What can we learn from a Sushi Chef?

I like extremes. There is something pure about seeing something taken to extreme. There are negatives at the extremes. But there is also elements that come out that can provide inspiration.

Take Jiro Ono, a 85-year old sushi chef from Tokyo. Jiro has taken the act of preparing sushi to an extreme level. His goal is to approach perfection. Jiro runs a 10 seat sushi restaurant in the basement of a Tokyo office building. Not the type of place you would expect to be a 3 star Michelin rated restaurant.

Jiro Ono In ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’, director David Gelb introduces us to Jiro, his family, and the beautiful sushi that they produce.

The documentary is beautifully done, showing how pure something can be done if you really love your work above all else. This in its self is an extreme.

Jiro is focused on every detail. From selecting the very best seafood, to personally organizing the seating chart, to requiring apprentices to take up to 10 years perfecting grilled egg.

Once you decide on you occupation you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. This is the key to be regarded honorably. - Jiro Ono

##Spirit of Shokunin##

Within the documentary Jiro mentions shokunin. I was not familiar with this word. My initial interpretation was that shokunin is similar to craftsman, but this does not fully capture the sentiment.

“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. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.”- Tasio Odate

I believe Jiro also explains it well:

All I want to do is make better sushi. We don’t care about money. I do the same thing over and over again improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I continue to climb trying to reach top but no one knows where the top is. Even at my age, after all these years, I don’t believe I have reach perfection. I love making sushi, it is the spirit of Shokunin.

##Software development as a craft##

The software development profession is still very young in comparison to many professions. I believe as we continue to practice this craft of building software we will evolve towards an craftsman/artisan direction. I would like to see this, not only for developers, but also from product/program managers, and designers.

I believe it starts with mentoring and practices such as pair programming. We are a long way from apprentice programs as common as in other professions, but it will be interesting to see where we end up.

People like Jiro Ono that have such a singular focus towards a profession are extremely rare. But I believe there is purity and beauty at these extremes. Do we have individuals within the software profession that are on Jiro’s path? I don’t know, it may take another 30 years to find out.

I recommend you watch ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ and get inspired to take something to an extreme.