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Posted: February 13, 2014

Chef Laura: Thorns and roses

A debriefing game

Laura Cook Newman

Today florists around the nation are feverishly clipping pesky thorns off rose stems in preparation for their busiest day of the year. In their haste, they might miss a few. After all…every rose has its thorn.

Tomorrow over a romantic candlelight dinner, you might ask your honey “How was your day?” The typical response is “fine” or “good”. But if you really want to know how someone’s day went, ask them about their thorns and roses.

My daughters and I play this “game” of sorts every night at the dinner table. Kids are notoriously monosyllabic when it comes to upholding their end of the conversation, but during this exchange, they clamor to go first!

The rules are simple:

  1. Start with your thorns (the bad stuff) and end with your roses (the good stuff).
  2. Allow each person to talk/vent as long as they want without interruption.

Even when I feel like I’ve had a dismal day, by the time it’s my turn, the “thorns” don’t feel too prickly anymore, and my “roses” are in full bloom.

Abraham Lincoln said it a bit more eloquently: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.”  

It works so well at home that I’ve applied the thorns and roses game to debriefing work assignments. After completing a project or delivering a training, I ask myself “What went wrong? What went right?”

This is even more powerful when working with a team. The typical blame-game of any wrong-doing melts away as everyone takes ownership of the good, the bad, and the ugly. By ending with the roses, the team walks away on a positive note – energized to do even better next time.

For example, the famed Navy Blue Angels do an intense debriefing after every practice or performance. In their debrief room, no officer outranks the other. Even the Commanding Officer (aka the “Boss”) who flies the Number 1 jet, is an equal.

As each daredevil speaks, they candidly own up to their mistakes: “I was a half second late on the Delta Break-Out.” They also praise each others’ successes “Perfect Diamond 360 – nice job!” Every pilot finishes their recap saying “Happy to be here.”  In essence, they conclude their debrief with a rose.

Even if you’re not auditioning for Top Gun 2, reflecting on the daily ups, downs, twists and turns is a helpful way to punctuate your day and maintain some optimism. Yes, I’m advocating that you actually stop and smell the roses, especially when the day felt like huge thorn in your side. Taking stock – personally and professionally - reminds you to focus on what’s truly important, and like a rose, grow.

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

Love the emphasis on the positive! Every job/day/experience can have its sad/unhappy/depressing times - but a focus on improving and looking up makes us more pleasant to be around! By Andi Pearson on 2014 02 13
Thanks, Laura, for this great lesson. Something new for the playbook to keep us on the sunny side. I've already had a couple of thorns today and will definitely be on the lookout for some roses before the end of the day! By Minerva on 2014 02 13
I guess the glass is really "Half Full!" By Glass Half Empty on 2014 02 13
Enjoyable read per usual! Great analogy to life and one I will put into action. Thanks. By nicoleaulik on 2014 02 13
BUSINESS and career can also "be a game of easy come and easy go". Wrapping things up with a positive tone is a good way to keep things positive and look forward to the next project or next step, like you said. As Abe alluded to, maybe the song should have been Every Thorn has its Rose. By Bret M. on 2014 02 13
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