A Thanksgiving Recipe for Innovation

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This week, in millions of homes across the United States, families will gather for a tradition that has stood the test of time. The Thanksgiving holiday is an annual occasion to celebrate loved ones, make lasting memories, and last but not least, eat for many central people. While we’re planning our Thanksgiving feasts and, at the same time, our companies are strategizing for 2023, it’s helpful to see the similarities between the two.

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For example, your core business is turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy—tried and true recipes that you return to every year and know everyone will love. Then you add some innovative outliers — Aunt Linda’s pineapple marshmallow sweet potatoes, your graduate student nephew bringing vegan chickpea loaf or the complicated but fulfilling TuDuckEn. The newcomers are risky—and often met with disdain—but sometimes they stick around and become the new annual tradition.

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The most innovative companies (and kitchens) know that successful experiments don’t happen in a vacuum. It takes a village—turkey basters, taste-testers, forgotten cranberry sauce left at the last minute—or employees at every level to contribute ideas, experiences, and ideas learned from the field. Through our work with more than 300 companies, we have developed the Outthinker Process, a framework that has generated over $2.5 billion in new revenue and proven to be a winning recipe for innovation success. Whether you’re working on your holiday meals or your intrapreneurial initiative, try this five-step plan to help you get cooking:

1. Imagine: The original Thanksgiving in 1621 celebrated the Plymouth colonists’ first autumn harvest. Collectively, we have maintained a spirit of gratitude and celebration for the gift of food and the blessings of family. When you plan a meal, you have a vision in mind for how you want the day to go—is the focus on creating joy among family members or an unforgettable culinary masterpiece? Similarly with innovation efforts, visualize your end goal. Which North Star will get everyone excited to contribute? What effect do you want to make?

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2. Analyze: In this second step, take a look at your current “traditions” and break down which traditions are working and which are not. Perhaps last year’s stuffing was too dry or the cranberry sauce too sweet—but we keep repeating the recipes because they’ve become tradition. In company, we likewise fall into mindless repetition because that’s the way we’ve always done it. Which traditions should you innovate or completely rethink?

3. Expand: Then it is time to consider your possible options. In our workshops, participants usually come with about two hundred ideas of what their strategic options could be. Consider the elements of your business model: positioning, product, promotion, price, location (distribution), physical experience, processes and people. Just as holiday meal planning might consider menu, location, guests, table arrangement, music, timing or cooking method, these pivot points will give you an idea of ​​where to focus to create something new and enjoyable. Can Like a deep-fried turkey from Southern Cuisine, you may be looking at an entirely different industry for innovative ideas. Or you can add “stuff” (employees and teams) in a new way. Can you invite someone who doesn’t have family nearby or co-host (a joint venture) with a relative? Are any pumpkin shortages or other supply chain disruptions likely to affect you this year? List all the options that come to mind, and include as many as you can.

4. Analyze: In this next step, analyze your options. There may be some crazy ideas (inviting cousin Jim who’s living off the grid in Wyoming?) or some obvious winning moves (buying up early leads to spread your innovation message.) Which of those will get you further? Is it likely to bring you toward your goal? You can cut down on your time in the kitchen by asking everyone to bring their own dish. Similarly, one company I worked with held an “innovation tournament” asking employees to enter any experimental ideas they had that had caught on over the past year. Participants submit videos and winners receive a financial reward for their progress. You can focus the conversation on a new cranberry sauce recipe instead of Uncle Simon’s thoughts on immigration reform.

5. Selling: When it comes to Thanksgiving or organization-wide innovation, none of it will work unless you invite others along for the ride. “Selling” is woven into virtually every step of the innovation undertaking. Leave a lot of people out of the cooking process and you’re trying to convince your family that they can still taste good cold turkey or serve up crispy dinner rolls. Set your innovation teams in isolation, and they may be seen as outsiders trying to force unwanted change. At the outset, tell your guests or your staff about a new dish or new technology, ask what they’d like to see on the table, invite them to share their ideas on how to improve their experience – as much as others. The more people feel they have a plan to participate in, the more willing they will be to get involved and help.

Instead of following the routine of tradition at your table and in your outfit, try something new this year. This doesn’t mean changing everything (100 percent vegetarian, say), but rather thinking about the experience you want to create for your family or clientele, choosing certain areas to innovate (cuisine, music, location). , brainstorming lots of options, choosing a few, and getting your family members (or employees, board members or investors) on board so they get excited and involved.

And of course, a Thanksgiving tradition isn’t what it is without a spirit of celebration and a hearty serving of gratitude. We can apply those same learnings to our organizations — instead of shutting down employee experiments because they’re too risky or a threat to the status quo, listen with gratitude. These are the ideas and ingredients that change tradition for the better. Of course, agree on a time frame and measures of success, but even if an experiment fails, celebrate the lessons learned. By continuing to imagine, analyze, expand, analyze, and sell, you’ll find yourself with a recipe for innovation for years to come.


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