Tag: innovation

Does your idea pass The Chilli Test

Front foot, Improvement No Comments

At the end of the Fifteenth Century the America’s were accidentally (re)discovered as a world of tremendous resource, including maize, potatoes and tobacco – products that have altered lives around the world. However, part of the story is of a two–way exchange between the old and new worlds with chickens, bananas and coffee going the other way too, for example.

And all this was in addition to the older trading routes into Asia and Africa. At the time Columbus was trying to find the western route to the orient, the price of black pepper from Asia was at an all-time high and the Ming vase trade was starting to inspire the wealthy and their local potters in Europe.

We think that we live in a connected, global world. I was in rural Malawi recently I was struck how many people who in many ways live life ‘off the grid’ have smart phones and how 3G is pretty ubiquitous – with WhatsApp replacing SMS. A recent National Geographic piece outlined how a little up the Rift Valley the Maasai are using this technology to enrich their lives, to meet a need.

Whilst the speed and scale of these changes is breathtaking, I think we have to go back 500 hundred years for the most remarkable story of ‘spread’ (not the sort you have on toast – but of knowledge).

One of the discoveries in central America was the humble chilli. These days we see spicy chilli’s everywhere: in European, African and Asian cooking – as well as in dishes from its home continent. I think it is probably the most ubiquitous of ingredients. It literally connects the world, cuisines and diets.

What is maybe surprising is it took only a few decades from discovery to global domination. At the time it was discovered many could not afford black pepper to liven up their dreary meals. Spicy hotness was a luxury. All of a sudden there was a new, cheap form of heat and flavour. This product spread the world. And it wasn’t just a spicy idea, but a ‘sticky’ one too – the product is still totally ingrained globally.

At the airport shop in Blantyre, Malawi there were only a few products for departing visitors to spend their remaining Kwacha on – from nuts to ‘Puffs’. One of the goods was Nali Chili Sauce: made from birds-eye chilli’s it is dubbed “Africa’s hottest sauce”.

So the chilli travelled the world. It dominates. It is possibly the most global product . Why?

It met a need. It offers the spice of life – cheaply.

So, does your big idea meet a need? Is your ‘change programme’ (or political view or belief system or business offer – or blog!) going to help others live and improve their lives? Is it affordable or does it have a burdensome cost? Will people want to ‘steal with pride’? Is there are a pull?

Or are you just pushing like mad?


An illustration (impression) of front foot working

Front foot No Comments

I enjoyed visiting the ‘Inventing Impressionism’ exhibition at the National Gallery in London recently. I learnt about Paul Durand-Ruel who is credited with inventing the market for modern art and a number of the contemporary ways of marketing art too (solo exhibitions, gallery lectures etc).

He fought the Salon structure in Paris that had a hold on the definition of ‘good’ art. He supported artists – financially and, more importantly, with encouragement and hospitality. He enabled the, now, hugely popular Impressionism movement to emerge.

What was most impressive was how he had to keep trying new things – as he moved about Europe to escape conflict and as sources of finance for his deals came (and often, went). The chronology listed at the back of the exhibition guide has something significant (both good and bad) happening most years.

Durand-Rule had a vision and, eventually, was successful –  his family business profited from this for many decades after he had established Impressionism most lucratively in the US in the late 1900s and then achieved a breakthrough in the UK in the early twentieth century. The rest, as they say, is history.

You can get an impression of the exhibition following the first hashtag in this tweet.

As the final hash tag indicates, I think the story of Duran-Ruel is great example of what it takes to live on the ‘front foot’.

He was inspired – and acted on what he imagined. He was helped in the implementation and achievement of his vision by working well with his family and a range of financiers and artists (including ensuring a rapprochement with Monet). And fundamentally he had a self belief in his insights and skill.

When looking through the lens of this assessment for Front Foot working, I think Durand-Ruels does well – though probably wouldn’t recognise many of the more contemporary leadership terms (alignments, conflict, meetings), despite his skill for, and leadership of, contemporary art!


