#42: Room for discovery

Can a book have something for everyone?

I’m Vaughn Tan, and this is another of my weekly attempts to make sense of the state of not-knowing. The first issue explains the project; you can see all the issues hereMy first book, The Uncertainty Mindset, is a behind-the-scenes look at cutting-edge high-end cuisine … and what it teaches us about designing better organizations. You can get it here. If you like the book, help me out by leaving a review somewhere.

People keep asking me whether they should bother reading (the book) The Uncertainty Mindset. What do they think I’d say in response?

There’s no simple answer to this question because I think the book would appeal to anyone who:

  1. Gets excited about shows like Mind of A Chef or Chef’s Table—and wants to go deeper into the world of high-end cuisine and particularly the labs where new ideas in food are transformed into reality.

  2. Loves restaurant culture and is captivated by food that feels brand new and unfamiliar—and wants to understand how teams of people in restaurants come up with different kinds of Brand New Food.

  3. Thinks it’s weird that high-end cuisine suddenly got obsessed with continual innovation after hundreds of years of treating it as an afterthought—and wants to understand the counterintuitive undercurrents that combined to create this movement.

  4. Wonders why conventional hiring processes create boring organizations with employees who can’t adapt to changing conditions—and wants to understand how to hire more adaptable, innovative, engaged employees.

  5. Wonders why conventional goal-setting exercises are so pointless—and wants to understand how to set goals so that teams become more effective, adaptable, and innovative.

  6. Wonders why conventional ways of motivating employees fail to keep them from resting on their laurels—and wants to learn how to design organizations which are continually hungry to learn and do new things.

Actually, it should be read by anyone who’s getting worried that the world is not just risky but actually truly uncertain, and wants to understand how to survive and thrive in our increasingly and unavoidably uncertain future.

The chimeric book meets uncertainty-intolerant publishing industry

Along the multi-year, circuitous path this book took, the assorted possibilities for what it could be eventually collapsed into a single reality: a peer-reviewed book published by a university press, designed for and marketed to the management reader. This is accurate but incomplete.

The problem is: management readers aren’t the only ones I wrote the book for.

I tried to write The Uncertainty Mindset with more than just the management reader in mind. In style and content, the book is also written for chefs around the world who want to understand their industry, and general readers interested in food and restaurant culture worldwide.

So, as friend James says, though The Uncertainty Mindset “looks like an academic management book, it is also a terrific travelogue behind the scenes of the best restauranteurs of the 2010s” — and other things as well.

The metaproblem here is that any book that comes out through a traditional publishing house (which includes both trade and university presses) seems to always have to be shoehorned into being designed for one target audience. This is true even if, in substance and writing, it might interest other kinds of readers.

There seems to be no option in traditional publishing to leave intentional ambiguity and uncertainty around how books are packaged and presented to target readers. Maybe how books are traditionally sold means that this kind of ambiguity and uncertainty is fatal for sales. (Take note if you’re trying to write a hard-to-categorize book.)

So next week’s issue might be a micro-download of an interesting conversation I had about the problems and possible future of publishing. Obviously my view on this is coloured by the experience of getting this weird book out into the world.

Think I'll pack it in and buy a pick-up.

Photos above were taken at Amaja (2011), The Fat Duck (2015), and The Cooking Lab (2012).

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Find me on the web at www.vaughntan.org, on Twitter @vaughn_tan, on Instagram @vaughn.tan, or by email at <uncertaintymindset@vaughntan.org>.