Work Clean / "Everything in its Place" by Dan Charnas

Hacker News had a thread on mise-en-place and this book was referenced in it.

The basic organizational logic of mise-en-place is that putting things in their place every day creates a habit of order which then over time forms into discipline as anything out of order feels distastefully wrong.

While this resonates with some, it's anathema to others. Just reading through the HN comments, regimenting work is the last thing many people want to do. However, Charnas only caters to those in the pro-regiment camp, which leaves behind everyone who likes their desks messy.

Additionally, his argument skips a step. While the physicality of moving food through a kitchen creates a vibrant visual metaphor, the central concern is control. Any person working for a chef has a limited domain over which they have any say. Of course, people who feel that their work is driven more by Muses than by themselves are in the exact same situation; the challenge is to acknowledge it and work with everything that can be influenced.

Likewise, for people who find the order-habit-discipline logic seductive, the challenge is to experiment with mess. Charnas hints at this meta-game of control, ceding control, and chaos:

The second is yours truly, mushed against a wall between Plant and a trash can, wondering why Plant is just standing there while the printer spits out its white spool of new orders. In fact, no one steps in to “expedite”; that is, to call out these incoming orders for the cooks at the various stations and set the pace of service. Nothing happens at all while the chef is outside the kitchen. After what seems like an eternity I turn to Plant and ask why.

“I doesn’t matter how busy it is, it’s his space,” Plant says. “His place. His space. His pace.”

“What about the new orders?” I ask. What about the stuff that needs to fired”; that is, finished and collected from the various stations to go out to the diners?

“He knows,” Plant says. He knows what’s in here and out there. He’ll come back in when he’s ready. His place. His space. His pace.

What I saw in that moment wasn’t so much a lull in service as it was a kind of peace, a pause in time and space. This calm—seemingly willed by the mastery of the chef—comes from focus, one of the unsung wages of chefdom. A chef plans, and thus a chef gets to decide what happens and when.

The trap is that it takes discipline to experiment with making a mess.