Approximately one year ago I came across Gordon Ramsay's show Kitchen Nightmares. My wife and I have since become frequent viewers of the show notwithstanding Mr. Ramsay's bellicose personal style (or perhaps because of it!). Other than the sheer entertainment value of the show, I believe that there are deeper psychological insights that can be gleaned from viewing the program, the most important of which I tackle in today's post.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, the premise is as follows: Mr. Ramsay is called upon to turn around an otherwise failing restaurant. Of course, there are numerous distinct reasons that a restaurant (or any small business) might fail including poor service, poor food, unattractive décor, poor management, etc. However, as a behavioral scientist, what I find most interesting are the personality flaws of the restaurant owners that oftentimes lead to the near sinking of their restaurants. Here are a few inter-related examples:
(1) Build it and they will come. This is one of the classic marketing mistakes that countless small business owners make. Specifically, they are driven by their vision of what their establishment should be, even if there is no market demand for this particular concept. For example, in an episode that I watched this past weekend, a business consultant who otherwise had no restaurant experience decided to live out his dream of owning a Tapas restaurant that also offered live music. He had illusions of grandeur as far as owning an establishment where the next Beatles might be discovered! Unfortunately, the customers detested both the loud live music as well as the reheated tapas ingredients.
(2) Inability to accept feedback. An important element of being an entrepreneur is having sufficient self-confidence to partake in risky endeavors. However, self-confidence can quickly sink into dogmatic and intractable positions that become impervious to disconfirming feedback. Hence, in many instances on the show, individuals doggedly reject Mr. Ramsay's expert and valuable advice by dismissing it as nonsense. Returning to the restaurateur above, despite the clear negative feedback that customers were voicing, he prodded along self-assured in his vision. He was undoubtedly thinking: "the customers are wrong, as my vision is so right!"
(3) Overconfidence in one's abilities. There is no reason to assume that individuals who might have had successful careers in software or in acting would be equally successful as restaurateurs. Yet in numerous instances, people on the show feel that they could easily transfer their success from one domain to another. In my opinion, this is a likely manifestation of the overconfidence bias, an infliction that most healthy individuals suffer from in varying degrees. Incidentally, clinically depressed individuals do not typically suffer from such delusional overconfidence. Researchers have wondered whether this demonstrates that individuals who are innately more realistic about their talents are more prone to clinical depression, or whether being depressed leads to a more accurate self-concept. The old chicken-egg problem rears its ugly head yet again!
(4) Being offended by a direct communication style. As any viewer knows, Chef Ramsay can be outlandishly "frontal" and aggressive when providing feedback, even in instances that otherwise do not warrant or justify such belligerence. This can at times create a barrier in communication, as the offended restaurateur is unable to accept the apparent disrespect that he/she is being shown by Mr. Ramsay. I have experienced similar situations when providing students and/or colleagues with direct and honest negative feedback. They end up becoming defensive about my "directness" whilst momentarily ignoring the contents of my points.
Bottom line: In each of the latter cases, fragile and/or big egos hinder the restaurateur's ultimate objective namely to run a successful establishment. Excessive pride is indeed a deadly sin!