Although I am probably the last person who should be writing about creativity, I recently learned the “secret” of one of the most successful chefs of all time, an approach that can drive creativity in any industry. While reading The Sorcerer Apprentices: A Season At el Bulli by Lisa Abend, the book highlighted the key to Ferran Adria’s success. Adria’s El Bulli is arguably the most successful restaurant ever, voted the world’s best restaurant five times (2002 and 2006-2009) before closing in 2011. Ferran achieved these incredible accolades by continually innovating, not only creating new dishes but creating a new type of cuisine (molecular gastronomy).
The nucleus of this creativity was one guiding principle: don’t copy. While culinary history and achievements had been based on an original set of recipes that a talented chef would hone, polish or reimagine fitting their own vision, Ferran took a different approach. He would never start with someone else’s recipe and tinker with it. As Abend writes, “Ferran started only with himself, with his own ideas.”
Ferran built on this philosophy every season. Not only would he not copy other chefs (past or present), he would not copy himself. Every single dish was a new creation. He also did not institute a formal process to come up with new dishes, instead constantly brainstorming with his top colleagues. The lack of a formal process ensured that every dish would be new and unique, not an evolution of a previous dish.
Not for everyone
While Ferran built arguably the most creative and acclaimed restaurant ever, I am not advocating that we all start to build products in this manner.
- First, there are very few Ferran Adria’s in the world. If I tried to create a dish without looking at a recipe, it not only probably would be inedible it is more likely than not to be poisonous. If someone does not have the innate artistic ability to come up with a work of brilliance, they are unlikely to create a work of art.
- Second, focusing on creativity often does not optimize profitability. While El Bulli won best restaurant five times, it was highly unprofitable, with Ferran making most of his money by leveraging his celebrity nature. You can often make a much higher return by building on a great concept (look at Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack) than creating the best and most unique.
Ideally, you find a way to do both. By integrating true creativity into your offering, without building your entire business around the creativity, you can find your Blue Ocean. You can have an offering that appeals to both the traditional customer and a new set of customers who appreciate the creativity you provide.
- Chef Ferran Adria’s El Bulli, arguably the world’s most acclaimed restaurant ever, achieved its success with an unmatched level of creativity, delivering incredible new unique dishes year after year.
- The creativity was driven by a simple philosophy, don’t copy.
- Adria would never start with someone else’s recipe and tinker with it. He would also never copy one of his previous recipes.