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Archive for March, 2010

When Innovation Crumbles Customer Experience- A Tale of Gluten Free Pizza

Posted by Plish on March 31, 2010

Thin Crust Pizza. 

The words conjure up images of good times,  friendship, and long strings of melted cheese stretching infinitely thin as you pull a piece away from a common plate that everyone eats from.   Pizza wants to be held.   You bring it to your mouth and  bite down through the cheese and crust with your central incisors, pulling away slowly so as not disrupt the toppings still in your hand, but wanting to pull away faster as the hot cheese hits the roof of your mouth. 

Pizza is more than a food – it’s an experience

About a year and a half ago my wife was diagnosed as having gluten intolerance.   Part of that diagnosis means no wheat based products, no breads and no pizza. 

Through a Celiac doc friend of my mine we heard that a local restaurant had pizzas that were gluten free.  It sounded too good to be true.  A pizza that was gluten free and tasted good?  We ventured out to try it and lo and behold, it was pretty good! 

That was the high point. 

Since then, we seldom get the same quality pizza two times in a row. The crust crumbles and breaks and the cheese slides off .  It’s almost impossible to eat without a knife and fork.  The picture below shows how one pizza fell apart. Not very appetizing to look at, is it? 

the carnage of innovation - an unsuccessful pizza


The service at the restaurant is great.  When we get a pizza that isn’t done right the managers are quick to ask if we want another one, or they try and recook the same one (which unfortunately often results in overdone cheese.)   They’ve pointed out on multiple occasions the process the pizza goes through.   There is one manager who, if he intervenes and walks the pizza through and tweaks the cooking process and the amount of cheese, can create a pizza that pretty much looks and tastes like a pizza.  That’s the exception though, not the rule. 

The rule  is that, even though we’re regulars at this particular restaurant, when the pizza shows up we seldom say anything anymore.  It messes up our ability to have a good, spontaneous time.  Neither one of us can enjoy our food because one, or both, of us has to wait for the fixed pizza to arrive.  

So what’s my point? 

With the increase in diagnoses of Celiac or gluten sensitivity, this restaurant had it right.  A gluten free pizza was the way to go.  What they didn’t totally appreciate was that taste is only part of the pizza equation.  Pizza is an experience, and the weak links in the pizza development process impact that experience in an unfortunate way.   

It really is a shame. 

This restaurant is a fun place -experience is what they actually are all about! 

Instead, these glitches have prevented this gluten free pizza from being a delicious experience for the Customer (or for the restaurant!)… 

 it’s just another gluten free product offering on the menu.

Posted in Case Studies, Customer Focus, Design, Food, innovation, problem solving, The Human Person, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Design Thinking and Innovation – Are you Willing to Question?

Posted by Plish on March 25, 2010

I was recently watching a snippet on America’s Funniest Home Videos. There was a young boy and his older sister sitting on the lap of Santa. Santa was telling them to study hard, that to be successful there weren’t any shortcuts.

The young boy quickly retorted, “Yeah, but if there were shortcuts, what would they look like?”

Ahh, out of the mouths of babes…

The path of innovative design beings in this way.  On the one hand you have someone espousing some bit of commonly accepted wisdom:

“There are no shortcuts to success.”

“For this product to be successful it needs to have ‘xyzpdq’.”

“There will never be a need for that much memory in a computer.”

“To have an impact you need to have an MBA”

On the other hand you have the dreamers, the questioners – the re-framers.  These are people who don’t see problems as obstacles but as the byproducts of poorly framed, or inadequately understood, challenges.

This boy took the first step in creating a shortcut to success – he asked what it would look like and in so doing, forced us to imagine a shortcut to success.

We have two choices in responding. We can cling to the common line that knows, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that there simply are no shortcuts to success. The rewards for following this common knowledge are, well…common.


We can entertain the notion that there are shortcuts to success. We can imagine what its traits might be, we can dream and explore that world that lies behind doors that have been closed and locked by blackened chains of conventional wisdom.

Some will call this a waste of time.

Others, will embrace this process (which is fundamental to design thinking and innovation), the rewards of which are uncommon and yet obvious to those who truly seek to design innovation in the world.

Posted in children, creativity, culture of innovation, Design, design thinking, idea generation, imagination, innovation, problem solving, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Fifteen Seconds on Innovation from Iron Chef, Jose Garces

Posted by Plish on March 15, 2010

While at the Housewares show today in Chicago I was able to speak to Iron Chef Jose Garces .  The question I put to him was simple, “What is your take on innovation?”  His answer is simple and  profound.  He expounds on this answer in the introduction to his new book, Latin Evolution:

“As a chef, my constant challenge is to find the possibilities that new ingredients and techniques offer, while honoring what has come before. My mantra is simple: ‘authentic’ and ‘innovative’ are not contradictory. This recipe collection is a highly personal mix of my family history, culinary training and personal creativity. That’s how my cuisine evolved.”

What do you think of this definition?

(By the way, Chef Garces is one of the most approachable, congenial men you will ever meet.  I’m looking forward to sampling more of his innovation at his restaurant Mercat a la Planxa here in Chicago. :))

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, Food, innovation, Interviews, The Senses | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Wearing a Path to Your Door – Design Lessons From a Parking Lot

Posted by Plish on March 15, 2010

While recently stopping by at the local library I was surpised to see the following situation:

It’s interesting that the new made paths are not that far away from the desired walkway yet people aren’t using the walkway. 

One of the reasons I believe people don’t use the walkway is that it has a flag pole directly in the center of it.  By virtue of it being there is says, “Please walk around me,” and the width of the path doesn’t invite going around the pole.  Offsetting the flagpole or placing two paths on either side with a connection between them to the pole would probably save the grass and still create a clean path to the flagpole.  It would also provide a route to the two benches that are off to the side in the grass.

