5 Principles of Life Seen Through an El Pollo Loco Birthday Lunch

A few weeks ago Laurie and I were running errands. We fired up Yelp to find a place to eat. We decided on El Pollo Loco. The menu seemed vastly improved since the last time I had eaten there. This particular location was exceptionally clean not only for an El Pollo Loco, but for fast food in general.

El Pollo Loco

While waiting I signed up for their My Loco Rewards program. Almost immediately I got a coupon for free chips and guacamole. Score! then a few minutes later I got a coupon for a free meal for my birthday that was a few weeks away. Double Score! The best part is it was good for a few days after my birthday, so no pressure to eat there on my birthday.

Fast forward to today. After a stressful morning I left the house without a lunch. Then I remembered I had a free lunch waiting for me. So I headed out to El Pollo Loco (#3578) to claim my birthday present. The encounter left me impressed and thinking about simple principles of life.

The cashier took my order just fine. She attempted several times to enter the coupon, but the machine would not take it. After each attempt she looked back up and gently apologized and let me know it would be just another second.

Take Away 1: Be visible with progress. It goes a long way to helping gain empathy. I wasn’t angry it was taking extra time because I felt her frustration in letting me down.

The cashier excused herself after three attempts to go find help. She scanned the kitchen looking for the right person. I could tell she was sizing up each person she locked eyes on as to whether they could help her. There was a gentleman in the back preparing food, which is a large part of the duties when serving fresh food (see interesting fact below). She approached and asked him for help.

Take Away 2:  Seek effective help. It is important to know when you are in over your head. When you are, don’t fight it, ask for help. Not any help, but the help that will get you the best results.

When Ignacio (yes I remembered the name from the badge) got interrupted he didn’t get frustrated or seem inconvenienced. He came over and showed the young lady how to process the transaction. Explaining to her why it was different than how she thought. Instructing her on all aspects including what to do with the coupon etc after the sale. When done he looked up and said, “Happy Birthday, Enjoy your lunch.” then hurried back to his preparation station.

Take Away 3: Help others when you can. Having an a sincere attitude to make those around you better and help them learn is key to creating great teams. It would have been easy for Ignacio to be frustrated or just process the order and turn around and leave without teaching her a thing.

Take Away 4: Details matter. Take the time to observe the details. This wasn’t any coupon. It was a birthday coupon. MY birthday coupon.  Noticing that allowed Ignacio to give me personal service that made me feel human and appreciated.

The cashier was equal part relieved and excited that it wasn’t so painful. She was able to fall right back into the groove of the transaction and straight into the customer after me.

Take Away 5: Don’t get flustered. By asking for help and collecting yourself you can avoid frustration. Frustration that gets passed on to those around you. Take the time to collect yourself and get back on track.

There is a lot you can learn by observing everyday life. Who thought a forgotten lunch would turn into a reminder of these principles of life? Maybe I am just Loco?

Interesting Fact:  On the back of the cup was the following: Giving Tomatoes the love they deserve.  All 357 of them, to be exact.  That’s how many tomatoes we hand-chop at each El Pollo Loco restaurant every single day.  Because here, we strongly believe in preparing fresh ingredients by hand, and you can taste it in every dish, from our pico de gallo to our guacamole.  What can we say?  Preparation is kind of our thing.  Some say the lengths we go to are crazy.  We say it’s crazy you can taste.

Sunday Book Review : Microsoft: First Generation by Cheryl Tsang

Microsoft: First GenerationMicrosoft: First Generation by Cheryl Tsang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Those that know me well, know that I am not a fan of Microsoft products. However, there is no denying that Bill Gates and Paul Allen created something special back when they began. I have heard Bill and Paul’s stories, but this book was different. It showed how the company was perceived not by the founders, but by the first wave of employees that implemented the vision the founders put before them.

Cheryl did a fantastic job of telling the stories of these employees. Showing the culture of Microsoft. Highlighting that many of the first wave left as Microsoft got bigger because they couldn’t adapt to a more corporate setting. This gave me insights into Microsoft that I have never had before. I felt what it must have been like to be there in the beginning before the machine started to turn people out. If I was born 5 years earlier I may have been a Microsoft fan.

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Sunday Book Review : Birth School Metallica Death Volume 1 by Paul Brannigan

Birth School Metallica Death, Volume 1: The BiographyBirth School Metallica Death, Volume 1: The Biography by Paul Brannigan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are looking for the early history of Metallica seen through the lens of someone not in the band this is it. It does a good job of telling the story without being a tell all. It mainly covers the musicians and their journey opposed to highlighting all the stories and antics. This is the story of the grind it took to make it. No over night success here. Looking forward to Volume 2.

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Sunday Book Review : What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo

What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the OppositeWhat Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite by David DiSalvo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed DiSalvo’s journey on this topic. His search grabbed from cognitive science, neurology, social psychology, economics and the kitchen sink to find out about what makes us happy. Why do our brains get in the way? How do we find a fulfilled life? If you dig cognitive psychology or books that highlight studies on the brain and behavior (think Malcolm Gladwell) done well, you will like this book.

