February 29, 2012
March 2012 is our annual Innovation Issue. Each year this issue gathers up products deemed innovative by judging panels at competitions around the industry as well as notable products spotted by our own staff at a variety of trade shows. We hope you find the information eye-opening. We certainly do.
What constitutes innovation, and what makes really good innovation? The idea of newness, literally “making a thing new,” is core, of course. But some new things are more significant than others. What we focus on in this issue are things that are more than just new. Like judging panels, we look for new things that fill significant needs or solve problems not satisfied by something else.
Henry Ford, disputed legend has it, once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Whether he actually said that or not, the notion raises an important point. Do markets know what their best solutions are or might be? Probably not. People see things in increments. They start with what they know, and they identify aspects they like and don’t like. Which is a great starting point for innovation. But often improvements are only incremental, still based on the original concept. Often that’s not the best way to go.
Think where we’d be if we’d never made the leap from horses and telegraphs and Morse code and sailboats. We’d be thundering around on truly amazing horses, no doubt, and clicking a telegraph key at speeds you can’t even imagine. Submarines? Isn’t the point to stay above water? Well, no. The point is to not drown. See the false assumptions?
Who knew 10 years ago that CDs were such an inconvenient medium for music? What need? Did somebody do a survey and discover some massive discontent with CDs? Doubtful. It wasn’t about CDs or even music, apparently. It was about access, cost, distribution and convenience. Now we have downloads.
What do operators want in equipment and supplies? Well, that list is long. But here is a thing to think about. At last month’s NAFEM Annual Meeting & Management Workshop in San Antonio, attendees took an enlightening field trip to the Culinary Institute of America’s newest facility. What did chefs say they want in E&S? More than once, the first answer was better cleanability. Not that other things aren’t important. Speed, efficiency, effectiveness, safety, all those things matter. Development appears to be on track in those aspects. But for the hands-on folks, cleanability remains a glaring need. Note to self: Nobody, not your teenager and not your chef, likes cleaning. Period.
To make the real gains, we all need to keep our minds wide open and explore the things we’re not thinking about. We need to risk failure from time to time. We need to get free of assumptions and preconceptions. What we knew five years ago may no longer be true. Ask the questions again, and often, and ask new questions, too. Technologies and demographics keep changing the answers. What we knew for a fact a few years ago may no longer be true. Or relevant.