Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Reading list: E-Myth Revisited and Food Hygiene for Food Businesses

Happy New Year! So, I've been doing a little light reading over the holidays:

I had imagined the first book was going to be a practical list of hygiene guidelines, but although there were some examples, the function of the book is more to demonstrate that you have responsibilities as a small business owner dealing with food rather than provide an exhaustive list of rules. It impressed upon me the need to not only operate hygienically but to have records of and prove how I am fulfilling the legal requirements. The message was 'ignorance is no excuse where the law is concerned, the only defence will be due diligence' and in the UK at least, this means being able to prove to inspectors that you have systems in place for hygiene management and prove that they are being adhered to by all your staff.

Some of the examples included were documented training, cleaning rotas, proof of monitoring of suitable storage and cooking temperatures, inventory date-checking (having an out of date packet at the back of a cupboard is an offence if you’re in business!), transparency and traceability regarding supplies, allergen labelling etc. While all not directly applicable to Japan, many of the requirements and recommendations for the UK are good to implement anyway, and it gave me quite a few questions to add to the list of things I want to check on regarding Japanese law for small food businesses.
The Food Standards Agency site is probably the best place for lists of guidelines and training modules regarding hygiene law (in the UK, anyway)

I had seen the second book, 'The E-Myth Revisited,' recommended in multiple places online, and a friend of a friend with their own growing business swears by it. I’ve got to say, I thought it was going to be more encouraging! I did a search for the book title and "depressing" and found this article which helped me feel less alone in my initial reaction (although the article reads a bit like they missed that the titular “E” stands for entrepreneur rather than the electronic “E” of email and e-commerce).

The gist I came away from the book with (probably missing other numerous points) is that most people, like me, start small businesses because they are good at the thing the business will produce rather than being good at running a business, and so they are likely to struggle because they neglect the aspects required for planning and running a business that works.
He makes this point through the tool of “Sarah” (my god, I hope she was a tool and that no real person was subject to his patronising prompting and egotistical monologing). Sarah makes pies, of course she does, I tried to shrug off the feeling of foreboding at the similarity to my idea.. He introduces her angrily kicking at her oven door, a young woman turned old through the self-induced frustrations of running her shop.

He suggests treating the company like it is a franchise prototype you’re working on - a business idea and set of instructions that you imagine you’ll perfect and sell-on to be replicated like Starbuckses. This is where many people get turned off. They read that they, the skilled and passionate technician, are not innately equipped to run a business and see the proffered solution as distancing themselves from the technical work they love, then from the business towards the ultimate aim of selling the company on. The soul is removed from their idea.
It doesn’t help these people to stay interested that he uses McDonalds and other vast corporations as examples, and even though he tries to be clear that it’s the fact that they work as effective, scalable business models he is lauding rather than the product or the ethics, I know of people who have closed the book there – “I don’t want to build my company so I can sell it”, or “if I have to do what McDonalds does to be successful, then I’m out.”

While I’m also of this not-so-corporate mindset, if you can cut through the incessant story telling in E-Myth, there are some sensible tools that we technicians can use to improve the ‘workability’ of our businesses so that, even if you don't plan to grow it too big or sell it, at least the fact it 'works' should help you continue to do it more smoothly and for longer.
The most important tip is to schedule in time for you to work on your business, rather than just in your business, the rest of these examples are suggestions of how you might do that:
  • Start with an organisation chart for the ideal business size, even if it’s just you performing all the roles to start with, so that you can plan for growth from the start.
  • Work on the technical, managerial and strategic aspects of your company.
  • Work out and be able to articulate your company’s identity, what are you selling/what is different about you (think along the lines of ‘Godiva chocolates is selling sensuality/luxury', rather than just sweets).
  • Apply the identity to your business visually, linguistically and practically so it’s clear to your customers and staff.
  • Create a system that is able to function without you – document the processes and responsibilities in the various roles in your business for clarity, consistency, and so that anyone can potentially carry them out. This should be an evolving document as you improve processes over time.
And so now, in the planning stage before I can get too involved in the technical side of things is a perfect time to work on the vision side of things and nurture my inner manager/entrepreneur. Nope, still dislike that E word. :) 

Anyone else read the E-Myth book? What was your take, and if you found it useful what were the most interesting points for you? On another note, anyone got their hands on a copy of Modernist Cuisine yet? Gosh that's a lot of money for a cookbook. If the hype is to be believed, the scientific insight could revolutionize cooking - I do, deeply, want to understand the whys behind even traditional cooking methods. I'd love a sneak peak at the baking section.. it's not on the Amazon "look inside" page selection. Anyone had a look?

Update! They have a sample copy of Modernist Cuisine to browse in the Tsutaya at the bottom of Keyakizaka behind Roppongi Hills (if you can heft the volumes out of the perspex display case). I only had time for a quick flick-through when I saw it, but it is beautiful. Going for 60,000 JPY if I remember correctly. Wow. Wonder if you're allowed to take it to your seat with a coffee like with the other books, heh. Will go back for a proper look!
See the red dot, next to the "?" sign? That's it!


  1. to cheer you up after reading that book with E in the title (sounds horrid), I began, in my 'brain too full of culture stuff' way, to wonder on Modernist Cuisine.....surely we are in the realm of Post-Modernist Cuisine, if not Meta-Modernist Cuisine? Which means that your views on baking may well be the way forward from the dead end of the modernist impasse, which, as we know, leads to the theory of baking for baking's sake, rather than situating baking within a cultural nexus. I will now make a cheese sandwich and go away.
    Dr D

  2. Thanks for dropping by Dr. D! I do think there is something revival-y happening with traditional food and non-fussy home cooking, these days. I won't need to be the future of any impasse, but if I can make a few people happy with well made comfort foods and a nice place to be, then I'll be more than happy myself. Ah-ah :)