Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why Do We Talk About Food?

So, there is an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal--a book review for a book called Word of Mouth.  The review talks about the emphasis that Americans seem to be putting on food.  Talking about it.  Taking pictures of it.  Worrying about the process of creating it.  Presenting it.  Food for many of us is more than just functional and nutritional.  It has become an object of obsession.  Even for me--one of my personal blogs (although I have not written in it for a long time) is called A Dad and Three Boys in the Kitchen.  I have taught all three of my sons to cook.  I have taught all three of them to care about cooking.  And I have taught all three of them to present.  And blogging or not, my social media friends know how often I post pictures of food that I or my sons have prepared.  This is not a rare thing in my life.

So what does this have to do with economics and my professional life?

As I read the review of the book I could reach only one conclusion.  Regardless of why people are so fascinated with food for more than functional or nutritional purposes these days, many people are passionate about food, about making food, about how the food tastes, and about how it is presented.  We use our pictures and our words to tell stories.  Something in our culture fundamentally shifted the demand for high quality and well presented food and programming about such food.  This is what marketing is all about--how to shift the demand for a product to grow the market for it.  

To run a successful business it is necessary to be passionate about the product that one is selling or producing.  Perhaps even more than passionate--truly single-minded.  And not only to be single-minded but to be able to tell others why they should be interested.  For me as the Vice Dean for Education, it is not just about my love for learning and my love for teaching.  Those go without saying.  Rather, it is about learning what evidence we have or what does and does not work, figuring out how to make sense of that information for myself, figuring out how to weave a story to tell others about it, and bringing others along by telling them the story.  Getting others as excited as I am.  Telling them why they take a series of courses that provide a breadth of information for the MBA.  Telling them why we provide courses that provide a depth of information for our MS degrees.  Telling faculty why assuance of learning is truly valuable.  Then, I have to be willing to do any or all parts of the planning and implementation to help make it happen. Yes, in a larger organization there will be people who can help with every aspect, but I have to at least understand the process to lead the process.

So, my taking pictures and telling stories about making pizza or breads or desserts or my son's purple cabbage sauerkraut is like a representation of the things that I need to do to get others as excited about using the best evidence for teaching and learning to maximize the output of teaching and learning.  To maximize achieving learning objectives.  To maximize the opportunities that students at the Carey Business School have for their careers once they are done their education.  I have to figure out what visuals and words to use to make a story to make other people truly appreciate the educational process.

At the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School in my time as Vice Dean for Education, we have invited speakers who head running shoe stores, hotel properties, banks, local caterers, corporate social responsibility offices, and other aspects of many companies.  They all have a passion and can communicate to others through stories they tell why they are important.  That is whay makes them so interesting to business students and faculty as we think about and learn what makes businesses work and how we can better run businesses and teach people to run businesses in the future.    

What would happen if everyone who wanted to tell a story about his or her food preparation (or any other favorite hobby) put that same energy into their next entrepreneurial idea?  Perhaps our non-work lives--sharing our passions for food, music, athletics, other hobbies and recreational activities--can serve as a launching point for learning how to be entrepreneurial and passion building in our work lives as well.  

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