Recipe For Success

04 Nov 2005|Darrel Rhea

My wife bakes a cookie that my boys and I think is the best in the world. “A keeper!” we declared after she first tried a recipe she got last year from Cook’s Illustrated. She whipped up a batch just this evening, in honor of our son visiting from New Zealand. Ummm. The fragrance of the cookies baking brought to mind the recent New Yorker article by Malcolm Gladwell about a long-time Cheskin colleague, Steve Gundrum. Steve heads Mattson & Co., a food R&D firm that innovates products that you probably have on your shelf, if not on your table, right now.

But this isn’t about cookies, much as I like to ponder them, or the interesting story Gladwell weaves about Steve’s Delta Project and the Great Bake Off. It’s about…yes, you guessed it: Innovation. And it’s about how to fashion a recipe for success for innovation that’s a keeper.

If you read the article, and I think you’ll enjoy it, you see a pattern here of what it takes to develop truly innovative products and services. In this case, it was about developing a cookie that eclipses balance of the health properties and taste of packaged cookies currently available. That was what the Delta Project was about on the surface. More to the point, Gundrum was experimenting with ways to create an alternative method for developing food products, beyond the standard food industry methodology. It was definitely not the packaged approach. He built several teams – one emulating the open source movement in software (hey, chips are chips), one reflective of the extreme programming (XP) movement and one, well, á la Mattson, which followed the process that has resulted in the creation of packaged goods you know and love. It was determined that a Bake Off with hundreds of families testing the three recipes would make the final determination.

Not surprisingly, the results of the processes of the respective teams is very much in alignment with what we at Cheskin have experienced for decades working with our clients, and many times with Mattson. First, it takes a focused commitment. In this case, it was Gundrum’s visionary leadership that drove the thinking, built the teams and set the direction. Second, it takes a team comprised of just the right players. Here, in Delta project, the winning team was Mattson’s own people, all experienced, focused – yet able to open up mentally to allow the kind of lateral thinking before funneling to the solution. Additionally, conditions need to be right for the kind of communications and collaboration for a team to effectively build on each other’s creative thinking. But ultimately, it’s what the customer likes the best. Regardless of what all the teams had come up with, Gundrum’s asking the hundreds of families to taste for themselves and tell him what was successful was what defined “success.” Without that critical data, the process and the product would have meaningless

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