Meatballs and differentiation

The assignment of co-writing and project-managing Cooking with My Sisters has moved into the completed column, making room for more recent gigs.  Yet the comments of colleagues who have read the book and are using the stories and recipes remind me — almost daily — of the synergy that abides between every endeavor.

Take meatballs.  My mother’s and grandmother’s meatballs-and-sauce have been known to change lives.  I am not exaggerating.  Folks who have dined at their tables report that this dish forges a connection between the old world and the new.  And it prompts not just compliments but questions.  How my mother learned to make the dish from her mother-in-law, what role it has in the family cuisine, whether they make it differently from other women in the family, the secret ingredients [there are none — the secret is cooking the meatballs and the sauce together — we don’t make the meatballs without the sauce and vice versa].  The answers given by my mother and grandmother are the factors that distinguish our family from the folks next door.

As a result, meatballs really did change one life.  Mine.

In working with my family to articulate the recipe that had never been written down, I came full circle to the realization of where and when my professional life began.  The support and counsel I’ve been offering to great clients have always been centered in helping them discover and deploy what is authentically, richly their own — in the way of intellectual capital as well as product or service features.  Along comes this book project, and I am reminded that the theme of differentiation played in my life long before I shepherded some slides for Michael Porter and my boss, Victor Millar, through the audiovisual department at Andersen Worldwide.  It began in the family kitchen, watching my mother concoct the sauce while absorbing her guidance to "be different — don’t try to be like everyone else — show them who you are — everyone will be better for it."

So it was satisfying when a colleague in the M&A sphere reminded me that when he backs a company or combines organizations, he is looking for the secret sauce [see May 31 post, too] that will sustain the new entity.  And he’s not even Italian.

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