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The Appetizer Syndrome

09 Jan 2014

By Lama Makarem –

The Appetizer Syndrome is a phenomenon that I’ve experienced often in business, and more specifically doing business in the Middle East, where resources of a specific project are typically consumed in the early phases of it.

Why call it Appetizer Syndrome?

Those who live in the Middle East and/or who are familiar with the Arabic ‘mezza’ will agree with me that what’s supposed to be just an appetizer, almost habitually becomes the main course. Arabic ‘mezza’ is a set of small dishes of hot and cold appetizers, very varied and numerous, thatpeople generously order and spend quite some time savoring,that by the time the main dish arrives, you’re pretty full already. Most of the time, by the end of your meal, the ‘main’ dish is barely touched, and when it is, most people do it because they feel they have to. Mind you, you still pay for it full price, but you definitely don’t get your money’s worth from it. Benefits you get are way less than the cost incurred.

In business, the Appetizer Syndrome takes place when most of your resources (energy, cost, time, and specifically appetite) are all consumed during the early phases of the project, and that when the ‘main phase/course’ comes, that is the implementation phase, most of the resources are already depleted;  the project gets rushed off and becomes a ‘ticking a box’ exercise. Why?… because ‘we’re already full, and we’re ready to leave!’. What looked like a wonderful and promising project in the beginning has ended up mediocre at the end, mainly because of mis-management of resources and expectations.

Proposals, like menus, look great; but once processed at the table, the whole formula may get altered.

The Appetizer Syndrome reminds us of Pareto’s 80/20% rule where 80% of outcomes are attributed to 20% of the causes. In business, I’ve seen those big projects where about 80% of resources is consumed during the appetizers’ phase (which is supposed to be only 20% of your project).

Almost invariably, every project I got involved with across several industries, whether government related or private, the Appetizer Syndrome tends to emerge. Ramifications are costly, because your resources of energy/appetite (motivation in other words), time, and cost are resources that once consumed are not easy-and almost impossible for some- to get back. The end result is nothing but a beautiful heading or title or an impressive facade to an empty building.

Solution?  Set specific expectations, look at the big picture and plan accordingly, keep measuring, and above all, learn from experience.( An appetizer that was hardly touched means it didn’t add value whatsoever, on the contrary, it only added cost. At the same time, an appetizer your ordered a second round of because you liked it, may have delayed your whole project…another dear cost.) Same in business, ordering haphazardly all kinds of recourses for the initial phases of the project, might end up nothing but costly and wasteful resources.

Ask yourself:

Does my meal suffer from an Appetizer Syndrome?

Does my project suffer from an Appetizer Syndrome?

Or even my life…do I leave things that matter till the end?

Finally, think of how many businesses get discussed over Arabic ‘mezza’?…a double Appetizer Syndrome!

By Lama Makarem

Co-founder J&R Business Consultancy;


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