Five Unexpected Startup Lessons from a Movie about Sushi

A few years ago, I decided to join the holiday masses in their grand tradition of eating lots of food, getting some exercise, catching up with family and friends, reading some books, and watching a movie or two. Put more simply, I decided to take a break.

I ended up watching the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and I attempted to read David Foster Wallace’s magnum opus, Infinite Jest. I still haven’t finished the thousand-plus-page novel, but I got so much from the documentary that I feel like I have to share some applicable business lessons that came to mind as I watched. So here are five specific lessons that I’m keeping in mind today (and will try to keep in mind for the rest of the year):

Love One Thing & Learn Everything About It

Jiro Ono, the main character in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, is a master sushi chef and has even received the highest commendation in the cooking world—three Michelin stars. He dedicated his life to perfecting how sushi is prepared. He’s far exceeded his 10,000 hours of practice, and it pays off in the form of guests who are willing to wait months for a seat at his 10-stool restaurant.

When you put it in perspective, 10,000 hours doesn’t feel so long if you’re spending those hours pursuing what matters to you. I’ve been in the energy industry for over 10,000 active learning hours, but it doesn’t feel like that much time has passed because I still love it. When you find something you love, the hours you’ll put in becoming an expert at it won’t feel like much work at all.

Surround Yourself with Other Experts

While you’re working towards your 10,000 hours, there’s nothing wrong with apprenticing yourself to some experts for awhile. Jiro, and his son after him, would go to the fish market every morning for raw materials. Jiro was the sushi expert, but there was the octopus expert, the tuna expert, the squid expert, and others. Jiro knew he was a novice with these other foods, so he chose to trust and learn from these experts instead of trying to pass himself off as knowing enough.

When you respect other people’s expertise, they will usually help you along your own way as you work towards becoming an expert.

Never Stop Learning

Don’t stop practicing. There will always be new things to learn. As the world continues to change and long-held beliefs fall, you must continue to nurture your own expertise. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of quickly becoming irrelevant. In the movie, the chef whose expertise is tuna says, “I am always learning.” He’s already an expert, but he has an insatiable drive to keep learning. And if he needs to keep learning about tuna, then you need to keep learning about your area of passion.

Open New Doors Through Innovation

When Jiro came back from his time in the war, his sushi master told him, “There is no new way to make sushi.” That could have been the end of Jiro’s journey. Instead, he chose to keep innovating. His desire to make new things (or make things in new ways) earned him three Michelin stars in 2008.

It’s all the more incredible when you consider that his restaurant only seated ten customers at a time, and their seats were next to an outdoor toilet! Jiro could have easily found himself ignored, but his commitment to innovative cooking methods and continued growth in his particular area of expertise kept those 10 seats filled. The lesson here? Innovate, innovate, innovate. You never know where a creative idea will take you.

It’s Always About People

Apprenticeship, expertise, lifelong learning, and innovation all have one thing in common: people. It may sound cliché, but people make the world go round.

As you go through each day, focus your energy on learning something from every person you meet. Reach out to people who think differently than you. There’s a good chance they’ll help you see life in a whole new way. And when you start to see life in new ways, you’ll only be giving yourself the opportunity to grow in your expertise beyond what you could have previously imaged.

If you only take away one thing from this post, make it this single idea: whether in your everyday life or in your business, it’s all about loving, learning from, and growing with people. Now I have to get over my aversion to sushi so I can find a way to become friends with Jiro!

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