A wonderful parable called “Parable of the kitchen spindle” published in the Harvard Business Review in the 60s continue to provide valuable lessons in consulting. This is one of my favorite stories and I use this to illustrate the analysis frame of mind.
In it, a restaurant owner finds his cooks and waitresses bickering about orders, especially during peak hours. To resolve this issue, the owner consults four different consultants.
The first consultant– a sociologist by training, frames the problem in terms of status and hierarchy: The cook resents receiving orders from the lower status waitresses. He recommends sensitivity training for both the cooks and waitresses.
The second consultant–an anthropologist by training stresses cultural norms, especially concerning sex roles. The male cooks disliked having their actions initiated by women. He recommends that a senior cook be given authority to manage the system, who will parcel the orders to the other cooks.
The third consultant– a clinical psychologist diagnosed the problems as one of sibling rivalry: the cooks and waitresses were like brothers and sisters competing for the attention of the boss who was like a father figure. He recommended weekly counseling sessions to improve communication.
The last was an information theorist (modern day IT consultant) who diagnosed the problem as cognitive overload. At peak time, too many orders had to be memorized causing stress. He recommended that waitresses punch the orders into a new computer system which would display the right order at the right time.
The Manager was thoroughly confused because he couldn’t afford any of the solutions. In desperation, he mentioned the problem to a junior cook. ” You know in the restaurant I worked in, they had a rotating thing in the kitchen and we clipped out orders to it. The cooks would just turn it around and pull off an order each time they were ready to cook something new. It made everything a lot easier. Do you think something like that would work here”?
The boss said he didn’t know. So he took the idea to the 4 consultants.
Guess what happened and this is when it gets very interesting:
Each continued to recommend the course of action they earlier proposed, but added as an after thought that the kitchen spindle might alleviate the problem.
The sociologist said the spindle would align statuses since the orders will have to wait till the cook got them.
The anthropologist said the spindle would im-personalize the initiation of the action thereby freeing the cook from the despised reversal of roles.
The psychologist said the spindle would reduce the friction causing interaction between cooks and waitresses, minimizing sibling rivalry.
The information theorist (IT consultant) said the spindle would give the system external memory, comparable to a computer, by recording the orders on paper.
The manager installed the spindle and it was a great success.
Here are the takeaways:
- Each of the consultant projected his knowledge and expertise on the problem. They saw that from a very specific frame.
- The moment they saw a different kind of solution, they gave their own “spin” to the solution.
- When a decision is seen through various frames, and it makes sense, then it is a good decision.
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