Simon Carr: The Kitchen Capitalist

Taking responsibility - and the blame with it
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The Independent Online

The re-tooling is the hardest part of this enterprise. You think you've got it all dead right and then you find it's all wrong. You've got to do it differently. Very differently, sometimes. It's very expensive doing things very differently, and it costs more than money.

I conceived my brilliant idea a year ago today, in time to have it manufactured for Christmas. Now, as we know, it's looking unlikely for this Christmas. Why? Because everything goes wrong all the time. Why? Oh, don't get me started. They give you the wrong data, the wrong design solution, the wrong microchip; they give you the wrong software, the wrong fax number, the wrong invoice, the wrong deadline, they give you the wrong... hang on, there's something wrong with this analysis. Without for a single second absolving anyone of their incompetence, it is worth noting that all these far-flung problems have one thing in common. Me. This presents the need for the most difficult re-tooling there is. You have to re-organise your own internal processes. For the first nine months, people were late with everything except invoices, and - it was hard even thinking this - it was my fault.

The early emails I wrote read entirely differently from the ones I write now. "It's looking good," I said quite a lot, to be encouraging. "Great progress, terrific, I think we're getting there." And, because the project was evolving, there was a tentative note: "I think it might be as well to," appeared more than once, along with, "Why don't we consider the merits of."

But then some months later, my diary records an exchange between myself and Mr Bakkum, a Dutch manufacturing agent. He emailed me: "Mr Carr, we will kindly ask you to provide more details. I typed in your name into Google and found many editorial articles. I trust you understand we want a little bit more information before we sign agreements. Thanks in advance." And my diary records the start of my response as: "Here's some feedback, you filthy cheesemongering tulip grower!" Poor Mr Bakkum! (I didn't send the email.)

The difference is not just certainty but the assumption of responsibility. That's when it changes. While you are collaborating and collegiately team-working in a consensual environment no-one is ever to blame. The project won't go forward until someone is to blame. And it has to be you. Until you can blame yourself, it's only your own fault for being let down all the time.

And if that isn't true, you have to behave as though it is.