On the surface, the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi appears to be about 85-year-old legendary sushi master Jiro Ono, his approach to his craft, and his tiny, three-Michelin-starred restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. But on closer inspection, critics seem to agree, the true subject of the much-chattered-about film is mastery, perfectionism, and a relentless quest for excellence.

Where else outside the world of sushi do you hear a fair bit about those qualities? Among startup aficionados, answers Blossom CEO and co-founder Thomas Schranz in a fascinating recent blog post.

In the post, Schranz lays out the lessons he thinks the film offers for developers and product managers (hat tip to Om Malik for leading the way to Schranz's observations and pointing out that "these learnings actually are applicable across the board at startups"), suggesting five takeaways for those pursuing excellence in entrepreneurship. Here are three to whet your appetite for the complete post.

1. Own your mistakes

You can strive for perfection all you want; you're still not going to get there (you're human, after all). So it's important to use your mistakes to the maximum. That's what Ono's team does, according to Schranz.

Watching the film, he noticed that "every time someone points out what could have been done better, it is acknowledged and immediately executed. No arguing, no rationalization attempts, no excuses." Unhelpful emotion is kept out of the equation, and the focus is firmly on improvement. "[Ono's] team is as motivated to strive for perfection as Jiro himself," Schranz says. "If a shortcoming is discovered, you will hear a short hai (yes, I understand) and people are back in the flow, striving to do better. I believe it is an art to separate your own ego from the work you are doing." 

2. Manage expectations when you hire

If you're a company aiming for true excellence, make sure you're clear about that with anyone thinking of joining the team, to make sure the person's expectations line up with yours and to avoid future conflict. That's what happens at Ono's restaurant, Schranz explains: "If you apply for a job at Jiro's sushi bar, you know what you are getting yourself into. It will take about 10 years of dedicated work until you'll be allowed to cook tamagoyaki (egg sushi). It takes a long time of training and personal growth until Jiro considers you a shokunin (master craftsman)."

3. Eat your own cooking

Sadly, at your company this probably won't be as tasty a prospect as at Ono's restaurant, but the principle still very much applies. "Jiro and his staff are constantly preparing and tasting their ingredients and final products," Schranz points out. "Every day, many times a day. Eating your own dog food is a great way to get into the shoes of your customers ... It is hard to assure quality if you don't care about how your own food tastes. Caring more than others is a real competitive advantage."

How does this principle play out in the world of startups rather than sushi? "Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, even refused to get broadband installed at home until the majority of U.S. households got it, in order to get an authentic experience of the products she was responsible for (back then at Google)," he offers as an example.

Published on: Dec 2, 2014