Presentation Zen workshops in Washington DC, March 21-22


Ideas on Stage
will hold more Presentation Zen Experience seminars, beginning in Washington DC, March 21-22. The first seminar was held last October in Paris and it was a big success. Participants loved it; the feedback was fantastic. The facilitator for these seminars is once again the incomparable Phil Waknell, co-founder of Ideas on Stage, the premier presentation design and training company in Europe. I will not attend these workshops personally, but the content is all designed by me in cooperation with Phil and his team of storytellers and designers at Ideas on Stage.

I have been impressed by the team at Ideas on Stage over the years and they do a great job facilitating the seminar. The content will cover (1) Preparation techniques of a live talk, (2) How to design simple and effective visuals, and (3) Tips and tricks for delivering your talk in a way that is natural yet dynamic.

Phil Waknell facilitating the Presentation Zen Experience seminar in Paris.

Plan2  Plan1
Participants work on developing their presentations in analog style first.

The great thing about seminars like this is not just the content that you get, but it’s also about the relationships that you make while there for the day (or two). The seminar is interactive and there are opportunities to get to know the other participants who are coming from all over the world. Get more details and register here. If you know of someone who could use some presentation training, please pass this information along.

Future Presentation Zen seminars by Ideas on Stage

Washington DC: March 21-22
Paris: April 14-15
Barcelona: June 9-10
Germany: July (city, dates tba)
New York: September (dates tba)
Paris: October/November (dates tba)
London: December (dates tba)

Learn more about this cool seminar on the Ideas on Stage site.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Where ever you may be in the world, I wish you very happy Christmas and wonderful, peaceful, inspiring year ahead. This two-minute advert for John Lewis is an evocative message and an important reminder. I love it. Perhaps you will too.


Interestingly, many people look at a story like this and all that they can see is the impossibility of a man living on the moon with out oxygen (not to mention the ability to see such detail on the Earth with a simple telescope). But this story is, of course, metaphoric. Someone may feel deeply alone, isolated, cut-off from the world as if they were living alone on the moon. Indeed, there are millions of people who surely feel as lonely as the man pictured here.

The emotional touch points in the short story are many including loneliness, separation, compassion, kindness, hope. The theme — that is, the key message — is a reminder that each of us can make a difference in the lives of another. Even a very small gesture of kindness and compassion can make a world of difference for someone. The message is spelled out explicitly at the end: “Show someone they’re loved this Christmas.” But it was not necessary. The tagline was redundant. The message was clear. Slow down, reach out, and share an act of kindness with a fellow human being. That person may be a loved one, an old friend, or a complete stranger.  

The imagery is evocative. No one can look at an image like this and not feel for this man. We’ve all felt abandoned, lonely, or lost at one time or another. Maybe even now. We also see ourselves in him. “Will I too be alone in my old age?” we ask ourselves.

Yes, it's just a TV commercial so it’s easy to be cynical and see this as manipulative or even cliche, but I think it’s a lovely little piece of art. A simple Christmas message.

A metaphor can reveal a powerful and evocative truth. Literal interpretations of a metaphor kill the message and replace it with something far less illuminating.

Have a remarkable and illuminating 2016...and beyond.

Hans Rosling: Upgrading our worldview via data visualization

Data and information are not inherently boring. The key is to select the appropriate (and accurate) data to support your message. Yet, it also matters how you bring the data alive, giving it context and meaning. One of the masters of displaying data in live talks is Swedish medical doctor and researcher, Hans Rosling, whom I've talked about often on this site and in my books (we were both keynoters at Tableau 2014 in Seattle as well; he's a wonderful man). His latest short presentation was posted this week and it's a great reminder of how to present a visualization in a simple, clear, and engaging way. Back in the US, a certain presidential candidate made quite a ruckus when he said some inflammatory things that, to put it mildly, may not be an accurate representation regarding the economic and social vitality of the country of Mexico. Given the media fracas, Dr. Rosling must have thought this was as good a time as any to shine a little data-visualization light on just how much Mexico has changed over the last couple of generations. For many, the change may be surprising.

