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Lessons for Work and Living from Julia Child and the Movie "Julie & Julia"


At the risk of being pedestrian, I wanted to share share insights inspired by the movie Julie & Julia, mostly of Julie Child's work (links below). The movie's been written about ad nauseam, but not from the Think, Try, Learn or productive perspective. So here goes! (As an aside, there's a local angle for me: Her alma mater is Smith College - enrolled at birth! - and she was honored by a local farmer's Corn Maze, of all things.)

Of the movie proper, it not only passed the Finish Test (a rarity for me), but was non-violent, moving, funny, and inspiring. We enjoyed it as a family, and Meryl Streep's performance was universally enchanting. I found the Julia Child portions of the movie the highlight (it switches back and forth in time between the two characters). In fact, an entire movie of those would have been even more enjoyable.

The number one insight for me was the importance of experimentation in her work. After all, every new recipe should be considered an experiment. Search for the word in the Noel Riley Fitch biography Appetite for Life and you'll find lots of examples.

Following are some ideas I've I distilled (through the filter of the film) that struck me about work and life. For more on Julia Child: Julia Child in the Wikipedia, her biography at Answers.com, and her book Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One. Enjoy!

  • Things don't have to be perfect. For example, look at my blog! Seriously, give yourself a break and allow some leeway in (gasp!) the quality of your work. (My clients regularly shoot for "A+ papers," so this isn't as controversial as it sounds.) For example, in a video she gets some chocolate on the side of a serving dish and says not to worry - it's still good.

  • Be a character. She is informal, full of life, and has a unique style, including her use of language. (Here's an idea: Try this experiment: Adopt a new mannerism.)

  • Be bold! Experimentation requires courage! When trying something new, like a novel project assignment, acknowledge that you've never done this before (i.e., it's OK being a beginner).

  • Lighten up. Laugh at yourself, adopt some colorful language, and appreciate working with your collaborators. Check out How to Enjoy What You Are Doing No Matter What, or my own 18 Ways To Enjoy The Ride At Work. Remember, process and product should both be savored. Enjoy those little delights, such as tasting while cooking (you can see her do this all the time), or a surprisingly good result. There's another video where she drops a fillet (I believe) and laughs it off. Talk about not crying over spilled milk!

  • Make yourself better. From Fitch, "After eating, there was a postmortem discussion." Kaizen fans will recognize the value of continuous improvement, something we can adopt personally (this whole blog is about that) and professionally, via staying on top of your industry's developments, adding new skills, tracking decisions and lessons learned, and honing and reevaluating your workflow.

  • Redefine mistakes. Though it takes a shift, it's healthy to look at failures or mistakes as opportunities to discover something new. Again from Appetite for Life, "She was constantly experimenting and testing. If a dish went wrong, she said nothing. This was one of her maxims: no excuses, no explanations." Spinning an accident into serendipity is a source of new recipes. I love it.

  • Try a new thought tool. In the scene where she and her editor are brainstorming titles, they use that wonderful brainstorming technique involving index cards with words, where you move them around looking for striking patterns or combinations. Good resources include named Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes, (mentioned in On Using Post-It Notes For GTD Projects, Instead Of Lists) and the awesome Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques.

Reader Comments (2)

I'm reading My Life in France right now and I'm amazed but how useful Julia Child's outlook on life is. I think it's great that you used her as an example in a blog post. Very interesting!

November 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCecelia

Hi Cecelia. Thanks for the encouragement. I'd love to hear what you take away from [ My Life in France | http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307474852?ie=UTF8&tag=masidbl-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0307474852 ].

December 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermatthewcornell

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