Learning to Make Pizza Starts with a Mop ~ Real Knowledge Transfer

I started working at 11 years old delivering the “Co-op City Times.”   The job really was awful and paid $35.00 in total.   I would wake up in the morning very early and go down the lobby of my building to either wait for or pick up the Saturday morning paper.  My job was to drop off the paper to every apartment in these three buildings.

800px-APARTMENTS_OF_-CO-OP_CITY,-_A_VAST_HOUSING_DEVELOPMENT_IN_THE_BRONX,_NOT_FAR_FROM_PELHAM._THESE_BUILDINGS_STAND_ON..._-_NARA_-_549766It would take me a few hours because I would have to go up and down the elevator to grab more papers from the lobby.   We had four elevators, two were called locals and two were express, I would essentially irritate residents in the building by holding the elevator and stopping on every floor.   There are twelve apartments on every floor in the X pattern,  so I would hold the elevator and run to drop three papers on all four sides, then back to the elevator and the next floor something like 34 x 3.


I really hated that job, but I sure liked the 35 bucks when I picked it up.   There were times that I would leave the papers in the lobby and not deliver them properly or skip floors by setting papers right near the elevator when I stopped on a floor.   What I learned through that experience wasn’t the disappointment from my mother (although she was upset with me) but that I had failed to do what I was supposed to do for a couple of thousand people (literally).  I didn’t realize that for the seniors, I just made it hard for them or for people that didn’t want to go out in the morning, that if they wanted the paper, they would have to go out to get it.   I don’t remember how this job ended but I think I had enough of lugging the papers around over 100 stories.   I didn’t have the patience or the understanding to just stick with this job and had ideas of some other work that was better!

I did some other paper job for a guy that owned a New York Times paper route, that was a story for another day.    Somehow, someway.. (oh my memory hurts)  I wound up in Joe’s Pizza Shop.

Making Pizza

My first day on the job and mostly what I remember was Joe handing me a rag.   “When am I going to learn how to make Pizza?”   Joe looked at me and said “You need to clean up the store and you need to mop the floor”    I wanted to make pizza, isn’t that why I took this job?

It seems to me that most jobs had a job role that I saw and wanted to be in right away.    I didn’t want to wait, I wanted to make pizza.   Joe was having none of that, he handed me a mop.   I would mop the floor and clean the tables looking over the counter at the guys throwing pizza in the air.   I wanted to throw pizza in the air.   They made it look easy and it was awesome.   These guys would always do tricks and the pizza was always perfect.


Every night I would come home from school and head to the pizza shop to work.   Every night I would clean and mop.   I was getting frustrated that Joe wasn’t teaching me to make pizza.   I was losing my patience and my stellar performance on the cleaning job was lacking.

Then and NOW.. 

As much as I wanted to make pizza on the job, I had to earn it.   Believe me, I hated that.   I didn’t like to have to earn anything, I just wanted to do things.   I don’t think that I was any different than this generation in that I wanted to do what I thought I could, right away.    I didn’t want to clean the tables or mop the floor.   I wanted to make the pizza.   Joe wasn’t giving in.    From his perspective, if I couldn’t do a simple thing like mop the floor properly, how could he trust me with the job that made his business what it was.   From my perspective, I didn’t take this stupid job to clean tables, I took it to make pizza and be cool.   A pizza shop in the Bronx is sort of a big deal.

I didn’t learn to make pizza in Joe’s shop.   He never taught me and eventually I didn’t work for him anymore.   I don’t really remember if he sent me home or if I left on my own but regardless, I wasn’t there anymore.  My mother was of course disappointed but when it was time for pizza, I would still go to Joe’s and I had to carry my sorry self in there to face the music every time I wanted delicious pizza.  In other words, she held ME accountable not Joe.

That is the difference between then and now.


If  Joe didn’t teach me how to make pizza today, I might have my mother run down there and talk to him.  Why isn’t Howie making pizza?  Why is he mopping the floors?   Who do you think you are having MY son cleaning your shop, don’t you think you should hire someone specifically to do this?    I would submit that the desires are exactly the same but our reaction as parents, leaders and business owners or corporate stakeholders is different.

Considerations for Leaders Today:

The younger generation doesn’t like the way business operates and instead of waiting for the system to change by nature, they try to change it by being aggressive.  The problem is that companies give in.    There is value in mopping the floor and it is far more important to learn to do things we don’t want to do over things that we think we want to do.

