When you're looking to show 10 executives from diverse industries how the culinary world practices innovation, "power breakfast" takes on a whole new meaning.
A few weeks ago I introduced members of the South Core Innovation Hub (leaders from 20 organizations who are connected to Toronto's emerging SoCo area) to executive chef Dan Craig at the neighbourhood's new Delta hotel. Craig and his team would lead a hands-on program that might drive thinking about our own recipes for business innovation.
In this case, the power breakfast didn't include the eggs and hash browns you've come to expect, but a dessert fashioned out of yogurt and melon carefully shaped to look like a sunny-side up egg.
We weren't bystanders for all of this kitchen artistry and, as is appropriate for a group that prides itself on experimentation, we quickly had aprons over our business attire. Soon we were preparing our own brownie-based "hash browns" and using the latest cooking technology, including a dry ice machine.
So what three things did I take away from our time in the kitchen?
Diversity creates distinctiveness The Delta cooks hailed from three different countries and recipe inspirations drew from their cultural backgrounds as well as their own travel and work history. During our conversations they often demonstrated a strong empathy with their clientele and knew almost instinctively what would work in this unique entertainment and business area. Business leaders would be hard pressed to replicate this blend of ingredients without valuing diversity of thinking and experience when hiring staff.
Problems can inspire creativity (and more pizza) Delta recently expanded its outdoor seating area for the summer, but it also meant that kitchen equipment was pushed to the limit. The signature pizza was a popular order but chefs could only make three at a time in the wood-burning oven. They debated making smaller pizzas but their knowledge of what their clientele values meant finding a different solution – so they opted for oblong pizzas. Using the same amount of dough and ingredients they were able to shape the pizzas into a slightly different shape and fit five in the oven at a time. The resulting 66 per cent throughput improvement was simple but also an extremely effective innovation.
Feedback on a plate The first thing kitchen staff wonder when servers return plates from the dining room is: "Are they empty?" They are constantly looking for feedback, collected in real time, to see if their meals are hitting the mark. Each year the menu is changed by more than 70 per cent and they need to be able to test ideas without going into focus groups . Using approaches that passively but consistently measure customer reaction based on that feedback is crucial to the office as well as the kitchen.
We're looking forward to continuing this Recipe for Innovation series and would love to hear from other organizations who want to learn and innovate.
Ted Graham is the innovation leader at PwC Canada . Ted often speaks to audiences about The 5 things I learned about disruptive innovation as an UberX driver and is co-authoring a forthcoming book with Paul Barter called The Uber of Everything: How the Freed Market Economy is Disrupting and Delighting.
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