Four Pillars: Thinking more about the consumer and innovation

I’m a big fan of Richard Corrigan, and of the Lindsay House. I’ve known him for more than a decade now, and think his attitude and approach to food, to cooking, to the entire experience of eating food in a restaurant, it’s something close to my heart. A passion for what he does, the talent and flair to do it, yet the ability to avoid taking himself too seriously while he does it. He so obviously enjoys what he does, it’s a pleasure to watch him at work.

What does this have to do with innovation? Here’s a sideways look, akin to my long-ago post about the Meringue Moment. Something serendipitous and creative takes place when a consumer seeks to apply someone else’s innovation.

Think of an innovation as a recipe. It has some ingredients, some directions, some advice. And an expected outcome. Of course, when the innovator is as talented as a Richard Corrigan, the outcome is worthy of a Fritz Brenner. [BTW, thank you Wikipedia. Only Wikipedia could possibly have given me a reference to Rex Stout’s fictional detective Nero Wolfe’s cook, the man of 289 cookbooks. Bravo!]

Many years ago, I intended to have a number of close friends over for dinner, and wanted to cook them a Sea Bass with Coriander a la Corrigan. I really wanted to cook that particular dish, had done it a few times, but that particular time I had a problem. I knew that two of the guests didn’t like coriander, which they called cilantro, while the others absolutely loved it.

I happened to be at Lindsay House, and late that evening, mentioned my problem to Richard. His answer was predictable. You’re not cooking it, I am. And so he did. Dinner for eight chez JP prepared by the irrepressible Richard. What he also did was to tell me how the ingredients fitted together, so that I could play with that dish as much as I liked later. Which I did, and continue to. Wish I had more time to do it, though.
In similar vein, I was watching one of those interminable Cooking-On-Television programmes over Christmas many years ago, if gentle snoring and the occasional raised eyebrow could be termed watching. And then I sat up. There was a guy talking about things to do with leftover turkey. Boring. This particular time, he was talking about making a variant of the classic takeaway peking duck with hoi sin sauce and pancakes. Also boring. If it walks like a turkey and talks like a turkey, it’s a turkey.

What got my attention was that he moved to the subject of making pancakes. And how to make them as thin as the takeaway restaurants make them. He said, Roll the flour/water into a long snakeline cylinder maybe half an inch in diameter. Nothing new there. Cut the cylinder into half-inch segments. Done that, worn the T-shirt. Cut each segment into half again. Card-carrying member. Now take each pair of quarter-inch segments, place a little oil between them and then stick them back together and roll out the compound half-inch double segment into a flat disc. Aha. He had my attention. Steam the double disc and separate into superbly thin pancakes after steaming. OK! He had solved my problem.
The point was, I wasn’t interested in cooking pancakes but chapatis. I wasn’t interested in steaming the chapatis. I wanted to cook really thin chapatis but they kept tearing, despite strenuous experimentation in the flour used, the amount of water, the fineness of the flour, whatever. And the technique worked, and my chapatis were thin rather than doorstop-like.

The technique was the innovation. As a consumer I could apply that technique to whatever I felt like, and creativity could flow. Innovation happens when the consumer applies an innovative technique to work on  purposes that were not considered by the originator of the technique.

Much of teaching maths at school works on a similar principle. The first time my maths teacher asked the class “128 players. Knockout tournament. Assume no draws or replays, that every match has a result. How many matches in the tournament?”. And the class went 64+32+16 etc etc. Then he said. “Think about it. Only one winner. How many losers? So how many matches?“. Once we’d seen the technique, we could apply it in myriad ways.

Much of innovation is in creating a new perspective on an old thing. Much of the value of the innovation is taking that perspective and applying it to unplanned horizons and landscapes. That’s what customers do.

2 thoughts on “Four Pillars: Thinking more about the consumer and innovation”

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.