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Innovation Lessons from Cooking Curry

Innovation Lessons from Cooking Curry

How to Cook a Curry

I was talking recently with a colleague about food. In particular, we were talking about some of the ways different food in different countries evolved.

The standout example was Indian food. In India we all know about the heavy use of spices in preparing curries that are cooked long and slow to absorb the flavours. The origin of this is that typically the Indians were cooking meat from animals that had lived a long life and died. They didn’t look after their animals for the primary purpose of eating them. This meant that the meat they were cooking was old, tired and tough. And, the use of spices was to mask the taste and smell of the sometimes rotten meat. The meals had to be cooked on a long slow heat over a full day to soften the meat and for the flavours to be absorbed just so it was edible.

If we skip forward to my modern-day Australian kitchen, the recipe books for cooking an Indian curry are now a mismatch. Many of them still tell me to cook the curry for an extended period of time. Except, I’m cooking with fresh meat, specifically raised for eating and the spices are not needed to overcome the quality of the meat. Whilst I still want the deep exotic flavours to flood the entire meal, the use of spice pastes means I can achieve this quickly and easily. I’ve even experimented with stir-fry curries and the results are fantastic – a flavor-filled meal in minutes rather than hours.

Image: Wikipedia – Chicken Makhani

Losing the Innovation Story

This history of curry points to two very important aspects of innovation.

The first is that when a practice or process, such as a recipe for cooking food, is passed down through the users that follow, we often lose the original story of why we do it this way. In terms of our curry example, the bit about the meat being old, tough and possibly rancid was skipped.

This backstory or history of an innovation is crucial to know why we do things. Capturing this in some way around your important decisions could be crucial in the near future for the generations of users that follower to help them to decide when to follow the rules or not.

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What’s the Context?

A second point that follows from this is to know when the context of the original decision has shifted and may no longer apply.

In the curry example, buying my meat from the local butcher who is bound by health and safety laws in Australia to only sell meat that is fresh, changes the context for making a curry. And, it means I can achieve the same result (a great tasting curry) using alternative methods such as stir frying.

Knowing that the context has change then becomes permission to do it in a new way. How can you achieve a similar result by doing things differently? This deliberate and declared permission for change is crucial to release the creative process to explore, discover and test alternatives.

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Four Innovation Lessons

From our curry story we can highlight four important innovation steps:

  1. Record the context around important decisions
  2. Revisit important decisions when the context changes
  3. When the context has changed – declare it
  4. Declare the opportunity for innovation and give permission to find alternatives

COMMENT: What other examples can you think of where the history of an innovation has been lost and we continue to apply old thinking to new situations?

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