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Archive for March, 2014

Thoughts on Innovation From Chef Aaron Sanchez

Posted by Plish on March 27, 2014

 

Every time I get the opportunity, I ask great chefs this simple question:

What does innovation mean to you?

This year at the International Home and Housewares Show, I was able to watch Chef Aarón Sanchez at work, and then chat briefly with him.  His response to the question: “What does innovation mean to you?” is shown below.  Give it a watch and join me below the video and I’ll share my thoughts.

Chef Aarón was true to his Buddhist beliefs.  His short and sweet answer hit on a theme that I’ve heard from other chefs, namely, going back to the roots, understanding where you are and where you can go.    There is both constraint and open-ended-ness to “understanding where (your roots) take you.”  Inherently the roots have a potential energy. They provide the foundation from which innovations can grow.   At its core, this statement is about understanding your raw materials, about their potential, about how they can be manipulated to get the results you want. This doesn’t just mean actual brick and mortar substances.  It also applies to philosophies and ideas.  This is especially true if you want an innovation to fit in your portfolio.  If you want your innovation to be recognized as having ties to certain roots, you need to understand those roots.

At first when he said, “Always use the best ingredients,” I was stumped.  Was this supposed to be a koan?  What do good ingredients have to do with innovation?  And then it hit me.

The questions isn’t “what?”, it’s “why?”

Why are the best ingredients important?

It’s a question of fidelity.  If ingredients are poor, if the raw materials are poor, people experiencing the innovation may not get what the innovation is trying to say.  A milk  flavored with a gentle herbal blend will not convey subtle flavors if the milk is old and sour.   That innovation will be rejected.  It’s not that the innovation is a bad idea.  On the contrary, it may be a great idea, but because I didn’t use the best ingredients, the innovation in the glass doesn’t resemble the innovation in my head.  Something was lost in the translation from idea to reality.

It’s important then for innovations to have a level of fidelity that is appropriate for what needs to be communicated/experienced.  This can only occur if the ‘ingredients’ in your innovation are the best.  My maternal grandmother used to say with regards to cooking: “Put good things together and it’ll be good.”  This doesn’t mean that if you take 2000 of the best ingredients and stir them in a pot they’ll taste good.  No, it is about context.  Combine good things, in the appropriate way, and the flavors in your mind will be faithfully reproduced in the eating experience.

This, interestingly enough, closes the loop and brings us back full circle to understanding one’s roots.  You can’t be true to your understanding of your roots, and communicate innovations that come from them, if you don’t use the best ingredients.

