Today I was reading my favourite creative book, A Day at elBulli: An insight into the ideas, methods and creativity of Ferran Adrià. At elBulli, Ferran’s restaurant, they create food experiences by inventing new ways of cooking and eating that have never been attempted before. The restaurant has 3 Michelin stars, and won “Best Restaurant in the World” four years in a row from 2006–2009. In 2010, Ferran Adrià was awarded “Best Chef of the Decade” by The Restaurant Magazine.
So how does an internationally renowned restaurant continue to innovate year after year? One of elBulli’s secrets is that all ingredients are classified into product families. For example: Fish, Flowers, Fats, Salts, Sausages, Juices, Sauces… These families become lists that a chef can use to make new dishes. She can decide to use a different flower, a different kind of fat, a different condiment, and the dish will be altered.
But it’s not just about the ingredients. The core of their creative process is something they call the Technique-Concept Search. They describe a technique as something that takes a series of ingredients and transforms it. Like how we make omelettes, salads, or sorbets. They are always on the look-out for new ways, new techniques, for making food. Some of their tamer discoveries have included savory ice cream and hot jellies. (Think about it, have you ever had hot Jello before?) In the creation of new concepts and techniques, Ferran’s team uses the following methods: association, inspiration, adaptation, deconstruction, and minimalism. In the book, they often state how difficult it is to describe these methods—especially things like inspiration or minimalism—which are subjective in nature and rely more on experience than following exact instructions.
As a Creative Director with my own set of tools and systems, I couldn’t help relating elBulli’s methods to that of Michael Michalko’s Thinkpak. The Thinkpak is a series of cards used to help push your ideas further, to experiment, to innovate. The cards are variations on the SCAMPER method, a clever acronym derived from Alex Osborn’s 9 principles for manipulating an object. I have listed these principles below, and placed elBulli’s methods in parentheses:
Substitute (ingredient swapping by classification)
Modify/Magnify (see next paragraph below)
Put to another use (inspiration)
Modify and Magnify come into effect when elBulli considers the entire experience through the lens of the guest. How do they experience the food through all of their senses? The chefs think about how the food tastes, of course, but also how it looks, smells, feels (textures), and even how it sounds to their patrons. Lastly, they think about the emotions brought on by the food through memory, association, and the atmosphere at the restaurant. They call these emotions the sixth sense.
elBulli is now closed, but the inspiration and creativity will live on through the elBulli Foundation: a combination museum and think-tank for creative cuisine. Ferran and his team are some of the most creative people in the world, but it is important to remember that they became that way through a conscious process. They created a system to classify common ingredients. They transformed existing cooking techniques and discovered others by adhering to a philosophy of innovation principals very similar to SCAMPER. And finally, they created experiences for the customer that considered every conceivable layer of sensation.
If you want to be the best, most innovative company/business/agency/school/hospital/franchise/corner store/entrepreneur in the world, feel free to adapt these same techniques for your industry.
To sum up, make creative PIE:
- Process: Alter your processes (and look for new ones) with tools like the SCAMPER method. What changes have the most promise? What works best?
- Ingredients: Categorize and switch up your ‘ingredients’ (the elements that make up your product or service). Mix and match until you have exhausted all possibilities.
- Experience: Put yourself in your customers’ shoes (as well as their hats, pants, shirts, skirts, coats, and even underwear). How do they perceive you or your product? How do they feel when they experience it?