Learning about change from a home cooked meal.

Last week I decided that a good home cooked meal was in order. Lacking inspiration I turned to a recipe book I had been gifted the previous Christmas and found what appeared to be a tasty and nutritious option. I read on with enthusiasm and was soon imagining myself dining on this wholesome meal. If the end result looked half as good as the glossy picture that accompanied the recipe, I would be in luck.

I began the process of preparing this culinary delight by reviewing the list of ingredients. Keeping in mind that the recipe had been prepared by an expert chef with years of experience, I had no qualms at all planning a few adjustments to this list based on my personal taste and what I knew I already had in the cupboard. Other items would need to be sourced from the supermarket and despite many claims that they are the fresh food people, some of the ingredients had to be sourced from the tinned foods aisle while others came snap frozen. At least one of the ingredients came in a box, and even though the recipe made no mention of a ‘light batter’ I felt confident that this substitution would work well.

Returning home, I placed the ingredients out on the bench and began the meticulous process of preparing my meal. Once again, some adjustments needed to be made. Some of the equipment that the recipe called for were lacking from my kitchen, others were in the wash, some just seemed unnecessary. Sadly the quality wine which the recipe suggested was consumed in advance and so that didn’t make it into the pot (which should have been a small cast-iron pan). After an initial process of sautéing a selection of mostly fresh vegetables in a light fish sauce (which had become Soy Sauce, because I don’t like fish sauce), I realised that in my rush I had left some of the vegetables in the fridge. Not to worry, there seemed like there was enough greenery going into the meal.

Twenty-five minutes later, I removed the battered ocean trout from the oven. This was not a highlight of the process as the recipe had strongly suggested that the trout spends not more than fifteen minutes in the oven. My thinking was that the barramundi I had substituted for the trout would need longer, but it turned out (as revealed from the plumes of smoke emanating from the oven) that twelve minutes might have been ideal.

I was nearing completion of this task with just the sauce to complete. I had forgotten to pick up a lime while at the supermarket, but I did have a bottle of what was described as freshly squeezed lemon juice in the fridge, something I think might have come with the refrigerator, I can’t recall ever having purchased it. The sauce came together quite quickly, mostly because I had managed to find a sachet of what sounded like a very similar finishing sauce and which required just ten minutes in the microwave (actually two minutes but who cooks with their glasses on).

The meal was ready. I plated it up with care, added a splash of lemon juice to the sauce, partly for flair but mostly to reconstitute it after its extended stay in the microwave and sat myself down for what was bound be a splendid meal.

A few emails later I tucked in, and it was . . .

Well to be very honest it was terrible. Not only was it cold, (perhaps it was more than a few emails) but it also lacked any real flavour. The fish was like leather. The sauce tasted like lemon room deodoriser. The sautéed vegetables were both soggy, crunchy, burned and in parts still frozen, how any of that is possible I have no idea. The whole sorry affair was a complete letdown. It held absolutely no resemblance to the picture in the book. Clearly, I had been cheated.

The recipe book is now in the recycling bin where it belongs and good riddance to bad ideas.

So what does this have to do with education? Well often, when we are implementing a new idea, we do precisely what I did with my glorious home-cooked meal. We fail to implement our great idea in full. We substitute in ideas which are incompatible with our stated objective. We leave out some of the key components of the plan, either deliberately or accidentally. We let some parts of the plan sit and stew unattended for far too long. Other parts are rushed and never given the degree of thought they deserve. We seek out advice from experts or look to comprehensive research papers to guide our thinking but then promptly ignore the advice and implement something entirely different.

We do all of these things and then genuinely stand back and wonder why the plan failed. Clearly, the whole idea was flawed and indeed when we are asked why we have abandoned it, we will explain at length how we knew all along it wasn’t going to work.

Perhaps there is something wrong with our approach to change.

By Nigel Coutts