Take your time, set up the visualization
Dr. Rosling consistently does something that few presenters ever do. That is, he takes the time to set-up for his audience the display of his data before revealing the actual visualization to them. Most people show everything all at once—without ever pointing out what we should look for or explaining the variables—and rush to their conclusion about what they say the data shows without us ever getting a chance to really see it with our own eyes. Note, however, here how Dr. Rosling introduces the problem and what he'll be measuring. One way he often compares the progress of countries is by measuring the change over time of the variables life expectancy (in years) and family size (number of babies per woman). He explains the horizontal and vertical axes. He then explains the starting point and gives context, pointing out the dramatic difference between the US and Mexico in 1968. Then he says, "now, I'll show you what has happened." Dr. Rosling recommends explaining the meaning of movement as it is happening (see more tips by Hans Rosling here.)

These are not the only variables one could use, of course, but it gives us one window into a problem. A single chart or visualization will not tell the whole story, but even this one measure gives us an illuminating glimpse
Rosling mixing analog & digital techniques

Contribution: the key to authenticity, engagement, & meaning

When I wrote the first edition of Presentation Zen back in 2007, I said that presentations are better when they are prepared and delivered in the spirit of truly wanting to make a difference and a belief in the power of sharing ideas. The secret to this spirit or approach is contribution. This is a key part of Presentation Zen. It's not about showing off. It's not about impressing. It's not about winning (or losing). I quoted the incredible Benjamin Zander who said this when speaking to a group of remarkably talented young musicians:

“This is the moment — this is the most important moment right now. Which is: We are about contribution. That’s what our job is. It’s not about impressing people. It’s not about getting the next job. It’s about contributing something.”      

                                                            — Benjamin Zander

Contribution is key. This is what I always say. I harp on it constantly. It's the fundamental element to effective communication, collaboration, and learning. We would not have come as far as we have as a species if every time we learned something new we kept it to ourselves. Collective learning is what we are all about. When we inquire, explore, and discover, we want to share it. If not with the world, then at least with our in-group. When you share it—that is, when you explain what you learned through narrative—you reinforce your own understanding. When you share it you understand it even more deeply than before. But contribution is more than that, it just may be the secret to living a meaningful life as well.

It's a simple idea. Contribution is voluntary. It's not something that can be forced. Contribution is not about being a hero or becoming famous or receiving awards or impressing others. The world is filled with people who have ticked every one of those boxes but still feels empty. On the other hand, doing something that matters and allows us to make a small contribution day in and day out will give us meaning. It could be as simple as a sincere compliment that makes someone's day. Or working hard on a project that benefits the team. Or a student completing a presentation that actually engaged the audience and taught them something important. 

Being a contributor...more important than being a hero
I began thinking about this again after I stumbled upon a wonderful 60 Minutes (Australia) interview with Robert Plant. The reporter asked the legendary rock star if his aim was to become famous back in the day. Plant replied that it was not really about wanting to become famous. "I don't think fame was the term for it," Plant said. "We were part of a huge youth movement that was going to change the world."

"So it was the right time for LED Zeppelin," the reporter asked. "It was the right time for us all," Plant said. And this is the line that resonates the most. This is the takeaway line:

"Being a contributor in any form was way more important than being a hero."                                 
                                        — Robert Plant

It does not matter what your job is or what your dreams are. It matters not if your goals are big or small. It does not matter if you are the best at what you do or are just starting out. In the moment it only matters that you are fully present and sharing, or teaching, or collaborating in the spirit of contribution. This is the key to making a difference, no matter how small, day in and day out. Sure, the world still needs heroes. But every day when we get out of bed in the morning and face the challenges ahead, it may just be more important, as Plant says, that we be a contributor in any form rather than be a hero.