It is also reasonable to recognize that business itself is moving at a different pace than it did just a few years ago.  That being said,  market changes don’t always drive a  need to change overnight and alter successful behaviors in business.   If Joe had given me the leeway it would have been reasonable to consider that I may had tried to change his process in some way.  In other words,  change his business.   Whether your 8, 18 or 80 sometimes taking an inch could look more like a mile.

What would happen if organizations big and small stopped trying so hard to adjust and accommodate?    There is nothing scientific for what I am about to write,  it seems that companies are quick to put the squeeze on the older generations and are more concerned with the needs of the younger work force.   While that seems to make logical sense on one hand, the lesson from Joe says something very different.

**break break** story update:

I worked in another pizza place, it was in college.   I finally got to make pizza (thumb at Joe).   Actually, Joe had the laugh and didn’t know it.   He never taught me how to make pizza the way he made it.  His pizza was absolutely delicious, each slice was large and the cheese and sauce were always consistent.   You would fold a slice of this pizza and the red oil would literally drip streams over the plate.   You didn’t have to add garlic or oregano to his pizza, it stood on its own.    I worked nights in the SUNY Purchase North cafeteria making pizza every night.   I would try night after night to make pizza that tasted like Joe’s.    The pizza was pretty good, but it was never the same.  I simply couldn’t duplicate what I didn’t know.  It seems simple enough, cheese, sauce, seasonings, dough,  heat the oven and throw it in.

A lot of companies today are scratching their heads asking how to get the work force to transfer knowledge.   I personally won’t look to share information with people that aren’t willing to listen or haven’t earned their right to that information.   I enjoy sharing information but I want to know that when I share, it will result in something positive.  

Final Thought:

The best place from my perspective to look for clear understanding on the value of mopping (so to speak) is the military.  Although the military has   changed DRAMATICALLY over the years it still holds some of the characteristics that I am talking about here.

In a reddit forum a fresh officer asks for advice from a Non Commissioned Officer (enlisted for those who don’t speak military)

Here was one response :

We’ve got a new LT around who loves to help out with manual labor (raking leaves, shoveling snow, etc). She thinks she’s just “being part of the team” and helping out. Which is commendable, but the moment you (the officer) do that, you commit every enlisted person there to continuing that task until you stop. Because if a CSM or 1SG or even a PLT SGT comes around the corner and sees LT shoveling snow while joes are taking a smoke break or whatever, then shit will hit the fan. Obviously that’s a subjective thing, but realize what YOU do determines what your soldiers can or can’t do (consciously or subconsciously). Along that same route. If you are a PLT Leader or CO someday, and you know that the only reason your soldiers are still at work is that they’re waiting for you to show up somewhere (say the MOPO), and you KNOW you’re not going to make it there when you said you would and it’ll be in indeterminate time before you’ll make it, just cut them loose if it’s your call. I promise that nothing the LT says can’t also be said by their NCO. Just call up the NCO, tell them whatever you wanted to tell them, and cut them loose (again, if possible. It might not be your call or it might be something you NEED to do yourself).

If you read the NCO creed, the third paragraph starts with “Officers of my unit will have maximum time to accomplish their duties; they will not have to accomplish mine.” What you should take from this is this: trust in your NCOs to accomplish your mission. If you need to lay out power cables for an inventory, tell your NCO that THAT is the mission, then leave it to him/her to get done. You don’t need to micromanage. You give us the what, we’ll figure out the how.

Understand that many NCOs just won’t take you seriously. I’m sorry, but that’s just how it is. You’ll be treated with the respect that the rank on your chest has given you, but they won’t respect you as a leader unless they see you’re willing to learn how the army works, and put in your time learning the ropes before getting grandiose. Understand also that many of your NCOs will be older than you, and that just going to college doesn’t necessarily make you smarter than any of them. Hell, I’m of the opinion that most colleges these days are just money generating babysitting corporations. I’m sure I’m not alone in that respect.

According to your flair you’re in ROTC. Do not attempt to join in “war stories” about how tough ROTC is/was. It will backfire.

The only way that tacit knowledge transfer can occur with the people and technology of today is through trust.  No trust, no transfer.  Trust isn’t something that we get by being born and having wants, it is earned.    If I saw Joe today, I would thank him for his hard line.  It was good for me and it took a lot more lessons from others that had the same constitution for me to figure out that I had to learn to earn.