Why You Shouldn't Act Like Dustin Hoffman (in Chef)

Have you seen Chef? I saw it in theaters (it's out on DVD today) and I really enjoyed it. The glorious food visuals, the lead character’s transformation, the relationships and the theme were right up my alley. You can quit reading now if you want to go in fresh. There are many thought-provoking points in the movie that are applicable to business, and life in general. One of the most striking scenes for me was when the restaurant owner, Dustin Hoffman’s character, is completely opposed to letting the chef, played by John Favreau, exercise his creative freedom. The restaurant owner insists that the chef do as he’s told because as the owner, he has paid for everything - the menus, the salaries, the food. The owner is convinced the original menu is the best and he’s not open to a change. Ultimately, the owner hurts his business in this and refuses to allow the chef’s creativity shine. It’s not surprising that the chef walks when the owner gives him the “his way or the highway” ultimatum. I’ve worked for Dustin Hoffman’s character before. Too many times.

Original photo by Ry Young. 

Original photo by Ry Young. 

I’ve seen many people try to improve things at their work to just be completely squashed. In the movie, the chef reminds the owner what he was hired for - to be in charge of the food. But this doesn’t change the owner’s mind. For the owner, it all comes down to the fact that he paid for everything so he dictates everything.

Your power for the ultimate say is best used when you steward it - not when you lord it over others with an iron fist. With each new hire, you’re taking a risk - because each new hire brings their own unique experience, education, and soul to the business. But with each new hire you also are gaining the hope of something unique and beautiful and better being added to your business. Without them and their perspective, you will continue to operate as you have. With them, you can go further than you thought. If you’re looking to hire someone only to work as a machine - then figure out how to get a machine to do it or outsource it. It’s is incredibly hard for an employee to be hired to work in a business and not become invested in it. People want to use their talent to better things. People want to be on board and see that they’ve made a difference. If you silence them continually and suppress their creative spirit it ultimately will not end well.

When you embody the restaurant owner’s character in Chef, you lose hope for something better than what you’ve known. If you refuse to change and instead seek security, your business will not do as well as it could, and could possibly flounder because there are always new competitors. Being fully opposed to change is not profitable unless your customers are a completely isolated, stagnant population and no other businesses are entering the market vying for their spending power.

People that you hire have different talents, insight and passions from yours. Embracing them means that your business can grow organically and beyond what you even imagine for your business. Loosening your grip on creative control does mean greater risk, but it also means greater potential for growth.  You have to take a risk to have hope of something better. When you embrace your employees strengths and loosen your control, you not only create a better work culture, you create a better business.