When a bar chart can be misleading

Cruz_posterJust because a chart is correct, it does not mean it's not misleading. Here's an example: Back in the USA, on March 12, US Senator Ted Cruz and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden went head to head at a hearing on the President’s FY2016 budget request arguing as to what they thought NASA’s priorities are today. Sen. Cruz is known to be a climate-change skeptic and has often said that NASA should focus on space exploration and leave earth science to other agencies. Although Cruz and Bolden disagreed strongly, reports are that the hour-long meeting was nonetheless cordial. The interesting part of the hearing for me was the ridiculous bit of chartsmanship that Sen. Cruz employed to kick off the meeting. A few minutes into the hearing, Sen. Cruz had an aide lumber over to the poster stand to display the large printed poster board pictured below.

Chart displayed at the hearing on the President’s FY2016 budget request on March 12, 2015. Typically, bars are arranged in ascending or descending order, but here it seems they were trying to contrast Earth Science vs. Exploration & Space Operations. Note the Earth clip art added to emphasize the answer to their own question.

As Sen. Cruz looks at the chart he says, "In my judgement [this chart] does not represent a fair or appropriate allocation of resources. That it is shifting resources away from the core function of NASA to other functions." Later the senator says, "the chart does not suggest that the investment of budgetary resources is going where it should." The implication is that money previously used for space exploration has been reallocated to earth science. It seems that senator Cruz feels this chart is the smoking gun to support his idea that NASA has lost its way by focusing on earth science rather than remaining focused on space exploration. (Watch a 9-min clip from the beginning of the hearing.)

You can fool some of the people...
A lot of people may find this kind of data display convincing today. In fact, you could imagine a newspaper headline which read "NASA Shifts Priorities from Space Exploration to Earth Science" accompanied by this kind of chart. At first glance, the visual of a dramatic increase in earth science allocations while showing a decrease for space exploration may feel like it supports the Senator's claim. This kind of chart may work in a TV infomercial or a cable news talk show where viewers do not pay close attention and are easily fooled by fast-pitched unfounded claims and spurious relationships, but in a setting like this, the chart was utterly unconvincing, especially to the retired United States Marine Corps Major General, and former NASA astronaut Administrator Bolden. (Update, apparently you can fool some of the people.)

The figures in the chart are correct, but they're terribly misleading. The two major problems with the chart are that (1) showing only percentage increases over the last seven years says nothing about the actual dollar amount being allocated to each category nor its relative percentage to the entire NASA budget. (2) Even if we were to agree that percentage increases or decreases of allocations necessarily translated into relative importance or priorities, we do not know what was even included for the the category of Space Exploration. Depending on what you include, you could actually show that there was a percentage increase for space exploration. More importantly, since 2009, the Space Shuttle program retired. The Space Shuttle was obviously expensive so if you remove it—sometime after 2011—then that would surely impact the budget for exploration. Also, allocations for earth science research were cut significantly during the previous US administration, so an increase since 2009 would not be surprising. Yet, as a percentage of the entire NASA budget, the earth science allocation in 2016 is actually less than in the year 2000. This also does not support the idea of a “disproportionate increase” in earth science.

Additionally, Bolden stated that NASA was intentionally aiming to reduce the cost of space exploration. But a slight reduction—even if it were true—would not mean space exploration was any less of a priority or that funds were being diverted from exploration to earth science, something Sen Cruz was implying that the chart showed. After vigorously defending the earth science programs, Administrator Bolden said this:

"You asked me about your chart. There's a lot of chartsmanship [in that chart]. I'm not sure what you include in Exploration, so by my statements I was not acknowledging that I agree with the numbers in the chart. I don't want anyone to say that I accept the numbers on the chart."

Another way to look at it
Although Sen. Cruz's chart was not incorrect, it was still be terribly misleading. So using the same categories that Sen. Cruz used in his chart, which does not include all of the budget request categories, I made two versions of a similar bar chart. But by focusing on the actual numbers requested, this slide suggests a different story and supports the idea that NASA's budget is focused on exploration and space operations.

Instead of a poster board on an easel, why not equip the hearing room with large digital displays where data can be accessed and easily displayed. In this case, the NASA Administrator could have shown his own charts to show a clearer picture.

