Friday, November 20, 2009

How to be an Intellectual Jacker in Three Easy Steps: A Non-Violent Approach!

The word “jacker” means to seize control of by use of force. Many times it is associated with the theft of vehicles called “car-jacking.” Most recently however, I heard the term being used by celebrity Chef Jeff Henderson in regards to being hungry for culinary information thus acquiring knowledge any way that he could!

The hospitality industry has long been thought-of as highly competitive. Therefore, owners and managers guard their information and consider it proprietary. No sharing allowed! This means that new hires or individuals trying to make their way only receive just enough information to do their job. To excel requires not only natural talent but intimate knowledge oftentimes not given freely. Don’t let that stop or discourage you from wanting to know all you can about your craft. I, personally, have not had an industry mentor in over 15 years and it hasn’t been for a lack of trying. Instead, I, like Chef Henderson have turned into an intellectual jacker! Here’s how you can jack industry experts for their information in 3 easy non-violent steps:

Step 1: Be Quiet & Listen – If you are running your mouth, you cannot hear. If you cannot hear, you are not listening. It is when we listen, that we truly pay attention. As a little girl, I found that when I was silent, my elders didn’t realize I was still in the room or kitchen. This is when I got a chance to listen in on the family gossip and recipe secrets! Today, I still can’t look my Uncle June Bug in the eyes without laughing internally. If he only knew that I KNOW!

Many times chefs and hospitality professionals like to “show-off.” Be quiet, watch and listen as they tell stories about how things used to be or as they give details about what worked best for them. Let them ramble on. All the while you’re taking notes to add to your jacker notebook! By just being in an expert’s midst, many times you can pick up invaluable tips and information.

Step 2: Be Flexible – If you want to be an intellectual jacker you’ve got to know the best time to do your jacking. I once worked for a hotel reservations manager that did her best work at 5:30 in the morning! The company regarded her as the greatest forecaster in the world. If she said we’d sell 94 guest rooms, then guess what? We sold 94 rooms or came within plus or minus three rooms! I wanted to learn the magic gift she had. Learning meant I had to be flexible with my schedule by coming in at 5:30am when my shift, the night before, ended at midnight. Factor in the ½ hour commute and let me just say, I was tired!

Your learning may have to take place when business is slow. This may mean that you must make yourself available, after an already busy week, on Sunday afternoons or during closing hours.

Step 3: Show Interest – Make sure when the time comes, you are equipped with your intellectual jacker’s notebook. Being equipped lets the expert know you are here to do business. When the industry expert finally notices you hanging around at the end of the night, staring at him or her and asks “What are you still doing here?” Be prepared to show a sincere interest in what they know and do. Showing interest may include offering a compliment and stroking someone’s ego before stating that you too would like to know what it is they know. Now, at this point, you may think that you’re in! You’re listening, showing up whenever, wherever, and you’ve buttered up the boss and he or she is telling you what they know. If this knowledge is a Mercedes Benz (a creative cooking technique, key to advancement, etc.), you’ve popped the lock and are driving away! Be careful, don’t get the big head or stop following these steps before you’ve completely jacked this expert. The goal is to get him or her to give you the keys (to the Benz) so you don’t have to keep trying to take them. So, be patient, keep listening, being flexible, and showing interest. At first, the expert may be slow to share. But, if you stick with these steps, soon they may take you under his or her wing and willingly teach and train you.

Finally, make the expert feel most special by asking if they would be your mentor. They may say no or may not follow through on this commitment as did the last four experts I’ve asked. Keep in mind, there is usually a fear that the mentee may surpass the mentor. That’s fine, be grateful for the information you did gain and then seek out your next intellectual victim!

Jokima Hiller, MBA, Hospitality & Restaurant
Management Program Coordinator
Faculty Advisor, Travel & Tour Club

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