Innovation: The recipe for success

Many organisations struggle to innovate. Large organisations find it especially tough and can find themselves usurped by scrappy upstarts – despite vast research and development budgets that should give them an advantage.

Vaughn Tan, Assistant Professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UCL, thinks that the world’s most influential restaurants have an innovation blueprint that other industries can replicate. He joined us recently – via Zoom – to explain.

For his PhD, Vaughn spent almost a decade observing R&D kitchens at The Fat Duck and other globally-renowned restaurants. Prior to that, he worked for Google. From this unique vantage point, he has concluded that innovation works in more or less the same way across industries.

According to Vaughn, cutting-edge culinary teams are able to innovate consistently because they acknowledge that the future in unknown an unknowable and they actively embrace that – they intentionally adopt an “uncertainty mindset”.

Other organisations – particularly larger ones – often adopt a risk mindset. And they over-invest in managing risk. Not only is this futile – no-one can predict the future – when it comes to innovation, it’s often fatal.

We saw this play out in London’s hospitality sector at the beginning of the pandemic. Smaller businesses successfully overhauled their operating models while many chains – optimised for efficiency and short-term profitability – remained shuttered.

If an organisation of any size is to innovate, two things are key: flexibility and adaptability. That’s because – as Joni Mitchell almost sang – “you don’t know what you’re doing till it’s done”. Learn how we recently delivered a winning growth and innovation strategy for an ambitious rehydration brand.

You can watch a recording of Vaughn’s presentation below. His book – The Uncertainty Mindset: Innovation Insights from the Frontiers of Food – is available from booksellers large and small.