Six Sigma, Switching Spices, and Embracing the Slight Deviations in Life

Although in many aspects of life we must minimize variation to obtain desirable outcomes, it’s when we embrace the slight deviations from normalcy that we obtain leverage, advancement, and enrichment.

Six Sigma

Six Sigma, developed by Motorola in 1981, is a “rigorous and disciplined methodology that uses data and statistical analysis to measure and improve a company’s operational performance by identifying and eliminating defects.” In other words, it’s a business management strategy that seeks to minimize variation in operational processes to obtain desirable results for that business/industry.

For manufacturing, production, risk management, supply chain management, accounting, customer service, and many other traditional business functions, minimizing variation is critical for ensuring sustainability, accountability, and efficiency. If the outputs of these functions deviated from what was to be expected, well, it could be expected that the people, the business, and the industry could all be severely impacted at some level.

But in order to spur innovation, create new channels for business, and adapt to markets and mediums that are constantly in flux, these businesses must foster and embrace the slight deviations from what is traditional or expected. There are incredible resources available to allow for these deviations to be leveraged without enormous risk to the bottom line, public image, or financial outlook:

  • The internet is an amazingly efficient platform to test new strategies, engage with the public, and collaborate with the universe.
  • Statistical methods supply new insight to what may have been and what might be, should this or that occur, with one thing or another considered.
  • Social networks can be easily tapped and leveraged for business insight. More is understood about behavioral patterns and social networks than ever before, allowing more direct correlation of business decisions to societal impact.

Business functions, organizations, and entire industries can be bettered by embracing and running with such deviations, even if the short-term prospect could be unknown and questionable. Balancing normalcy with cultured variations is a mixed business strategy that provides leverage within that market, advances industry, and enriches society.

Switching Spices

Let’s move from biz to grub. Think of cooking as a math problem. Ingredients are your variables/inputs, methods are your coefficients/operators, and your dish is the output. Given the huge number of ingredients and spices, cooking and plating techniques, and methods of consumption, the range of outputs is somewhere around or above infinity. But given that our options are so vast, it’s amazing how much the output might change if just one of our inputs is changed.

The dish is our dynamical system. Sometimes all it takes is turning up the temperature, or maybe adding more juice, or switching a spice, and the dish becomes entirely new. This is math and food in bed together – the application of chaos theory to culinary experience – making slight deviations from recipes and “comfort-zone” cooking to find new dishes worth trying, sharing, and bragging about.

As much as cooking is an experience, it’s also an experiment. There may be structure – in terms of baking methods and recipe books and kitchen etiquette – but in reality, the door is wide open. Ingredients are for the using, and recipes are for abusing. The best dishes are the unexpected ones, the ones that deviated from expectation, the ones that turned from trial and error to don’t-want-to-share. The mistakes are worth making, for it’s the hundreds of bad pasta dishes that lead to the thousands of great ones. Without embracing the variation in cooking, well, we mind as well hook up to the same gas pump each day.

And lastly, if the world of cooking was its own planet, every inch of it would be covered with a different species, color, scent, appearance, and shape. There is an infinite number of combinations of ingredients, quantities, temperatures, styles, and dishes to consume. Sometimes just switching one spice with another or stirring a little less makes all the difference in making your palate happy and opening a world of new potential dishes. Embracing slight variations in cooking will create new kitchen opportunities, expand your breadth of culinary knowledge and experience, and enrich your palate with a vast array of potential flavors.

Adaptive Normality

So what would our world look like if everything was constantly normal? Would we even have a concept of normality? With no variation from what has been done previously, we would essentially cease to learn, experiment, discover, and grow as a society and civilization.

What makes individuals unique makes many individuals stronger.

Our characteristics give us dimension. Our characteristics – from eye colors to expressions to birthmarks – give us each an identity that we own while making our society as a whole much stronger, multi-dimensional, and poised to grow.

Our choices give us direction. Our choices – from picking a college to financial spending habits to lending a hand – fuel and steer us down towards success and happiness, down roads that sometimes seem endless, foggy, and even non-existent.

