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Steve and Gordon: Two Models of Innovation and Influence

Yesterday, I wrote about how serving the Lord can lead to transformation, innovation and leadership. Today I came across two examples of innovation and transformation with very different impacts:  Steve Jobs and Gordon Ramsey.

The web is filled with the news and commentary about Steve Jobs’ passing. It was a little shocking to me to hear how soon after stepping down it happened. Pretty much everyone is singing his praises about how he transformed the world electronically. It’s a no-brainer that he influenced the world in a major way. There are several points to note about that impact.

First, he explicitly did not do it in service to God. He was a Buddhist, and made no secret of his lack of belief in heaven. Thus, it is very possible to have a profound and even profoundly positive impact on the world without serving God. God works through people whether they acknowledge him or not. (It is a whole other discussion than I want to have here about the ramifications of his influence in light of Christ’s words in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing.”) Furthermore, in order for people to live, they have to follow Biblical principles whether they acknowledge the source or not. Mr. Jobs was famous for saying, "Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life,” and “Remembering you're going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose,” and others. He had an accurate view of death and the benefits(!) it gives to us mortals.

The point here is an informative rather than recommendatory one that innovation and influence are inherent to humans because of the imago Dei, not because of the regenerate work of Christ. The ability to bring (and enjoy) pleasure and benefit to others is what theologians call common grace—that which is built into the fabric of Creation like rain for crops, which Christ explicitly taught happens to all of humanity.

Second, he found what he was made to do and pursued it fully. He did not worry about convention and partnered with the experiences of his life to innovate. He recognized that events in life contribute to who we are and expected them to serve as building blocks towards something, even though he didn’t know what it would be at the time. He could look back later and “connect the dots.” To put it in Appletalk, he learned to “think different.”

Third, he understood the reality of human use. He designed his products to be tools used by people, not electronic fortresses that had to be learned and conquered before achieving maximum value. If people can use it without extensive training, they are more likely to use it, explore it, play with it and share it with others. A simple message, simply shared, but with immense internal depth and intricacy—not too much different than the Gospel—easy to communicate, but a lifetime’s worth of study. In fact, earlier this year there was an article on how using an iPhone stimulated the same parts of the brain associated with worship. Now, THAT’s influence. I recommend watching his 2005 Stanford commencement address.

Then we get to Chef Kitchen Nightmare himself, Gordon Ramsey. I have enjoyed watching some of his shows from time to time, though his on-air personality is so contrarian and harsh. Tonight, I had dinner at a local Greek restaurant I like, El Greco. As soon as I walked in, I noticed it was different from a few months ago, the last time I was in. There were more tables crammed in, and the décor and menu were both different.

I asked my server if there were new owners. She replied, no, but Gordon Ramsey came through and disrupted everything. El Greco is a family owned restaurant that served the matriarch’s recipes from her home in Greece—authentic homestyle Greek food by an authentic Greek housewife. I remember her coming by tables and chatting with diners, giving them little samples of things she was whipping up with colorful pictures of Greece on the walls.

Then, according to my server, an unhappy ex-chef sent an 11-page diatribe to Gordon, and since one of the Kitchen Nightmare producers is from Texas, fought to do a show close to home and El Greco got chosen. The result was loss of 90% of the staff, a complete redesign of the décor to something more sterile and somewhat ultramodern, a new, more expensive narrower menu, stressed staff and fewer customers (hopefully only until the episode airs next month, when the publicity hopefully causes lots of visits). He attempted to transform a family restaurant into more of a fine dining establishment.

I have no idea what all negotiations took place behind the scenes in order for him to blaze into town, but based on the strength of response from my server and her description of his behaviour (consistent with what I’ve seen on air), I can’t help but feel sorry for the owners. Apparently, there will be a scene of him taking their microwave ovens and throwing them off of the roof of the building. The server said they got virtually no financial benefit from the experience and lots of upheaval, LOTS of drama.

The food was delicious (especially the Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup—wow!, but authentic like Yaya used to make?) and definitely more upscale, but my feeling is that it is no longer the owner’s restaurant. It is Gordon Ramsey’s wholly unowned Greek subsidiary—his picture of what a family Greek restaurant should be, not what a Greek family created their restaurant to be. So what if they use a microwave for some parts of their work? So do I.

There is no doubt that Gordon is an influencer and an innovator, and some of it is probably good. But it is certainly not done as a servant. He does his work for his glory and to drum up excitement and drama for his show. If the restaurant derives some benefit from it, that’s nice, but people watch his show to see him rip apart people trying to run their own business and reshape it in his image, not theirs.

My server complained that he didn’t bother to research the restaurant before launching in. If that is the case, how sad. That is an invitation to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let me encourage you to follow Wilson’s Rule of Management:  When placed in a position of influence in a new community (environment, team, situation, etc.), don’t make any changes (apart from those required for safety or legal compliance) until you understand thoroughly what is done and why. Ask questions, observe (and do) all processes from cradle to grave, and listen to the gray hairs of the group who know the history. Then, and only then, do you have the ability to preserve what works, to redeem the culture of that tribe rather than replace it. The first honors and respects those under you and the latter alienates them, even if your way is better. Following Wilson’s Rule serves that community and unifies them more easily behind change because you have become part of the community before transforming it, just as Christ lived among us before redeeming us.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.                         Hebrews 4:15



  1. Here is another perspective:

  2. Paul-

    Great article and perspective! I largely agree with you, and tried to base my comments on his spirituality solely on his words and not really get into the eternal destination area. I wanted my focus to be on what he did understand about the world that was consistent with Biblical truth and that one did not have to explicitly believe in the Bible to do things consistent with its description of the world. I wanted to acknowledge that people would ask/think about the implications of his publicly stated spiritual views, but move past it to a different issue. To the extent I failed in that, I apologize and just offer that it was late when I wrote it. Thanks again for sharing!

  3. I absolutely loved El Greco when I was living in Austin... their lamb chops are (were?) fantastic. What a shame. I greatly prefer "Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares", the original English version of the show. It's a lot more toned down and seems to focus on turning around the restaurant financially. The American version just seems completely bent on creating as much drama and screaming/breaking stuff as possible. I'll have a hard time watching that episode.