Lessons for the NHS…from Vincent Van Gogh

Improvement, Organisations No Comments

A friend recently went to visit the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. She was hugely impressed by the work – and one thing in particular stood out. From the tour, she learnt how derivative Vincent Van Gogh’s work was, in some ways. His oeuvre wasn’t totally unique. He used and combined what he learnt over a short period of time in Paris.

He copied others, for example
– Delacroix in his use of a colour wheel for bold, almost clashing, contrasts.
– Romanticism for its use of texture
– Impressionism and pointillism for pixilation in composition

He added this to his use of a wooden perspective frame to help him get a sense of aspect that alluded him naturally, like the early masters.

He used others’ ideas and strengths – and yet he combined them into something unique and powerful.

He wasn’t afraid to ‘steal with pride’.

The English NHS has been in the news this week. As I have written before the desire to copy other people’s good ideas is at the heart of improvement. Those to learn from might be on the next shift or the next ward or the adjacent profession or the younger recruit or the older team member. Or maybe from far away: this piece  outlines some of the many things that could be creatively pursued in a ‘pick and mix’ – learn from elsewhere – fashion.


Innnovation…in the kitchen: on the importantance (or not) of rules

Improvement No Comments

My nephew is now in his late 20s. Ten years ago, for his 18th birthday, we went to the top restaurant in Cambridge. After the meal we had a tour behind the scenes. Like Heston, there were lots of gadgets and interesting ways to cook: water baths, foam makers…

My nephew went on to work in a top Cambridge college kitchen, then went to university in his mid-twenties and now is a successful estate agent in London.

Like him I have been on a journey – though mine is still a culinary one.

It started out with Keith Floyd. I read an interview with him years ago where he outlined his principles for great cooking: buy the best ingredients you can find, cook them as simply as you can and serve with the nicest wine you can afford. Those rules have served me well for many years.

However, my latest application of those now involves the freezer! This is not the more usual trick of storing small bits of wine or even crumbled cheese – ready to use in dishes. You read about those a lot.

My discovery? Cooking from Frozen. Very little on line.  Am I the only one?

This is not about ready meals into the microwave for a minute longer than they would get starting at fridge temperature. Rather, this approach begins with home cooked food straight from the freezer to a medium-hot oven…

This might be with a dish you have already prepared:
1) A fruit crumble (with my gluten free topping of butter in chickpea and rice flour, but that is another story)
2) Lentil bake or nut roast
3) Chilli skins – left over chicken or fish skins in chilli sauce
4) Gratins
5) etc

The beauty of this method is twin pleasures of soft and crunchy; tender and browned (see photo series here).

However, this style of cooking really comes into its own if you are a meat eater.

Whilst in our home Beer Can Chicken is the total favourite (have a search on google if you don’t know what that is…), the frozen to oven approach is great for individual cuts: such as rib of beef and other roasts; duck and chicken breasts; rack of lamb and kebabs. By the time the meat in the middle is cooked the outside is nicely coloured and textured.

It works a treat when cooking up a combination of potatoes, onions and (frozen) sausages stirred regularly to spread the juices around.

And in casseroles (from coq au vin to one involving chicken, raw onions, parmesan, pepper and cream) it is brilliant – never again the trade-off between tough chicken or hard vegetables.

[By the way, alongside this you can cook what I call ‘potatoes done two ways’: half roast/half baked…both at the same time. Cut in half, put a bit of fat and salt on the cut side, place on tray, cook – don’t move the potatoes on the tray until they are ready and you serve them carefully to keep the crisp edge intact.]

Now, if this was a regular food web site I would say do use a thermometer when cooking from frozen, which is probably a good idea.  However, on the whole, by sight and touch I can tell if cooked (from a catering trick my nephew taught me…I am happy to share more).

The lesson? Do you enjoy following recipes or applying principles or breaking the rules? In the kitchen, in business, in life?


A majestic city (agenda)….with visible ‘water’ flowing in it

Facillitation, Improvement, Meetings No Comments

Keeping the watery (and summery) theme of the last blog going, what makes for a great city?