What are your thoughts?

Posted in Architectural Design, Case Studies, Design, problem solving | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Enthusiasm – The Key to Creativity and Innovation

Posted by Plish on March 10, 2010

I just saw the movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians – The Lightning Thief.  It’s a story about a teen who is the offspring of the Greek god Poseidon and a human.  Percy is a demi-god.   The story follows Percy’s growth in realizing who he is is and the powers he has. 

So, what does this have to do with creativity and innovation?

One word:


What is enthusiasm?

The word is from the Greek and it means to be possessed by or inspired by a god, to have god within.  Synonyms for enthusiasm are: activity, ardency, ardor, avidity, boldness, conviction, craze, dash, devotion, eagerness, earnestness, ecstasy, emotion, energy, exhilaration,  feeling, fervor, fever, fieriness, fire, flame, flare, frenzy, fury, gaiety, glow, heat, hilarity, impetuosity, intensity, interest, joy, joyfulness, keenness, life, mania, mirth, nerve, oomph, passion, pep, rapture, red heat, relish, snap, spirit, transport, vehemence, verve, vim, vivacity, warmth, zeal, zealousness, zest, élan.

If you have dabbled in Greek mythology you’ll notice right away that the list of synonyms reads like a description of the attributes of varied Greek deities.    The question is:

Do some of those words describe you?

Henry David Thoreau said, “None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.”

It is a chilling thought to imagine a society where people might age more quickly per Thoreau’s observation than physically.   Yet, this might be happening.

Recent research shows that only 45 percent of people in the workplace are happy with their jobs.  In other words, enthusiasm is indeed in short supply.  If enthusiasm is in short supply then you can bet that creative work and innovation is also lacking. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ““Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”

Well, then, how do we get enthusiasm back?

Enthusiasm means to be possessed or inspired by a god, to have god within. So let’s do a thought experiment.

What if you were taken over by a god of whatever skill or talent you use on a regular basis?

Whether or not you believe in God or gods is besides the point,  just imagine what it would be like.  What would you change?  How would you behave?  What is now possible for you?  What do you have to be afraid of?

“Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes shine to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait. The grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.” -Henry Ford

Now, seize those feelings and thoughts!  Don’t listen to the negative voices that say you can’t do something.  Listen to that whispering voice within that is leading you to great things.  When you act on enthusiasm, you become enthusiastic.

This isn’t about being religious, it’s about being human – being passionate and excited about life!  It’s about recognizing that spark within, about seeing yourself as a power for good, about  appreciating and authentically sharing who you are.

So, look for that spark within and be enthusiastic.   If people work for you, empower them to be able to be enthused participants in life.   Do this and the creativity will flow, innovations will happen, and perhaps more importantly, we will all be better people.

Posted in Authenticity, creativity, innovation, Nature of Creativity, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Innovations in Elder Care Demand a Different Paradigm

Posted by Plish on March 5, 2010

I’d like to have a spirited word or two with the person who popularized the concept that as adults get older they become children while their children become the parents.

This concept has warped elder care and hurt the cause of innovation in hospitals, nursing and rehab facilities around the country (and perhaps the world) as it is a classically misapplied case of: If A=B, and C=B, then A=C.

In other words:

Elderly people need help to bathe,  use the bathroom,  dress,  or eat.   Young children need help to bathe, use the bathroom,  dress, or eat.   Therefore Elderly = Children, and they should be treated as such.


A recent shocking study pointed out that speaking to elderly people like children actually took years off their lives!

This problem exists not only in the speech of caregivers but in the systems that are supposed to bring elderly back into society.  Take, for example, elderly going through rehab therapy.   The elderly individual, who perhaps only weeks earlier had made a meal for the family or gone hunting in the woods, is required to manipulate and stack plastic colored building blocks or pieces of felt into  certain patterns.   When that task is completed they’re congratulated with glee as if it was the first time this person ever accomplished that task.  “That was great sweetie!! Now try this one!”

Or take the elderly woman who painted  and scanned a modern Christmas card design on a computer only 6 months prior, and was  given a ‘paint-by-number’ task at a rehab facility.  For an elderly person who had never painted before this might be a significant accomplishment, but for this artist, it was a reminder of the frailty of the human person.

While physical attributes were perhaps improved through therapy, in neither case was the elderly person  elevated and treated with respect.   The system, although it had the best of intentions, did not treat the entire person and in fact may actually have contributed to future morbidity.

To innovatively change and design healthcare systems for the elderly there needs to be a change of perspective and greater empathy – empathy on the parts of nurses, doctors, therapists, and family members. 

Being elderly and being cared for is not the same as being a child being cared for.  It is an entirely different experience that demands better techniques and communication modalities that account for the fact that the elderly person is a living history, a person who simply can not do all the things they could do.  That is essentially different from working with children who never knew they could do something.

It is a simple, powerful, painful difference.

In one case there is the memory of a task, in the other there is rejoicing in new found potential.  The latter is decidingly easier to empathize with and perhaps that is why too many people opt for this perspective and treat the elderly like children. 

The former is painful and more difficult to empathize with, perhaps because it is what awaits us all in some way.

But, if we make the brave jump to truly empathize with the elderly, we rest assured that the innovations we bring to the table will not only improve the lives of those who are currently treated like children, but will one day make our lives better and allow us to experience, and live with, respect and dignity.

Posted in Authenticity, Case Studies, children, cognitive studies, creativity, culture of innovation, Customer Focus, Design, Health Concerns, Human Rights, innovation, Life Stages, love, Parents, Research, Society, The Human Person | Tagged: , , , , , | 5 Comments »

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