As I sit down to write this article on innovation, I am reminded of a dinner with some friends one Saturday evening. A heated debate arose over the innovativeness of fusion cooking, which on this instance was in reference to a skilful of blend of Chinese and Mediterranean cuisine.
Reactions varied around the table at our first-rate fusion restaurant that evening. Some were horrified at the idea of combining two such apparently incompatible culinary styles; they felt that the fusion meant the loss of some intrinsic qualities of each tradition. Despite having enjoyed the meal, they stated they would only return if they really had to. Others took refuge in traditional cuisine as a bearer of all culinary values and had a hard time accepting these ‘innovations’, considering it heresy to the established order of all things gastronomic. A third group were highly favourable to ‘mixing it up’, believing that the more eclectic the better; reminding me somewhat of those who frequently spout out ‘consultant fads’ in business. Finally, other friends at the dinner party simply enjoyed the superb culinary pairing the chef’s team served up, while extolling the virtues of combining tradition and innovation as part and parcel of progress.
Quite often business behaviour closely parallels situations in real life; the debate and discussion during that dinner is the same I hear day in and day out in the course of my consulting work. With almost as many ways of understanding innovation as there are people, practically everybody has their own personal concept of what it is, and as in the kitchen, no one concept is truly unique, true and transferable to all types of organisations.
Globalisation has caused cuisines to migrate naturally across borders with chefs now exchanging experiences, recipes and ways of cooking. Knowledge on ingredients, recipes, etc. is now just a click away, with techniques in the kitchen continuously evolving. How we eat is also evolving and the value we give food has changed; the taste-buds of restaurant-goers are being exposed to new experiences and they want them more readily accessible.
The combination of elements has brought about new dishes (i.e. products), new experiences and a totally new business with its own rules of engagement. Greater success in innovating in organisations is dependent upon restaurateurs and chefs tastefully balancing capacities and trends appearing around them. All chefs and restaurateurs are affected equally, regardless of what choices are made in the kitchen and how they are served to the public. Without a doubt, the new varieties of cuisine we see today are not unlike possible solutions to future business challenges. Although traditional cuisine is historically entrenched, haute cuisine, as produced by the ‘Michelin stars’, still exerts enormous influence on the development of world-wide cuisine, with Basque chefs figuring prominently on that vibrant international scene. I feel it best, then, to focus on the characteristics of fusion cooking as one of the precepts of innovation in today’s world.
From where I stand, Fusion Cuisine integrates the basic ingredients of business innovation, by facilitating dialogue in a globalised world. Deeply rooted in tradition (ie. savoir-faire in organisations), and welcoming contributions from other cultures and cuisines, it encourages co-operation and genetic diversity for today’s world. Fusion Cuisine is not stuck in the past, since it is free to enrich recipes and techniques by including new ingredients, which in turn leads to a broadening of perspectives in the ongoing search for new production methods and new materials, among others. Another common ingredient to business innovation and fusion cuisine is the identification of a group of clients whose specific needs are unsatisfied by ‘traditional cooking’ (i.e. deep client segmentation and customising services to their requirements), and creating new experiences for clients. One good example in such forward thinking is moving from selling a product or service to commercialising experiences.
Further to these elements above, may we remember to apply to our business the words of the late Santi Santamaria, the Catalan avant-garde chef, used to repeat time and again: “Cooking is tradition, adaptation, co-operation, satisfaction and sweat.”
May we never forget this in our own entrepreneurial effort.