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Innovation Lessons From Coffee

Innovation Lessons from CoffeeSeinfeld built a fabulous career from his observations of the everyday. And, today it’s my turn. Let’s take the important subject of innovation and view it through the filter of something way more important – your daily cup of coffee.

Here’s four innovation lessons you can ponder whilst you savour your latte, espresso or decaf soy hazelnut boosted cappuccino.

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1 What does your coffee habit say about you?

Habits are really useful. They save us thinking time and energy. Every time we brush our teeth, make our bed or cook our favorite meal we don’t want to have to invest large chunks of brainpower to make it happen. We can almost literally do these things half awake.

Simple Stories, Great CoffeeOur habits also have a downside. They kill innovation. When we do the same thing over and over without thinking too much about it we miss the opportunity to do it differently and find a better way.

What’s your usual coffee? I mostly drink a latte. And lately I’ve been exploring filter coffee, I’ve even had a couple of espressos and a couple of days ago I had a cold filter coffee with ice in it! (picture above)

You can probably tell from this I like to explore things. So, what does your coffee habit say about your willingness to try new things? If you’re not willing to test the boundaries then you’ll kill off any possibility of innovation.

TIP: Break a habit to see what it feels like and expose yourself to the emotions of innovation. I dare you to buy a different coffee style today!

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The difference between Tea and Coffee

The Slow Movement - Saviour your cup of teaEverything is connected. And, this is often lost when we tackle innovation. We change one little thing and think that’s enough. However, as nature shows, little drops of water over a long period of time can create the Grand Canyon.

Another coffee example serves a point here.

In Italy, the typical way to drink coffee is an espresso. It’s a quick shot usually taken standing at the bar. It’s a brief encounter that lasts a few minutes only.

In contrast, the English traditionally drink tea. To brew a cup of tea, you need to boil the water then add your leaves. You let it sit for 3-5 minutes and then you savior it as it cools. For me, it often takes 10-15 minutes to allow my tea to cool to a point where I can drink it otherwise I burn my tongue. Ouch!

In contrast, if you boil the water when you make coffee you burn the granules and this affects the taste.

This subtle contrast has created a completely different cultural experience. In Italy, an espresso bar is typically a small space with few seats because you’re only there for a few minutes. Instead, the English have teahouses where you sit and savior their tea for perhaps half an hour.

Also, the volume of drink is significantly different also. A pot of tea consumed in one sitting can be 5-10 times the volume of fluid of a shot of espresso.

TIP: How do your tiny habits shape your environment when they’re repeated over and over? Remember, espressos are fast and served standing up. In contrast, tea is slow and served sitting down.

Why do you drink coffee?

Why we do something can have a dramatic effect on how we want it served to us and business opportunity that follows.

Why do you drink coffee? Do you buy coffee for the energy boost, for the taste or have you simply forgotten?

Ideally, I want my coffee to be an experience. Typically I choose coffee venues where I feel comfortable sitting for 30 minutes to read, talk, write, think or simply watch the world go by. Also, I rarely purchase a take-away coffee and I don’t make coffee at home.

Can you hear there are multiple motivations at work here?

And, therefore there are different opportunities for someone to package and sell coffee. Some people buy take away because they just want the hit, some want the serene environment to sit in and some only make it at home so they can have the convenience and save a few dollars.

TIP: Knowing precisely why your customers do what they do is crucial in being able to offer a precise solution. Start asking your customers exactly why they do what they do.

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Why is it like that?

One of the classic challenges for innovation is that we start out doing something one way, turn it into a habit and completely forget why we did it that way in the first place. It then becomes the undisputable: ‘we’ve always done it like that.’

Earlier we mentioned the Italian preference for espresso. Essentially, it’s a smaller coffee without any added milk. This is in dramatic contrast to the lattes, cappuccinos, flat whites and other coffees that have milk.

In contrast, the French are more likely to serve you a big bowl of a café au lait. And, many of us prefer our latte, cappuccino and flat white coffees that include milk.

So, how did the Italians grow to like it that way whereas others preferred their milky counterpart?

A couple of weeks back I was reading a coffee magazine whilst having my coffee. And, the article I read suggested that the Italians viewed milk as a food – it was something you ate whereas coffee was something you drank. In this context you simply wouldn’t put the two together. Sounds reasonable.

TIP: Pick an issue that you’d like to innovate around and start to find out why it’s like the way it is. See if you can figure out who and why it was created. It might just give you the freedom you want to create an alternative.

COMMENT: Love to hear about your coffee habits and how you can use them to inspire innovation in your workplace.

More: Innovation Lessons from Cooking Curry

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