Thursday, 3 March 2011

Cook or Chef: Which are you?


In a recent discussion about different Project techniques, the author of this new book: “Making Sense of Agile Project Management: Balancing Control and Agility" stated the following:

“…We as project managers need to expand the range of tools in our "tool kit" to include both agile and non-agile methodologies. In the book, I use an analogy that was originally developed by Bob Wysocki about the difference between project managers acting as "cooks and chefs". A project manager that can "cook" knows how to prepare some standard dishes from a limited number of recipes. A project manager who is a "chef" knows how to prepare a much larger variety of different types of meals (perhaps even different types of cuisine) and even knows how to develop highly customized and innovative recipes that go well beyond standard recipes…”
The idea about the difference between a cook being someone who knows how to prepare a list of recipes and a chef being someone who can innovate based of existing recipes made me think about some recent postings by Aaron Leitch on his blog here and here.

It also made me think some more about the debate around syncretism on which I posted a little while ago. As an aside I’m also curious to find out where Rufus Opus would put Aaron Leitch on his scale of syncretism.

Let’s for the moment consider syncretism to be like chefs innovating based on recipes from different cuisines and focus instead on the difference between a chef and a cook within a single school or tradition of magic or mysticism.


Within the evolution of Jewish mysticism there have been numerous occasions when chefs combined different approaches and philosophies. Such as for example Spanish and German kabbalists mixing as mentioned in Professor Moshe Idel’s lecture. (Podcasts available here).

Another example is in the influence that Rabbi Abraham Abulafia had on Safedian Kabbalists such as Rabbi Chaim Vital and Rabbi Moses Cordovero (the Ramak). Each avenue of development in Jewish mysticism has one or more chefs leading the way. In future postings I’ll be exploring the lives of these chefs and the impacts that their lives and writings had.

So now back to the question of syncretism. Looking at the history of any given school, tradition, other spiritual development path or system of magic – how much of the syncretism introduced was done by chefs and how much by cooks?

The answer to this will likely be subjective based on how you rank someone as a cook or chef. Do you rate someone more for their knowledge or their practical achievements? But isn’t that in part what grades, ranks, entry requirements, etc are about to label someone as a cook or chef? Anyway, hopefully this discussion on cooks and chefs has given you some food for thought (my apologies for the awful pun).