Lessons on innovation from a culinary lecture

I always believe that we can learn from everything we read, see and encounter. This morning, I came across an article (http://bit.ly/dM0RDt) featuring a lecture at Harvard’s Science and Cooking symposium where celebrity chef David Chang of Momofuku spoke on “Creative Ceilings: How We Use Errors, Failure and Physical Limitations as Catalysts for Culinary Innovation”. In the article, Chang was quoted saying, “Momofuku is about trying to understand that we’re average, and work harder at it than anyone else.”

Very simply and realistically put, Chang defined the driving force behind innovation.

Here are the key points of his lecture:

  • If you accept failure, you can create with freedom.
  • Define boundaries in order to better analyze mistakes.
  • Be careful what you wish for.
  • Invent the alternative when you can’t afford the obvious.

I really liked this article for two reasons: Firstly, because it was about food. Secondly, because it reinforced what I thought was needed for organisations (any industry, any size) to be competitive. Let’s see what innovation can do in a David versus Goliath business face-off.

David-type organisation: Young, Small but Full of Potential, Little Resources

If you’ve read the story about David and Goliath, you’d know that before David stepped onto the battlefield for his face off with Goliath, King Saul tried to outfit David with conventional armor, a heavy sword and shield. David couldn’t move.

So instead of following the conventional dress code for war, David played on his strength and went into battle wearing his usual clothing, armed only with smooth stones and a sling – tools he used to defend his father’s sheep from predators. You know the rest of the story.

Anyway, as the David in a business context, you’d already know you don’t have the same financial muscle or talent at your disposal to undertake the same project scale as the big boys do. So what do you do?

You look for a unique proposition you can offer and specialise in that. So what if you don’t have the talent? You build alliances with associates and partners to get the job done – and with lower fixed overheads. Like David, don’t copy what everyone else is doing, take an idea from somewhere else and create your own version of it to create better value than  conventional practices.

Be a creator!

Goliath-type  organisation: Large, Powerful, Resource rich

As Goliath, you are in a great position with financial muscle and talent at your disposal. The down side is that you also carry a lot of “weight” and therefore change cannot happen as quickly. I know that in the David versus Goliath story, Goliath gets his head chopped off! But since we are on the topic of innovation, here’s my take on how to “change” the ending.

Goliath, you innovate!

My suggestion is that to do this, you must take the essence of your enemy – David – and build that into your corporate DNA. Let me explain within the business context.

The Spirit of Entrepreneurship

I’m not going to go into the details here but I would recommend that before any change is made, your Goliath first needs to look at himself, not his weapon or armor. But to look within! For changes from within, will naturally show on the outside.

As a starting point to innovating, your organisation will need to cultivate a spirit of entrepreneurship throughout all levels of employees from its CEO to the shop floor assistant. This would mean reassessing the corporate environment, the mindset of its leadership, and the reward structure.

With an organisation-wide culture of entrepreneurial thinking (even if in varying degrees), established organisations have a greater chance of breaking from the confines of legacy practices and mindsets that hinder competitive sustainability through innovation.

Entrepreneurial thinking within your organisation will also provide the freedom for its employees to question convention and explore alternatives to do the same thing, but more efficiently or cheaply. Or both. In other words, it opens up a whole platter of options which is the petri dish for innovation.

Now, the problem with Goliath in the David and Goliath story was that Goliath was also an arrogant man. Just on his army strength alone, he could have wiped out the entire Israeli army. But in his arrogance, he issued a “man-to-man” challenge with the incentive of the losing party withdrawing their troops.

If you think about it, if David was arrogant about his new found celebrity status as the Defender of Israel, he could have succumbed under the weight of his protective gear and died before the first blow from Goliath. Imagine that possibility.

So to conclude, being innovative in your David or Goliath sized organisation is a good strategic move . But if your David or Goliath lacks the humility to provide the freedom to question convention, then your organisation can forget about innovation.


About Michelle Ling

Michelle is the founder of Adonai Group Pte Ltd - a boutique business consultancy that advises organisations on organizational sustainability.
This entry was posted in Business, Innovation, Startup and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Lessons on innovation from a culinary lecture

  1. Pingback: When a “Goliath” (Microsoft) is called an underdog | Innovation Experimental Lab

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