Realizing that much good in our lives is based on slight deviations from normality, we must continue to pursue opportunities away from the norm. We must adapt our conceptualization of normality from a straight line to one that constantly moves and includes the variation in life. Our threshold for risk must include these slight deviations so we make them a part of our everyday life. Pushing the envelope in multiple ways brings advancement and enrichment. Divergent thinking, trying new dishes, and taking roads less traveled are all small deviations worth embracing. Although it’s normalcy that might keep us standing, its variation that moves us forward.

homemade pesto tortellini with jerk chicken breast and fried red peppers

Homemade Pesto Tortellini with Jerk Chicken Breast and Fried Red Peppers
Prep/Cook Time: 1 Hour
Difficulty: Medium-Easy
Homemade Pesto Sauce
Juice from 1 lemon
Fresh basil
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes
Directions: Combine all in food processor, drizzling in olive oil until desired consistency is reached.
Frozen Tortellini
Cherry Tomatoes
Directions: I buy the pasta frozen… follow directions on the packaging. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and set aside until plating.
Jerk Chicken Breast
Thin-cut chicken breast(s)
Cajun/jerk seasoning (Emeril’s Essence works great – make it or buy it)
Directions: Rub the spice on the chicken and press it in good. Use the excess spice. Grill on med-high heat. Alternatively, fry them on high heat in a pan on the stove in a little bit of olive oil. I used the same oil I used for frying the peppers…
Fried Red Peppers
Red Bell Pepper(s)
Directions: Slice peppers about 1/4″ thick and 2″ long. Fry in olive oil and a touch of salt until skin is black and peppers are relatively soft.
Mix the pesto with the drained tortellini in a big bowl/pan. Slice the chicken almost all the way through so it still stays together a bit. Plate as shown in picture with cherry tomatoes, leaf of fresh basil, fresh ground black pepper, and grated parmesan cheese as garnishes. Serve with lots more parmesan cheese.
Drink: Glass of red wine, ice cold Amstel Light, or glass of cold 2% milk. Holla.

three great flavors

I admit that I am seriously addicted to spices and condiments. It’s not that most food is bland to me, but I love the inclusion of and mixture of many flavors. Spices and sauces and condiments, to me, are the window to infinitesimal permutations of flavors that will never leave the palate bored.

That being said, I want to hit on three great raw spices/herbs. What makes a great spice? A great spice can either be very versatile, or so infrequent in use that when that time comes around to use it, you find yourself in a daze. A great spice is one that you can long for by just thinking of it. A great spice is one that you can associate with events, pictures, places, or feelings.
#1) Basil – The “king of herbs”. Literally, the word basil comes from the Greek “basileus” which means “king”. Although there are several varieties of basil (lemon, thai, etc) I tend to stick with sweet basil in my cooking. The scent is strong yet it does not overpower a dish (unless you want it to). Love me some pesto. Love me a caprese salad. Reminds me of walking through my grandfather’s front door to the kitchen where he always has a big italian feast ready. Great color and shape, and goes well with many dishes. And because bay leaves make me very mad, I’m glad I can eat a whole leaf of basil and be happy.

#2) Cumin – It’s biblical so it has that going for it (Isaiah 28:25). Such a distinct smell. Love it on chicken, love it in chili, love it with hot sauce, great in/on burgers, and unique in salads. Good sprinkled on grilled corn on the cob too. Reminds me of summer cookouts making our own fajitas on the back deck. A good spice to take out of the depths of your cupboard and place near the stove. You’ll find more opportunities to try it out in soups, salads, sandwiches, and other dishes. I’ve probably opened it up just to take a whiff more than any other spice.
#3) Saffron – Although not very well known and very expensive to buy, saffron is purely awesome. It takes a football field of flowers (50,000 – 75,000 flowers) to produce one pound of saffron. One pound of saffron costs at least $1000 (compare to $10-20 for dried basil). It reminds me of New Year’s Day where my grandfather makes huge pans of spanish rice (paella) for the family. I remember when my father bought a few ounces for my grandfather for Christmas and had the tin of saffron sitting in his trunk. Within 30 minutes, we could smell that great aroma in the car in the dead cold of winter. Pretty powerful stuff. Flavor is unreal in any rice dish and great with some seafood dishes as well.

Note: I know there are lots of cilantro haters out there but for me it gets a close honorable mention. Let this be my official declaration of awesomeness to cilantro, for its unique and lovely flavor.

These days, easy access to food should be considered a privilege. For that reason, it’s certainly a privilege to have easy access to a variety of foods with a wide variety of spice and herb options to boom up a nice dish. Thanks, Earth, for making nice flavors and letting me love them when I want and as much as I want.