This shows that Exploration & Space Operations is by far the biggest category. Two colors for the bars were chosen directly from the photo of Jupiter which was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft. The photo and Cassini being examples of exploration or "focused outward."

In this example of the same chart the bars are arrange horizontally. The colors were taken directly from the NASA logo. The emphasis is on Exploration & Space Operations, and the red color—and the much greater length—make the top bar pop.

Does not get much simpler than this. Even though funding for Earth Science is crucial, this chart suggests it hardly holds a "disproportionate" slice of the NASA budget pie. An even better graph would be of a line chart that showed the 10.5% of 2016 is actually down from around 12.4% in 2000.

Five simple rules for making awesome bar charts.

In Memory of The Sushi Maestro, Shuichi Inoue

Shu_inoueShuichi Inoue, the "Sushi Maestro," gave a beautiful, heartfelt presentation at TEDxKyoto last year about his passion and dream to spread the innovative approach of his art to the world. Yesterday, tragically, Shuichi's life was cut short by a careless driver on a Japanese freeway. All of us in the TEDxKyoto community are in a state of shock right now. Both Shuichi and I presented in the same session at TEDxKyoto last Fall. I met him in the green room back stage. He was gracious, humble, and all smiles. Shuichi was the nicest guy you could ever meet. I can't believe he's gone. 

I'm sorry that I have no elegant words to describe Shuichi or the pain that we all feel today. All I can do is share one of his last recorded moments below. I hope the whole world can see his TEDxKyoto talk. Please watch the video below. English subtitles are available (thanks to the TEDxKyoto team), so please click the CC button if they do not display automatically.

Japanese culture is deep and wide with many lessons for us all, and Shu was on a mission to share it with a creative spirit and an open, humble heart. The last part of his TEDxKyoto talk above touches on his dream and his optimistic approach to the future. These words are hard to hear today. Our hearts are terribly heavy, but I hope that if you have any interest in Japanese culture and the art of sushi that you'll pass Shu's TEDxKyoto video on to others and share his work and his innovative spirit. Here's a bit of his talk:

"I want to continue on a journey to share Japanese culture to the world through sushi and also hope to use what I have learnt from being exposed to other cultures in evolving sushi further. Sushi has infinite possibilities. With the ingredients that will bring out these possibilities, with Japanese traditions, and other cultures of the world, I will continue my adventure. I hope to shed light on these hidden values, mold them into shape, and deliver them to you. People have yet to realize the possibilities and attractiveness hidden in sushi. It's not only about consuming fresh fish, but being able to experience the crystalization of painstakingly acquired skills and art in one single moment. This moment, I believe, is the greatest luxury one can experience and is essentially, the aesthetics of sushi. I'm lucky to have been born in a well off country like Japan and I'm truly happy I am able to be a sushi chef. I have embarked on a journey to continue to fuse diverse things, challenge Japan and the world, and I hope to continue to shed light on hidden possibilities, shape them, and deliver them to people all over the world."

Here's the video from his website which was shown in the presentation.

Our hearts are with you and your family, Shuichi.

Sushi Maestro web site.


The Key to story structure in two words: Therefore & But

Therefore-but_southparkThere are a ton of storytelling-related books and websites in the cosmos. And there is no shortage of people giving story advice and tips. Much of the advice is helpful, but the enormous volume of information related to writing or telling better stories can be overwhelming. Therefore, when someone credible comes along who offers free, insanely simple yet effective advice for improving one's story, he will find a very large audience indeed. This is exactly what happened just a few years ago, all quite by accident it would seem.

