6 Management Lessons from The Show 'The Bear'

In this quick read, we distill business lessons from the Emmy winning TV show 'The Bear' which revolves around the transformation of a family owned diner into a Michelin star worthy fine dining restaurant
Harsh Jain
Harsh Jain
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Though 'The Bear' is a comedy-drama show, it explores the intricacies of running a restaurant business in detail and has received critical acclaim for its accuracy. Some of the mental models of frameworks we see in use include systems thinking, design thinking, customer centricity, lean management, career development, and the management of inter-personal conflict.

'The Bear' is a TV show that follows the life of a young chef who returns to his hometown Chicago in the wake of his brother's untimely death. Carmen, the chef, inherits his family restaurant and with it, his brother's co-manager and a team of stubborn fry cooks. Having worked at some of the best restaurants in the world, Carmen is determined to turn his family restaurant into a culinary landmark. The team he inherits, however, is used to certain systems and actively resists his changes at every step. Over 2 seasons, we see the dramatic transformation of this diner into a fine dining restaurant, and with it, we see its team grow professionally and emotionally.

1.  Flexibility

Systems Thinking

Recognising that an organisation's success requires a complex interplay of many parts. Systems thinking is a way of making sense of the complexity of the world by looking at it in terms of wholes and relationships rather than by splitting it down into its parts.

In the series, the staff's collaboration to revive the restaurant shows a system-wide approach, factoring both objective aspects of the restaurant business and subjective aspects like inter-personal dynamics and emotional attachments.

Situational Leadership

Different situations call for different leadership styles. Through the show we see leadership rotate between 3 characters - Richie, Syd, and Carmen. Richie has a way with people, Carmen brings with him his expertise, and Syd is the relentless innovator. Initially, each character resists the transfer of power, but eventually they embrace their interdependence for the restaurant’s success, seamlessly taking the lead or taking a step back when needed.

2. How to Build Products

Design Thinking

The show centers around the contagious obsession with perfection and customer centricity that Carmen and Syd perpetuate. This pushes them to experiment and iterate to find recipes and experiences that will delight diners.

Lean Production

The restaurant operates like a good factory. Stations are placed in an order that minimises the time taken to assemble a dish - like an assembly line. In season 2, Syd is seen changing recipes to reduce the number of ingredients being wasted, Carmen is seeing designing the kitchen in a way that reduces the time spent walking between work stations.

3. How to Increase Distribution and User Growth

Network Effect

The restaurant grows by creating a buzz, where more customers attract even more customers. This can be seen in episodes featuring special events or exclusive menus. In season 1, episode 1, The Beef hosts a Ballbreaker tournament to attract fans of the game.

Blue Ocean Strategy

Finding a unique space in the market, such as the introduction of a novel cuisine, emphasises the series' portrayal of differentiation and value innovation as a growth strategy.

4. How to Maximise Profits

Opportunity Cost

This plays a role in several decisions, such as choosing between different suppliers or menu items. It represents the trade-offs and alternatives considered in business decisions. We see Syd make optimisations in the restaurant’s opening hours, closing service between lunch and dinner to save time and operational costs.

Economies of Scale

By leveraging bulk purchasing or streamlining operations, the series portrays how businesses can reduce costs per unit and increase profitability.

5. Best Practices for Retention of Employees

Transformational Leadership

Characters inspire and challenge each other, leading to growth and development. This reflects an approach that values personal development and motivation beyond mere job satisfaction.

Investing in People

Recognising that retention costs less than recruiting, Carmen gives all of his staff opportunities for development. Richie and Marcus are given apprenticeships at successful restaurants, Tina and Ebra are enrolled in culinary school, Fak goes from being a maintenance worker to a server, Natalie becomes a program manager, Syd goes from Stage to Head Chef. The transformation of ‘The Beef’ into the ‘The Bear’ has more to do with the transformation of its employees than with any other change.

6. How to Build an Enduring Culture

Cultural Capital

Norms and practices shared by the team form a unique identity. Instances of camaraderie and shared experiences in the series illustrate how this social asset binds the team together. Certain rituals like family-style tastings, pranks, and sign language codes keep the team light and happy through challenging periods.

Cultivating Shared Values

The characters' adherence to quality and customer satisfaction sets a standard for others to follow. This creates a positive reinforcement loop, reinforcing the norms within the team.

'The Bear' is rich with layers of meaning and application that extend beyond its fictional setting. By exploring these mental models, viewers can deepen their understanding of complex organisational dynamics, leadership nuances, and personal growth. These cognitive tools not only help us navigate the story of 'The Bear' but also provide valuable insights that resonate in the real-world contexts of business, relationships, and self-improvement.

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