Last year we considered what gives a place a good vibe. I have travelled to lots of cities over the last year. I think there are a few things that stand out in the most special ones, those with a great ‘Feng Shui’ – from UK regional cities to foreign capitals:
1) Great buildings, often with a mix of striking new architectures, as well as some great old designs too – sometimes with supplemented grandeur from the surrounding mountains or forests.
2) A sense of movement in the place, often due to water running through the city (or when on the coast, around it). This movement of water seems to have a positive impact on the flow of people and energy (from the practical use of ferry’s to culture of the city)

We have written before of the useful lesson from good design: function and beauty – something worth considering in product development, workplace creation and event design.

Additionally, I think a truly majestic city is due to a mix of structure and flow: the visible beauty of both the natural and created environment plus the way that water (and people) move through it.

So The Great City can be a metaphor for an event. The agenda, the structure (the stone, the wood) is one thing – we might think of this as the anatomy.

The water is the other – the physiology, the life, the movement, the surprise.

So, thinking of cities with water running through them, (such as London, Sydney, Paris, Cambridge, Amsterdam, Newcastle, Shanghai etc.) we might want to think of how to moderate meetings to bring the agenda to life.

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Blog = conservation conversations…and more

Improvement, Organisations No Comments

I am having a sustainability focused week from

1) Working with a great conservation client – helping them in their mission to protect bio diversity

2) Through an interesting conversation with an education client about promoting sustainability thinking in Higher Education (drawing on ideas from here)

3) Being encouraged by the launch of the B team & now working at a café in London between calls to Australia and meetings in this great city (sustaining myself personally too).

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New news?

Improvement No Comments

Whilst the repeated themes in the news may seem remarkably familiar (and downbeat), there are a couple of new things going on down-under:

1) The Guardian newspaper has started an Australian edition – some commentary on that move here.

2) And this piece is from one of the first editions, and demonstrates a powerful way of telling the news online.

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Improving improvement

Measurement No Comments

We like the way that various organisations promoting improvement, keep finding ways to communicate things simply and helpfully…

For example, this video from IHI

And this compendium from closer to home.

Tags: ,

Warming up nicely behind the scenes?

Personal productivity No Comments

One of my lasting memories of the Olympics is of a behind the scenes tour of the main stadium.  This programme included sight of the 100m track, under the tiers of seating, for a professional level warm up seconds before the race.

10 years ago I saw a behind the scenes documentary of a gig I had first watched with the festival crowd: the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.  They were hip and a bit grungy live, but the film showed they had practiced intently in a well-equipped rehearsal room minutes before bounding on stage.

As you head in to 2013, what new idea or tool do you need to practice? What talk or presentation do you need to rehearse? What paper do you need to refine? What skill do you need to take time to develop?


Prizes for all?

Think No Comments

I was pleased to get this response to a piece I wrote:

“Really interesting what you’ve sent through, thanks for this – certainly agree and all chimes with my experience. I love your framing of this – curiosity, ignorance, incrementalism and rapid iteration all key, and they need to be deep cultural norms (and reinforced structurally etc as you say). Would be great to talk more on this.”

And what was it in response to – this piece, post a conversation, and pre-twitter…

This model  is one I use to guide me…you might recall it.

I believe, health services round the world need to move from cultural norms that prize the west and north (to south and east) of this sort of compass.

A few things make innovation a prize over copying, still:

1) Personality – I don’t know anywhere that seeks to recruit people with a strength of curiosity (‘Input’ in the Gallup strengths framework if you know it)

2) Training – rarely are new recruits taught the most important three words – IDK (I don’t know)…even now, in the knowledge era. It might get said in passing, but not really modelled and lived by their teachers (ie at level 4 in our values framework www.idenk.co.uk/values )

3) Culture – I think awards ceremonies set the wrong example with none or few prizes for copying and applying; there is the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ (seen in its most extreme form re the treatment of whistle-blowers)…even progressive journals and publishing can prize the new and novel a bit too much too.

4) Incentives – real testing, experimentation and piloting is still not popular enough…rapid implementation is the order of the day (often without the time for learning and synthesising – the transformative not syntactical learning Senge et al have talked of )

So action is needed at the level of Structure, Process and Pattern to rectify this.

Btw, sadly I still think many at top of orgs who call for spread (repeatedly) don’t model 1) and do things against 2-4 on a daily basis”


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