Southpark_DVDIn 2011 Comedy Central began shooting a documentary about the process behind the creation of a typical South Park episode. The short film—"Six Days to Air: The Making of South Park"— focuses on the co-creators and lead writers for the show, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, as they and their team brainstorm ideas, write, rewrite, record dialog, and finally animate one entire show in just six days. The documentary begins as Matt and Trey return from New York City where their first Broadway musical, The Book of Mormon, had just opened to rave reviews. Now back in Colorado, they find themselves with no ideas for the next episode of South Park and with the pressure of producing a show that will air in less than a week. This, they say, is all quite normal for them. The process is intense and the pressure is palpable, but without the crazy deadline, says Trey Parker, the episodes would never get finished. At first, Matt and Trey and a few other writers and producers sit in a room with a large whiteboard and bounce ideas around. Often Usually the ideas are absurd, but if it makes others in the room laugh, then they may be on to something. "For every good idea we get, there are a hundred not so good ones," Matt Stone says. (You can find the Six Days to Air documentary as an extra on the complete 15th Season of South Park DVD.)

Therefore & But
The entire documentary is insightful, but there is one 45-second bit that popped out to anyone who is interested in writing or telling stories. When talking about the frantic rewriting process of their script, Trey reveals his simple rule for rewriting and improving the story. "I call it the rule of replacing ands with either buts or therefores." Trey says that a common trap a lot of writers fall into is describing actions and events in a typical "this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened...." This kind of X and then Y and then Z progression—similar to creating a list of things—is not engaging. This approach to writing (or speaking) is dull and does not generate momentum, let alone sustain it. Therefore, Trey says, "whenever I can go back in the writing and change that to "this happened, therefore this happens. But this happens..." In other words, says, Trey, "Whenever you can replace your 'ands' with 'buts' and 'therefores,' it makes for better writing."

Later that year in 2011, Trey and Matt surprised a “Storytelling Strategies” class at NYU as part of a mtvU series and offered up story advice, once again explaining the "Replacing ands with therefores and buts" story structure tip. Watch the 6-min clip below.

Get More:

Here's the transcript from the key part of the video above where Trey Parker explains their simple but oh so effective rewriting tip.

"Each individual scene has to work as a funny sketch. You don’t want to have one scene and go ‘well, what was the point of that scene?’ So we found out this rule that maybe you guys have all heard before, but it took us a long time to learn it. But we can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline. And if the words ‘and then’ belong between those beats… you’re f****d. Basically. You got something pretty boring. What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down is either the word 'Therefore' or 'but,' right? So what I’m saying is that you come up with an idea and it’s like ‘okay, this happens’ and then ‘THIS happens.’ No no no. It should be ‘this happens’ and THEREFORE ‘this happens.’ BUT ‘this happens’ THEREFORE ‘this happens.’ … And sometimes we will literally write it out to make sure we’re doing it. We’ll have our beats and we’ll say okay ‘this happens’ but ‘then this happens’ and that affects this and that does to that and that’s why you get a show that feels okay." 

But, there's more...
Right, I'm sure you've got it, but here's one more explanation of the Trey Parker story tip. Below is a wonderful video essay by Tony Zhou where he explains how important Buts and Therefores are in creating a tight, well structured story. As Tony says, as much as possible, we want to avoid the dreaded "and then, and then, and then..." Tony also touches on Alfred Hitchcock's story structure technique called "Meanwhile, back at the ranch." This is where you have two (or more) things going in parallel. When you reach the peak of one then you can move to the other. You see this in films a lot. Tony Zhou is a remarkable video essayist. Checkout all of his video essays. He's a great teacher.

F for Fake (1973) - How to Structure a Video Essay
from Tony Zhou on Vimeo.

I first came across this therefore/but story structure tip in a great screenwriting book called Screenwriting 101 by Film Crit Hulk! This is one of the freshest screenwriting books I have ever read (and there are a gazillion screenwriting books). In the book, Hulk talks for a couple of pages about the Trey Parker and Matt Stone simple tip of changing ands to therefores and buts. After reading this I went out and purchased the South Park season 15 DVD just so I could get the documentaries which are included as extras. It was worth it.

Remember, there are no panaceas, but looking again at your writing—or your presentation structure—and going back and changing your 'and then' to a 'but' or 'therefore' can make a huge difference as you continue to tighten your story, giving it tension and momentum.

