Think Tank

Feb 24, 2018, 21:42
Teaching Students to be F.I.C.K.L.E. Learners

Teaching Students to be F.I.C.K.L.E. Learners

Change the world one student at a time by teaching them to be F.I.C.K.L.E..

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

OK, I know that fickle means that a person is undependable. But, in today’s ever changing business environment I would propose that fickle might be a positive attribute. We have a responsibility to prepare our students for the “way it is”, but at the same time do we not have just as great a responsibility to prepare them to adapt to and even disrupt the “way it is”?

Turn on the news any day (I know there is little good news if you do) and really pay attention to what is happening. Everything is changing whether we want it to or not. Industries change, jobs change, opinions change, economies change, and people who fail to acknowledge and adapt become frustrated and even left behind. Technology, access, the 24/7 world of retail, transportation, and even monetary tender are changing as we speak. 

Who would have predicted that major retail chains would succumb to the convenience of on-line buying? Who could have predicted that organic foods would eventually become mainstream? Who could have guessed that every person walking on the planet would have or want to have their own personal smart phone (a computer more powerful than the system used by NASA during the 70s and 80s)? Who would have guessed that becoming a chef would actually be a highly sought after position and that the restaurant industry would boast almost 50 percent of the average American’s food expenditures? By the time you read this many of these incredible changes may be passé only to be replaced by something else that we didn’t anticipate.

So, shouldn’t we teach our students to learn how to adapt to change and even drive it? Let’s take a look at F.I.C.K.L.E. and invest the time to assess your program’s direction in relation to it.


There is rationale to how we have taught the foundations of cooking and the approach that successful restaurants have taken toward operating their businesses. Everything is time tested, proven, and logical. But, will all of this still apply in five or 10 years? Teaching structure and discipline does not need to go by the wayside, but we might want to rethink how rigid we are in stating that this or that is the “only way” of doing things. If we don’t teach flexibility to our students then they may be at a disadvantage when the industry around them is forced to evolve.


Jack Ma, the Chinese billionaire owner of Alibaba (China’s answer to Amazon) recently proclaimed that we (all of us) should spend less time teaching people how to manufacture and more time teaching how to innovate. I am not sure that I would go that far, but it seems that any educational program that fails to prepare students to be open thinkers and innovators is failing to prepare them for the world to come. Shouldn’t we include ample opportunities for students to practice “ideation” in their classes? Again, this should never circumvent the need to learn the structure of foundations, but with that in hand it should be important to allow them to think differently about what they are doing. After all, the word education is drawn from the Latin word “educo” which literally means to draw forth.


Even though many people will refer to themselves as change agents, or will profess to relish the opportunity to change their ways of doing things, in their gut most people hate to change whatever they are comfortable with. It is possible to teach those time-tested ways of approaching food or the operation of a restaurant while still brainstorming about how things could be improved. This is a responsibility of great educators.


“Do this a certain way because I told you to or because that is the way it is done.” This approach no longer fits in our world. Isn’t it a better approach to promote doing anything because a person has the knowledge and experience to demonstrate that a method is correct and maintains the ability to trouble shoot and problem solve if things don’t go as planned? Our students should be excellent technicians when they graduate but they should also be knowledge workers who understand the “why” and thus have the skill to take corrective action when necessary. Understanding comes from knowing “why” as much as establishing “how to.”


Every student who walks across that graduation stage should have the capacity to be great listeners – to know that his or her ideas are only enhanced if they truly listen to others’ thoughts whether they are owners, chefs, fellow workers, or customers. This capacity to listen and not just hear will position those graduates to be exceptional performers and change agents in the future.


From the first day of class it should be imperative that every faculty member push for excellence in everything they do as well as what they expect from their students. Whether it is a research paper, a croissant in pastry class, a mirepiox for a stock, or a braised lamb shank – excellence is the only option. Your graduates will never waiver from excellence if this is how they are trained and this is what is expected of them. Excellence is a habit and as educators we must be in the business of building positive habits and the expectation of nothing less.

Being FICKLE may make people uncomfortable, but the individuals who thrive, who define where we are going next and who change the world have notoriously always made us uncomfortable.

Change the world – one student at a time. Teach them to be F.I.C.K.L.E..

Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..