How sushi at Jiro’s can help you become a better planner

What a good plan has in common with good sushi.

One of our JUNE staff members traveled to Tokyo to dine at the world renowned Sukiyabashi Jiro. He ordered the omakase set.

An omakase order is where the customer relinquishes control of his order completely to the chef’s determined course. The underlying philosophy of omakase goes something along the lines of:

“I trust you, Chef, and I trust what you have in store for me.”

An omakase at Jiro’s consists of 20 sushi pieces served one by one over a half hour. Planning and prepping for an omakase at Jiro’s is made out of three main components: operation, detail, and timing.

First ingredient: Operation

A plan is a process made of tasks.

Every morning at Jiro’s begins with sourcing the ingredients for each omakase course. Jiro’s son Yoshikazu tracks down specific vendors at Tsukiji market for the day’s fish. The fish are then passed to the kitchen staff, who follow a specific list of tasks to help bring out the flavor of each fish. For example, one member of the kitchen staff will be tasked with massaging an octopus for a half hour while another is tasked with bathing the fish in light marinade.

Each task, though unique in its own right, are woven together to form an operational balance when done in the right order and pace. Tasks reflect and move towards an objective outcome, either in the short term or long term.

Second ingredient: Detail

Tasks are brought to life through notes and details.

Tasks delegated to both the kitchen and the servers are qualified by another respective level of detail. These details are what give each preparation task a sense of life, purpose, and meaning in the overall picture of the omakase.

One of the most notoriously humbling sushi pieces served at Jiro is the tamagoyaki (grilled egg). In many sushi circles, the skill level of a kitchen is represented by the quality of their tamagoyaki.

Preparing the tamagoyaki at Sukiyabashi Jiro requires an intense amount of work and the batter process in particular is crucial. After failing to make the tamago cake over 200 times, a sushi chef was left in tears when his successful attempt finally received Jiro’s blessing. (That sushi chef was Daisuke Nakazawa, who now runs one of New York’s hottest upscale sushi restaurants.)

Tasks without details are lifeless; notes and details help us create impact through our tasks.

Third ingredient: Timing

For planners, a schedule bridges tasks and create value through their connections.

The entire 20-piece omakase at Jiro’s takes about 25 minutes to eat, meaning you have roughly a minute to finish each piece with about 15–20 seconds to spare in between.

That sense of urgency is actually purposeful; sushi chefs believe the quality and taste of sushi declines with each passing second after plating. Jiro even seats his customers in a specific order to minimize the time between when a sushi piece is served and eaten.

The rapid pace helps you notice how flavors change between each piece. These changing flavors help to model a relationship made out of flavors. What makes the omakase at Jiro special is how each sushi piece holds a savory identity relative to what came before and after. Jiro helps us realize his vision of umami by mapping out his own balance of flavors and sustaining it from the beginning to the end of his omakase course.

That means Jiro recognizes the contrast between 20 unique sushi flavors and build palatable relationships out of taste and time. As a sushi chef, he is intimately familiar with organizing the flavors of 30 types of fish in the same way we as planners are familiar with managing the days in a calendar month.

Jiro’s Sushi is planning at its finest

Eating an omakase at Jiro isn’t meant to be an exemplary template for planning; Jiro’s success is defined by the philosophy that drove how he approaches each of his ingredients, which in turn inspires trust amongst his customers. That’s why no other sushi chef can imitate Jiro, even if equipped with the same exact set of ingredients.

A good plan extends to the tools that you use. It could be a task list to track your actions, a notepad to write memos and details, and a calendar to schedule your days. It could even be all three.

What’s worth taking away from this experience is the philosophy resulting from Jiro’s planning. A great omakase isn’t realized in one bite, but is reflected in the way every sushi piece works together towards the memorable aftertaste after eating that last tamagoyaki; it’s what trust tastes like.