Norm Macdonald: A profile of authenticity on stage

Last Friday, viewers of David Letterman's Late Show witnessed one of the finest, heartfelt monologues ever on American late-night TV, by an emotional Norm Macdonald. A few years ago, I wrote a piece called We don't seek your perfection, only your authenticity, featuring a TED talk by Brene Brown. Brown says in her book The Gifts of Imperfection that, "Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection." What Norm Macdonald did in his final appearance on the Late Show was beautiful, honest, and as authentic as it gets on stage. Comedian Rob Schneider called Macdonald's performance "...comic perfection and grace." I don't want to give anything away, but if you have eight minutes, please watch the monologue below.

I've long been a fan of Norm Macdonald. He's always seemed to be the most genuine of standup comedians. He never became a household name, though he is certainly successful by any definition. The comedian from Ottawa may best be known for his five years as an SNL cast member and anchor for Weekend Update. Clearly the standup community respect and admire him. As with standup, so it is in life: the most genuine and the most authentic people are the ones who touch us the most and are the ones we remember.

Thank you, Norm, for showing us how it's done.

B.B. King (1925–2015): Incomparable Bluesman, Masterful Storyteller

One of the greatest storytellers of our time has died. B.B. King passed away today in Las Vegas. The legendary blues musician was 89. Please allow me to quote from This excerpt is from a post I wrote ten years ago called Presentation, blues, and tapping into your creative soul:

B.B. King is a legend. No one does it like he does. He's not flashy and he doesn't try to impress with speed or technique. That's not what it's about. That's not what the blues is about. It's about telling a story and making a connection in a way that can not be duplicated by anyone else. If you are being true to yourself and the audience, if you are authentic, how could it possibly be duplicated?

Many people can play good technique. With study, technique is not too difficult for many people. Computers, for example, can play "perfect technique." But even with perfect technique, computer-generated blues would lack substance and would seem empty. It would seem empty because there is no "feel" to it. To me "feel" is that kind of perfectly imperfect human quality that conveys emotion and the spontaneity of the time. That one moment in time that can not be repeated the same way again. And that's beautiful.

Five hundred years from now—a thousand years from now—they will still be playing B.B. King songs and paying tributes. B.B. King masterfully told stories with his songs, but rather than link to one of his legendary hits here, please take a look at this short video featuring B.B. King sharing a story from his younger days, with another legend Buddy Guy. It's beautiful.

The Thrill is Gone
Here's B.B. King from 1993 storytelling through one of his classics. Put the headphones on and crank up the volume. It's wonderful. As Jimi Hendrix said, "Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel." Is there anyone who played and sang more evocatively than B.B. King? He was the true master of communicating feelings.

Long live the King.

Shokunin Kishitsu & The five elements of true mastery


A few years ago, I dined in Tokyo with a friend who was here in Japan on business from California. My friend is the CEO of a multi-billion dollar tech company with offices worldwide, including in Japan. He's someone I greatly admire and look up to for advice, wisdom, and inspiration. He's a powerful leader, a successful business person, and a nice guy to boot. So when he said that he was absolutely shocked that I had not seen the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, I felt ashamed of my failing and placed an order for the DVD immediately on Amazon. "I can't believe you have not seen this movie!" he said. "I must have seen it 5-6 times by now and there's always something to learn." Here it is a few months later and in that time I too have seen the movie 5-6 times. My friend was right, there are many valuable lessons in this documentary. I recommend the movie to anyone who is interested in a beautiful visual narrative that is a mix of innovation insights and inspiration.

Shokunin Kishitsu
Shokunin kishitsu (職人気質) translates roughly as the “craftsman spirit." The movie, in spite of its title, is not about sushi, it's really about how to be a master shokunin, how to become truly great as a master craftsman. Yes, if you like sushi—and beautiful cinematography of sushi—then you'll not be disappointed. But even if you have zero interest in sushi, you will be motivated and inspired by this film. The film is not perfect, of course. For example, the narrative could use more objectivity and a more critical eye. There are surely more downsides to Jiro's approach (not to mention the issue of over fishing which is touched only very superficially). Yet, on the whole, it's a wonderful documentary. No matter your job or your dreams, there may be a valuable lesson or two in this gem of a film that will help you in your pursuit of mastery. Checkout the trailer below for the feel of the film.