What do you think about Chef Aarón’s philosophy on innovation?

~~~

I want to thank you, Chef Sanchez, for putting up with me and taking the time to chat.  You were most gracious and considerate, even with multiple people and commitments pulling you in myriad directions.  You were being true to your roots, and you only used the best ingredients.  Thank you!

 

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Posted in creativity, Creativity Videos, Design, Food, innovation, Interviews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Innovations and More from the 2014 International Home + Housewares Show

Posted by Plish on March 20, 2014

Was at one of my favorite shows earlier this week, looking for new materials and products, innovative and whimsical products, basically things that catch my fancy. What follows are some pics and vids from the show.  I also had a chance to get some insights into innovation from world class chefs, watch for those videos over the next couple of days.

One trend that was clearly present at the show was the existence of robots.  They’re everywhere.  Companies are trying to make our lives easier by creating robots to do our work for us.  I particularly liked this Window cleaning robot, the Winbot from ECOVACS.  These folks really want to bring technology into, and onto, your homes.   The best way to predict the future is to make it. ECOVACS is making it.

Also check out the Grill Bot!

Along the same lines, apps are being paired with various products and appliances.  Mostly iPhone based, but there are Android versions and Windows is gaining ground as well.

Attaches your stove temperatures and times to your smartphone

Attaches your stove temperatures to your smartphone

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Apps that Talk to your scales

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Apps that talk to blood pressure cuffs

Another thing that I love to see are companies that are well known for certain product lines and they are Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Customer Focus, Design, Experience, innovation, Trends | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Fostering Organically Grown Innovation – Insights From the Art of Bonsai

Posted by Plish on March 16, 2014

I just got done trimming some of my bonsai trees.  What always fascinates me is how branches seem to show up in the most unlikely places.   Yet, while the origin of a particular branch baffles me, to the branch growing out of the tree, it made sense.

Somehow, the protobranch saw an opportunity.

Somehow that tree responded to the amount of light being received, the overall stress levels, temperature, soil conditions, nourishment demands, and it sent out branches in the most unlikely, and sometime unwanted(!), places (at least for the artist). Not all these branches will become large, at least without some eventual outside help. But, these branches spring up and, while they take up resources, they also contribute to the overall health of the tree as they leaf, flower and sometimes, even bear fruit.

From a bonsai perspective, these branches are sometimes pruned away so they don’t take energy away from other parts of the tree that, at least in the bonsai artist’s mind, need more.  But, many times, these rogue branches are left – precisely because of the reason mentioned in the previous paragraph – they contribute to the well-being of the tree.  These fledgling branches, while pulling nourishment from the tree’s roots, also send nourishment back to the entire tree.  In the process they contribute to building up the vascular system of the tree and ‘fattening’ up the trunk and all the rest of the branches.   They help make the tree more robust and able to withstand lean times, or environmental stressors in the future.

Innovation efforts in many companies are like these branches.  They pop up, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and often avoid detection until someone finds out about them and then wants to eliminate them.

Don’t!

These budding innovation efforts are organic – it’s not an accident that they showed up inside a specific company at a specific time! They should be welcomed and examined, not elicit shock and disdain (“What are you working on this for!?”).  After all, they came from the company’s roots.  Somehow these proto-innovation efforts sensed an opportunity.  Due to internal or external stressors, market dynamics, serendipitous inter-employee communications, or any combination of myriad variables, a person sensed that now was the time to start making an idea manifest in the world.

An innovation branch is born…

What’s next?

Leave it alone and let it grow for a while where it started.

Again, it’s an organic growth in a specific time and place, trying to mature where it started.  Try and put more light on that dark nook where the tiny branch is budding, try and cut it off and transplant it somewhere else, trim too much of the surrounding foliage, and it’ll die, or start growing in a different manner.  Same thing with new innovation efforts.  Shine corporate spotlights on it, try and move it somewhere else, put other people on it, change the corporate structure and it could very well die.  If nothing else, it will stumble.

New efforts need to grow where they start, at least for a while.  They will contribute to the corporate whole in subtle but real ways. The knowledge being obtained from the budding effort, the synergies being developed, these all feed back into the organic whole and contribute to its growth – if they’re allowed to.

Another reason to let these innovation branches grow for a while is that the world is unpredictable.  A sudden storm, intense winter, drought, animals, a move to another location, or a combination of many other issues, can cause severe damage to a bonsai tree.  After the dust clears, often those branches that played the main role are damaged beyond repair.  Those little branches in the sheltered nooks, that grew in the shadows, they are the ones that survive and enable the tree to continue its life. Will it look like the old tree?  Most likely not, but, the tree will survive.

So too with innovation efforts.  When market dynamics change, sometimes quickly, a company can’t adjust quickly enough and it’s the little innovation efforts that are well poised to take the corporation into the next era.  Those little, pesky, organic, innovation projects, that were perhaps unwanted, are the very projects that will enable a corporation to survive.

There are times and places to trim back branches, sometimes heavily.  But, if you want innovative diversity, resiliency and robustness, pay attention to those new little buds popping up.  They are a sign of life, a sign that the company is interacting with the world around it, a sign that people are thinking, interacting, and dreaming.

Then…

…leave them alone for a while…

Posted in Creative Environments, culture of innovation, Design, Disruptive Innovation, Funding Innovation, innovation, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Want to Harness the Power of “We”? Innovation Starts with “I”

Posted by Plish on March 3, 2014

People like to point to the fact that Thomas Edison had an entire innovation factory working for him, that innovation was a team effort.  While this is true in general, the deeper truth is that Edison was an entrepreneur.  He had to get the ball rolling.  At the beginning, the ideas were his, the dreams were his, the innovation factory was his baby.  He worked to make things happen.  Even in the context of the “We” of his facility in Menlo Park, there were commitments from each individual employed there.

Innovation starts with “I”.  It starts in the heart; it starts with an individual commitment, an individual work ethic. Before it can become a communal effort it needs to be an individual dream. Innovation has entrepreneurial roots.  When individuals come together with common goals, empowered to make dreams reality, when they’re given freedom to experiment, to be creative, to try, fail, learn and grow, when people are rewarded either intrinsically or extrinsically, then “We” means something.  Until then, it’s simply a word used in the context of stirring political, and corporate, pep rallies.

Please don’t misunderstand me. “We” is powerful.  But it’s only powerful if the following criteria are met:

  1. Everyone being called, “We”, must consider themselves part of “We.” (If I say you’re part of a Tribe, you need to agree.)
  2. Anyone saying, “We”, must be acknowledged as part of “We”. (If you say you’re part of a Tribe, I need to agree.)
  3. “We” must all believe in the same goals and means to accomplish those goals.  (Each individual agrees to certain roles.)
  4. Each individual receives a reward for contributing to “We”.
  5. Each individual must be empowered to act in ways that helps accomplish the goals of “We”.
  6. “We” does not turn against the individual.  “We” respects the individual.  As such, “We” respects, and needs, diversity – especially in the context of innovation.

“We”, paradoxically, is fragile. If all 6 of the above criteria are not met, especially the first 3, there is no “We”.   Strictly speaking, we is a virtual entity – it only exists when the above 6 criteria are met.  Saying “We can do this! We can change this!” while perhaps inspiring,  provides no direction.

On the other hand, “I” does not have the pre-requisites above.  It is powerful and strong.  Yes, there may be circumstances that hinder innovation.  But, in the end, it’s about digging deep and finding a way.

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt

So, how do we create “We”?

Address the needs of, inspire and empower, the individual.  Let people be “I”.  Let people be authentic, let them be true to themselves.  People are social creatures, they leverage relationships naturally when given opportunities.  “We” – Tribes – form somewhat spontaneously where individuals blossom.

You are change!

Make a difference in your own life, in your family, in your community!

The ripples will build upon themselves, and the “We” that’s formed will be even more powerful.

Innovation starts with “I”.

Posted in culture of innovation, Design, Entrepreneurship 2.0, innovation, Politics, Team-Building, The Human Person, Workplace Creativity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

 
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