Based in Chicago, Omerisms is a blog by Omer Abdullah. His posts explore Ideas, perspectives and points of view across business, sales, marketing, life and (sometimes) football (the real kind).

"It’s Like A Pizza..."

Many years ago, I worked with a senior consulting partner who liked to talk in puzzles. Instead of giving us specific marching orders, he’d talk around the issues and then ask us to put together a deck for his review.

For example, as we’d talk through a proposal we were working on, he’d talk about the client situation, the range of issues they were facing as well as the key objections we could expect to face as the client reviewed our proposal. He’d then reiterate the overall proposal objective and then send us on our way.

The first time this happened, my fellow associates and I - newly minted MBAs - walked out of his office, looked at each other and asked, “So, what exactly are we supposed to be doing?”

After floundering for a bit, I went back in and asked him what exactly he wanted us to do. I told him we didn’t know what he wanted in terms of output.

He looked at me and said:

“Omer, it’s like a pizza. I’ve given you a bunch of different ingredients. I’ve also told you what we need to make. Now, I need you to go back and sift through those ingredients, figure out which ones you really need, what the specific logical steps are and make me the best damn pizza you can make. Make sense?”

Perhaps by reflex, I nodded, still processing what he said and how it would tangibly help me in this instance, and left the room. As I walked to my team room, I realized. While I still didn’t know exactly what he wanted, I understood the direction he wanted us to take. I also understood that he was trusting us to use our judgement and develop something that leveraged the best of each of us, to create something any one of us couldn’t have.

We delivered what he wanted. Not precisely, but close enough that he could make refinements and get us to where we needed to go.

The point is, as I realized, we were waiting for specific instructions. We wanted to be told what to do.

He, on the other hand, was giving us guidance and autonomy. He was implicitly telling us that we were smart folks and he trusted us to figure it out. He wanted to give us the freedom to think, to use our judgement and come up with the best of what our collective minds could put together.

Too often, we forget that. We want to be told exactly what to do, to be given a roadmap.

But that doesn’t allow us to use our talents optimally. It doesn’t allow us to think. It’s also the lazy way out.

I came to see those instructions as a necessary part of my development. A better form of learning. Of self development.

Was there uncertainty and risk in this approach? Absolutely. But that’s part and parcel of a true and honest learning process.

The phrase “It’s like a pizza” is now (in)famous amongst many of my consulting cohort that worked with this partner.

But it’s also representative of our education process, to not wait to be told what to do, but to think and use our best abilities.

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