jiro dreams of sushi

Shokunin: The Secret to Mastery as a CEO

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jiro Ono dreams of his passion.

He is considered the greatest sushi chef that ever lived.

He is in the Guinness book of world records for being the oldest chef (over 93 years old) of a three Michelin star restaurant. “The sushi is so incredible every time. The only suitable rating for the restaurant is three Michelin stars,” explains the Michelin inspectors.

“I was born in Hawaii, and so I ate a lot of sushi. But, this is the best sushi I ever had in my life, “ complimented President Obama said after his dinner at Sukiyabashi Jiro with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Ono prepared the sushi that night.

(As of the writing of this essay, Shinzo Abe was killed while giving a campaign speech. The former prime minister was shot in the streets of the city of Nara with a homemade gun.)


So, what is his secret?

Jiro Ono is the subject of a wonderful documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. The movie chronicles him and his restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo, specializing in nigiri-style sushi. It’s minimalist in preparation but rich in flavor. And it uses techniques that are over 70 years in the making.

In the film, he’s in his late eighties, full of energy, and still believes he is perfecting his craft.

“All I want to do is to make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over, improving it bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is,” Jiro explains in a calm voice.

Jiro’s philosophy is the embodiment of the Japanese word, Shokunin

It means “the endless pursuit of perfection for some greater good.”

Jiro feels victorious after serving a meal at his restaurant, carefully watching each guest and catering to their every need. It fills him with energy.

 He has incredible self-discipline. He is never satisfied with his work. He wants to make sushi better than yesterday by improving his skills.


CEO Mastery

I have been an entrepreneur and CEO for 25 years.

One thing I have noticed is…

Being CEO is more about your habits than your actions. 

As Aristotle put it, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

Getting better at the job is about developing and maintaining better habits. 

Habits are important because the job changes over time.  

You start out getting involved in everything, quickly grow into a leader and then ascend into a coach. During those transitions, you must constantly improve your skills every day.  

But, like Jiro, it starts with a set of habits.

Habits like:

(1) Making slower and better decisions 

(2) A process for hiring (and firing) people 

(3) Running the right meetings

(4) Taking time to learn from failure and pain

(5) Taking time for solitude and rest

(6) Connecting with customers 

(7) Getting enough sleep and exercise

(8) Staying present 

(9) Showing empathy 

(10) Coaching your team

(11) Blocking time to think

(12) Maintaining focus 

(13) Reading a lot of books (in broad subjects)

(14) Speaking with your team 1:1 and learning from them

(15) over-communicating with the company

I am passionate about being an excellent CEO.

So, I work to improve my skills in these areas bit by bit.

It is my Shokunin.


Jiro Ono has two sons. The oldest has his own restaurant, a replica of his father’s that Michelin also recognizes. His youngest son, Yoshikazu, has been preparing to succeed his father.

“Dedicate your life to mastering your skills. Always look ahead and above yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft.” He explains his teaching from his father.

As CEOs, we can all channel Jiro in the way.

What’s on your list of habits?


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By |2022-07-12T21:10:51-04:00July 12th, 2022|

About the Author:

John is a versatile CEO and serial entrepreneur who has successfully founded, scaled multiple technology companies over a 20-year career. He is currently the CEO of Soluna, a company helping to shape the future of renewable energy and computing. Before Soluna, John was the founder and CEO of FirstBest, a transformative insurance software company acquired by Guidewire Software and Theory Center, an e-commerce software company acquired by BEA Systems. Before becoming an entrepreneur, John was the lead architect for Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group. John is on the advisory board of several software-as-a-service, data analytics, and insurtech startups. He is the Managing Editor of CEOPLAYBOOK Media LLC, an online publication full of sage advice for first-time founder CEOs. John is also a trustee of Harlem Academy, an independent school in New York.
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