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Sunday Book Review : Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford

SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant TogetherSmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together by Christine Comaford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The content here seems to all line up. The “critter state” seems similar to Seth Godin’s “Lizard Brain”. The concept of a high performing team (tribe) resonates well. However, the book is pretty geared towards Christine’s system which can feel a bit of a pitch at times distracting from the content. She shares neuroscience mapped to her five key Accelerators of the Smart State: Focus, Clarity, Accountability, Influence and Sustainability.

If this would have stuck to the material and dropped the sales pitch to hire her company as a proven management consulting firm it would have been a lot better.

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Happy Anniversary. Twenty Years of Learning

Today I celebrate 20 years married to the woman I was meant to be with. The woman who completes me in ways I am just starting to fully understand. The woman who is the mother to my three children (Brittany, Ashley, Noah) and who treats many more like her own (Ricky, Jessica, Shelby). The woman who has given me all of her.


I used to count down our anniversaries for how long I had been married in life versus how long I hadn’t. Last year I had been married 19 and single 19 on our anniversary. Hitting a mark that seemed pretty incredible to me at the time. This year I have been married 20 and alive 39. Meaning that I have been married to the woman of my dreams for over half my life at this point. I am still all in everyday, excited to see where we go together.

As our children age and we add new children to our family via marriage and relationships (Chad, Chase), I can only feel our journey together is just beginning. That our brightest moments are ahead of us.

She often asks me, “Why do you love me?”. The reasons are too vast and many beyond my own understanding, but here are just a few. She is my muse, my inspiration, my reason for being. She completes me, showing me the sides of me that I have yet to discover.

Her empathy is automatic. Her hearts bleeds and wails for those in pain. Complete strangers, best friends or animals, she can’t rest if she knows they are suffering. Her own inner self is so real and raw that she relates to their every struggle. I can only hope to one day be able to find that level of depth in my being.

Her adventure fuels me when I am timid. Some of my best memories of our times together often start with “we shouldn’t be doing this”, “stop that”, “hey now”, “but what if” or “some one is gonna see”. She unlocks the parts of me that need to be free, but have been told they shouldn’t come out.

Her passion matches mine. All or nothing may suck when it comes to the standard of cleaning a toilet, but it’s nice to have someone in my corner that knows, understands and appreciates long hours trying to make it perfect or endless days committed to something because you can’t half ass it. A commitment to following through when running through the suck is always better together than alone.

Her smile. It can make me cry. It can make me laugh. It can warm my heart. Seeing her content let’s me know that there is a happy place in a laugh, where if even for a moment you find it, that you should hang on to it and save it for when you need it.

Her vulnerability. Can you make a new best friend in a grocery store line with a complete stranger? Me either, but she can. She has the ability to be completely vulnerable and without pretense opening herself to complete strangers. This often has me pinching, nudging and kicking her to stop because I am so embarrassed. The truth is I am just jealous that I can’t be that open with the world. I won’t let them see me. I don’t share the best and worst of me with everyone. She does. I could learn a lot there.

Laurie I give you all of me today and all the days that follow. I look forward to the next 20 together. The places we will go, the friends we will make and the things you will teach me.

Love Derek

Sunday Book Review : Remote by David Heinemeier Hansson

Remote: Office Not RequiredRemote: Office Not Required by David Heinemeier Hansson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I tend to find myself repeatedly finding I agree a lot with Jason and David even though I struggle to identify with them. I thought for sure this book would piss me off to no end. Mainly because I think that physical interaction is so important for success. However, they hit the topic pretty eloquently. They highlighted the right things about what is amazing when remote work is done right, but acknowledge that some face time and presence (head gap) is so very important. I suspect this book is powerful as a cultural wake up to many of the industrial minded managers out there that struggle greatly with effort versus results.

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Sunday Book Review : Please, Don’t Be a Dick by Alexey Golev

Please, don't be a dickPlease, don’t be a dick by Alexey Golev

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reasonable representation of the landscape of working with a designer. The authors style felt overly passively pretentious hipster more often than not, but it could have just been them trying so hard to explain from the lens of the client. So I won’t pass immediate judgement. Okay I will, but then I will readily admit that it is on me and not them.

I am not sure I agree with a lot of the advice or even the final words.

“The designer and the client ultimately share a common interest — beautiful, functional design that communicates a message in a clear and interesting manner. ”

Every client I met wanted to make money. Some wanted to so with style but usually if given the choice of great design or quick money they would choose the later.

I do agree it’s all shit clients deal with when hiring a designer.

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Sunday Book Review: Leading Successful Change by Gregory Shea

Leading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change WorkLeading Successful Change: 8 Keys to Making Change Work by Gregory P. Shea

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a consultant that deals with organizations desiring radical change, thought this might be a good investment of time. It is a quick read, that gives some reasonable practical advice about overcoming a staggering failure rate of change initiatives. However, it was pretty dry and lacked the kind of story telling narrative that makes for good non-fiction. Shea does a good job of sharing proven methods (8 Levers of Change) and notes that a strong vision for the future is necessary. Most importantly change is not option, nor is it impossible.

Successful change efforts require 2 vital elements to meet their objectives:

1. Change behavior and
2. Change the work environment to support the new behavior

I liked that they acknowledge taking a more systems approach. Good content, poor read.

Available on Overdrive

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