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Leadership & Marshmallows

When people think about pretzels and beer—they probably imagine a sports bar. Mitchell Greenberg thinks about marshmallows.

Mitchell’s marshmallow mania begins a year and half ago. After 15 years of production design he was tired—and also curious. He wanted to know how to make marshmallows.[1]

So Mitchell took to the kitchen with no culinary experience and made his first batch of marshmallows. To his shock he discovered that handmade marshmallows aren’t like their fluffy, flavorless, manufactured brethren. They’re in a different country all together. They are chewy, packed with flavor, and they possess a real, interesting texture.

“I shared them with my friends and family and they loved them,” Mitchell says over the phone. “I had a positive reaction from everyone. When they taste the marshmallows you can see the smile on their face.”

Buoyed by the wide smiles Mitchell spent six months refining his marshmallow recipe and creating original flavors. Yes, he has created a Pretzels and Beer marshmallow. And a Ginger -Wasabi one was well.

This is when Mitchell decided he would open up MitchMallows. “Candy,” Mitchell explains, “is memories…Everyone has a good feeling about candy.” He knew he had a product that could sell and he knew there would be a market.

But having an idea is one thing—implementing it is something else entirely. Luckily for Mitchell he learned the pragmatics of opening his own culinary business with help from Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts.

Putting his time, assets, and energy into marshmallows was a big step—but it wasn’t a forced decision. “It felt right,” Mitchell says. “I agonize over details, but ultimately I go with my gut.”

The process of opening a culinary operation in New York City took Mitchell another half year and he eventually found a rental kitchen space through the Queens Economic Development Corp’s Long Island City’s entrepreneurial space

Now, Mitchell spends about half of his time making MitchMallows and the other half keeping his business in order from behind a computer.

“Making marshmallows,” Mitch says, “is a Zen moment for me. I even lose track of time when I’m making them.”

I’d also wager Mitchell probably loses track of all his adventurous ideas. Right now MitchMallows has around 36 flavors and the list is growing. “My goal,” Mitchell says, “is to create a whole meal in marshmallow form.”

But Mitchell isn’t exactly a mad, whimsical, Willy-Wonka character. He has a chef’s love of food, creative new ideas, and the guts (and patience) to take them through a test run.

His ideas would make any molecular gastronomist jealous. Consider his Tomato MitchMallow. After roasting it over a flame he puts it between bread and adds lettuce and a piece of bacon. It’s a BLT crossed with a s’more. It’s weird—but it works.

At the core MitchMallows is about new ideas and passion. “Where my mind takes me,” Mitchell says, “my marshmallows go.” But there’s also something else. Mitchell has the energy to try out new ideas, regardless of how far off the map they may seem and he has the political skills to enlist support from local organizations geared to help small businesses. He’s a pragmatic leader who pushes an agenda, gets things done, and makes marshmallows.

If you want to visit Mitchell and try some of his MitchMallows head to the Brooklyn Foodshed Market on Sundays.

[1] For those of you who don’t know how to make marshmallows: it’s not a new recipe. In fact, it’s 4,000 years old and can be traced back to the Egyptians who made the chewy treats from marsh mallow plant sap mixed with honey.

BLG Leadership Insights Creativity

7 social media and leadership stories from the past 7 days

Here are seven stories from the past seven days about social media and leadership.

1. The Biggest Company you’ve never heard of is about to go public

2.  I guess anyone can be honored for “leadership”

3. Meet the 13 Companies that Came Out on Top at Launch

4. Create Your Own Opportunity

5. Socrates on Communication

6. Curiosity tears down walls

7. Filmmaker to Create Egypt Documentary Through Social Media

BLG Leadership Insights Features

The Timing of Leadership

The more I think about leadership, the more I realize that one of the most essential elements is timing. Smart leaders, the best of leaders, have a sense of timing that is parallels an athlete or a ballerina. They have a sense of when to act and when to hold back. That, of course, is no easy trick.

The moment you lose your sense of timing your leadership is greatly handicapped, if not doomed.

Think of any hard leadership decision and your quickly realize that the essential ingredient is timing. The quality and the success of the decision is often impacted by the selection of the right moment.

A classic example is Abraham Lincoln’s declaration of emancipation. As a number of authors have pointed out Lincoln waited until the moment was just right.

The question for any leader is: When is the right moment?

It’s someplace a few steps before the tipping point. Right before the point where everyone sees the direction clearly. It’s the moment before a decision no longer has to be made and where leadership, certainly courageous leadership, is an afterthought.

As they say when the horses are out of the barn it’s too late to climb on board. All you can do is get caught up in the momentum. Leaders therefore have to have a sense of where history is moving. In that sense they must avoid the focal, group-think, short-term, instinct that often negates getting ahead of the crowd. When we talk about a failure of vision or a failure of courage, we are differentiating between those leaders who anticipate history versus those leaders who react to history.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in Tel Aviv and the other week I had an occasion to read an article by Zvi Bar’el in the Haaretz about the importance of ceasing the moment and dealing with the aging president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in order to pursue regional peace.

The premise of the piece was that Mubarak  may soon pass on and no one really knows what direction Egypt will take from that point on. There is a tendency in the Middle East to deal mostly with the present. Certainly within the current Israeli government there is focus on the present and the short-term. But Mubarak isn’t immortal and things move on. The challenge always is: when should I act? Do you deal with the devil you know or the saint you hope will come?

I sometimes think of the Middle East in the 80s or even the 90s versus the Middle East of today. In the context of today’s radical Palestinian groups, the ones in the past look a lot more moderate. The current right of center government in Israel makes the father of right leaning Israeli nationalism, Menachem Begin, look like a left of center moderate.

Leaders in the Middle East are failing to cease the moment given the fact that things can get a lot worse rather than a lot better. The entire middle east seems to be caught in the short-term myopic mindset reminiscent of the automobile industry in the United States. Seeing what’s under their nose, being accountable to only short term interests, and failing to have the courage to look around the bend.

Point in fact: a few of them have shown a sense of historical timing.

Of course then there is Anwar El Sadat. He would have made one heck of a CEO.

Picture Credit: Amanda Woodward