’s about profit. The restaurant has to profit. So even if the ingredients aren’t good, you have to make do with what you have.”

He went on to give an example from maybe 30 years ago, about how his sushi restaurant owner friend returned some octopus he had purchased from a market — because it smelled bad (as if it were going rotten). The market took the octopus back, gave him some fresher octopus, and then as the restaurant owner was leaving, he noticed how they put the octopus back into the display case to sell to another customer.

My father went on, “When beef is going bad, you just hide the smell with baking soda. You cook it, and the customer can’t tell the difference. That’s what happens all the time in restaurants.”

I told my dad that nowadays restaurant standards are much higher than they were during his time. And wasn’t he the one who taught me that quality was important, and that the customer’s happiness is what makes the happiness of the cook?

He said in the assertive way that someone who is 80 years old is more than welcome to assert, “It’s all about the profit. The people at the top only care about the profit. That’s when you own your own business — you get to make decisions that benefit the customer. Because it’s about a relationship. They have to trust you, or they won’t come back again.”

Then he paused. I could hear the gears in his mind whirring away … and then he shared, “But today, it’s not just about the profit anymore. It’s about the customer.”

It’s not clear to me why my father ended with this conclusion, given where he was coming from. And he’s not active as a consumer, and isn’t anywhere near the circles in which I swim about in tech and other industries. He doesn’t keep up with the work I’ve been doing in #DesignInTech and all, so it’s really coming from somewhere out there in the ether.

So maybe it really is time right now for experiences to matter in the business world: that being solely profit-driven isn’t the formula for success. Maybe it’s really the time for design.

But I am certainly going to think twice about getting steak when I’m eating out 😉. —JM