7 Things Craftsmen Can Learn From The Worlds Best Sushi Chef

Jiro is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro, which is said to be the worlds best sushi place (hey—President Obama says so too) and has been awarded three Michelin stars. It is fair to say that the process is almost always the more interesting part than the result (think: your career). With this in mind, the documentary about Jiro called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” gives you a clear picture of his work ethic and philosophies, much rather than how he makes the wonderful pieces of sushi itself.

Jiro is a craftsman par example who defines himself through his craft (you should too, as you will learn). He devoted his life to create the best sushi on the planet—he goes about this by saying “all I want to do is make better sushi”. At the age of 85 years, striving for perfection is the main force that makes him still want to improve day by day.

Ultimately, there are multiple major take-aways to be learned from a craftsman like Jiro, that could be of use to anyone who creates things for a living. Because in the end all we want to do is make better applications, interfaces, books or—sushi.

始めましょう。(hajime mashou—or—let’s begin):

1. Be Committed to Your Craft

Jiro defines himself through his craft. His commitment to making the best sushi in the world is the seedling that grew to being the most renowned sushi chef in the world.

“Once you decide your occupation, you have to immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work and never complain about your job. (..) You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.”

Cultural differences of western and eastern world definitely shimmer through. However, being confident about the decision of your occupation, you might as well commit to your craft, immerse yourself in the work and remove all the clutter and noise that competes with your decision.

2. Be Consistent In Your Process

Making an effort and repeating the same thing everyday is what Jiro makes responsible for moving ahead and improve. He repeats the same routine everyday. He even gets on the train from the same position. He eliminates decisions by embracing consistency that lets him focus on the essential parts of mastering his skill. He sums it up in a nice and easy way:

“Don’t try to be special, just work. Be consistent.”

3. Be self-critical and Improve Endlessly

Jiro urges you to never be satisfied with your work and always try to find ways to make better work or improve your skills—and he wants you to think about it everyday. He shows humility and self-criticism by saying that even after decades of work, he has not achieved perfection. His goal is to improve endlessly until he reaches perfection.

Note: I agree with this, but there is a very thin line between being self-critical and self-descructing. People who are very self-critical tend to do silly things such as keeping their work locked away, over-obesessing over details and try to ship someting perfect instead of something good (guilty as charged).

4. Have Good Taste

He states that having good taste is essential in order to create something good. Jiro’s brother even says that his incredible taste is what makes him stand apart from everyone else. But how does one get good taste? Jiro’s take on this is quite simple:

Without good taste, you can’t make good food —and in order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.

He could not be more right, why else do great writers urge young writers to read a lot of good books.

5. Attention to Detail

If you are a left-handed Jiro will serve the sushi to your left hand. Moreover, if you are a small woman, Jiro will serve you smaller sushi. For him it is essential to check every detail and cater for it.

Attention to detail in your work will inevitably make it rise above all the mediocre and average work that is out there. However, over obsessing over details will be counter-productive.

6. Be a Shokunin

Jiro defines himself—and I can’t stress this enough—through his craft. You should do too. All the hours you invest during your lifetime in order to create something for other people to use and enjoy is reason enough to do so. And after all, what you create is ultimately your contribution to our society.

“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. (..) The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people.

Do more than just outstanding work from a technical perspective—be concious of what you work on and what you put out there.

7. Designer Bonus: Taste Before You Serve

Jiro always tastes everything before it is being served. He tasted the bonito, the rice as well as the small things such as the ginger and the wasabi. His reason why he stresses tasting so much is quite simple:

“If it doesn’t taste good, you can’t serve it.”

While tasting a dish is as easy as shoving it in your mouth and then investigating the taste of the food, finding out whether our design-decisions taste good is a bit more time-consuming. Jiro is saying that it is essential to verify before you serve. For us designers this means, it is essential to verify our design-decisions before we introduce them to the world.

Jiro is an incredible example of a socially and culturally conscious craftsman and his philosophies can be applied to any kind of craft. It is up to you though to make them part of your daily lives, be that professional or personal. While they are sound principles, they are extremely hard to implement. Good things don’t come easy.

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