I saw Alton Brown on tour last week at the State Theatre in Minneapolis. It might seem odd that a guy who hosts a show on the Food Network and serves as a guest judge on cooking shows would go on tour, but everything about Alton Brown is odd, in a good way.
His popular show “Good Eats” isn’t a typical cooking show. He cooks, but he’s more focused on the science behind food and culinary processes than following a recipe. In one of my favorite episodes, “Tender is the Loin,” he explained where beef tenderloin comes from on a cow, why it’s so expensive, why it tastes so good, and what to know when buying it.
Media stories say Brown pitched his show as a combination of Julia Child, Mr. Wizard, and Monty Python. The cynic in me is surprised that TV producers didn’t kick him out of their offices for having such an innovative idea.
Instead, his show got greenlit, and if you watch it, you can see Julia Child’s cooking influence, Mr. Wizard’s knack for performing scientific demonstrations, and Monty Python’s unique brand of humor. Brown has the rare ability to educate while entertaining.
Brown performs skits on his show with characters like The Lady of the Refrigerator, The Mad French Chef, and even sock puppets. During his live show, he played with a band, singing songs about food, told stories, brought people onto the stage for a gameshow, and cooked chicken wings while explaining how hot sauces work. He called it a culinary variety show.
Watching his show deepened my appreciation for people who are willing to try something different. It takes a lot of courage to forge a new path. Being successful also takes a good idea, commitment, perseverance, the right skills, and a fortunate break or two. By successful, I mean enjoying the career choice and making enough money to live the life you want.
For most people, innovation doesn’t turn them into a celebrity. More innovative people have lived obscure lives than have become household names. I have no idea who invented many of the items I used on a daily or even a periodic basis, but I’m thankful that somebody did.
For example, I’m impressed with something as common as modern tape measures. They typically measure up to 25 feet, the blade locks in place and then recoils to fit in a small base, the base clips onto a belt, the blade has a ton of markings to meet different needs, and cheap ones cost only about $10. It’s quite remarkable when you think about it. Countless innovations like this, large and small, have contributed to make our lives easier and better.
I put many small business owners in the same category as innovators. It takes a lot of courage for people to strike out on their own and deal with the financial risk that comes with running a business. Even if they didn’t create a new product or service, business owners must be innovative to overcome the challenges of hiring staff, dealing with supply chain issues, and being profitable in the face of tight margins. It’s not a gig that everyone can handle.
I’m also impressed with people who have the courage to change jobs, especially when they already have high paying positions. It’s easy to get comfortable with a routine and not seek new challenges, especially once you enter the late-middle-age demographic and discover that ageism is very real in the job market.
Several people I know in the 50-something age group have recently made the leap. One is someone I’ve worked with for years. He’s highly intelligent, was well respected throughout the organization, and very good at his job, but he quit last week to take a new position with a different company. He told me he liked his job, but felt like it was time for a change. He’s in his early 50s and said this might be the last time he has the opportunity to make a significant job change. He’s probably right.
It’s better to make a strategic career move when you feel it’s the right thing to do than to feel regret for not trying and always wondering what might have been.