Five elements of Mastery
There are many lessons from the film, but I will focus here on five main points that the film makes early on. Food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto speaks of what makes Jiro a true master at his art. "He sets the standard for self-discipline," Yamamoto says. "He is always looking ahead. He's never satisfied with his work. He's always trying to find ways to make the sushi better, or to improve his skills. Even now, that's what he thinks about all day, every day."   

What does any of these points below have to do with presentation? Well, public speaking, including presentation given with the aid of multimedia, is an art. It may be a big aspect of your life and career, or it may play a very minor role. But the art of presentation, and the art of communication in general, is something worthy of an obsessive pursuit of excellence. No matter how good you are today, you can get better.

Below are the five attributes, according to Yamamoto, that are found in any great chef. Think about how you—or your team—can apply these to your own work (art).

1. Majime (真面目). A true master is serious about the art. He or she strives for the highest level possible always. The commitment to hard work is strong. The level of dedication is constant. As Jiro's older son says in the film, "We're not trying to be exclusive or elite. The techniques we use are no big secret. It's just about making an effort and repeating the same thing every day." Their approach may be simple but their dedication and execution is what sets them apart.

2. Kojoshin (向上心). Always aspire to improve oneself and one's work. There is an old Zen adage that says once you think you have arrived, you have already begun your descent. One must never think they "have arrived." One of the shokunin at the fish market touches on this theme in the film while searching for the perfect fish. "...Just when you think you know it all, you realize that you're just fooling yourself," he says. One must always try to improve. "I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit, says Jiro. "There is always a yearning to achieve more."

3. Seiketsukan (清潔感). Cleanliness, freshness. "If the restaurant doesn't feel clean, the food isn't going to taste good," Yamamoto says. One can not prepare and perform well if the environment is cluttered, messy, or dirty. Some people say that a disorganized work space is liberating. I am not in that camp. For me at least, a dirty, cluttered office decreases my creativity and increases my anxiety. I am not a neat freak by any means, but when my office is cluttered, my mind is cluttered too (and often vice versa). This article touches on this issue outside the kitchen (A Tidy Office Space is the Key to Creative Thinking.)

4. Ganko (頑固). Stubbornness, obstinacy. The fourth attribute is...Impatience, Yamamoto says. "They are better leaders than collaborators. They're stubborn and insist on having it their way." Jiro is an individualist in pursuit of excellence rather than a team player in search of consensus. This does not mean he does not rely on his team or listen to them, but his team is hand picked and trained by him. In the end it is his vision and his responsibility.

5. Jyonetsu (情熱). Passion, enthusiasm. From the very first moments of the film: "Once you decide on your must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success...and is the key to being regarded honorably." No passion, no art.

Your work, your art
The spirit of the shokunin is the pursuit of perfection. The pursuit is hard and the journey long, never ending in fact. But you love what you do in spite of the hardships. The work is not at all about the money. "Shokunin try to get the highest quality fish and apply their technique to it," Jiro's oldest son says. "We don't care about money. All I want to do is make better sushi." 

Seth_godinRemember that the shokunin lessons here are not only for chefs or artists such as painters, musicians, dancers, etc. In the book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? famed business guru Seth Godin makes the case that many dedicated professionals are doing art: “Art isn't only a painting. Art is anything that's creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator." An artist, says Godin, "is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artists takes it personally." You must throw yourself into it, suggest, Godin, "Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”

"I'll continue to climb, trying to reach the top...but no one knows where the top is." — Jiro Ono

The final few lines from the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi sum up the lessons from the master shokunin.

look ahead and above yourself.
Always try...
to improve on yourself.
Always strive to elevate your craft.
That's what he taught me.