“Leaders aren't just endorsing innovation, they’re involved in it,” said Kevin and Jackie Freiberg during their keynote address at the Association for Healthcare Foodservice’s annual conference last month in Orlando. “Question the unquestionable,” they urged the audience. You can’t innovate without experimenting. You must be willing to try something different and you can’t be afraid to fail.
Those are the common traits among the innovators I’ve gotten to know recently.
In April, I spent two days at Ohio State University with its foodservice director, Zia Ahmed, whose leadership style is more calculated than perhaps the somewhat crazy of Angelo Mojica at UNC Hospitals. At a brunch during the NRA show, the latter warned me that he’d be calling a lot—to tell me about the latest wild idea he was making sing in Chapel Hill. He even came up with a fun name for what he hopes to accomplish with every new product or concept: NEIDI. No one Else Is Doing It.
What struck me about Ahmed’s leadership was his ability to cultivate a team and give voice to 2,710 student and full-time workers, which has led to numerous ideas, improvements and ultimately innovation over his four years at Ohio State. He’s made it safe to question the unquestionable.
Innovation can come in all shapes and sizes. It doesn’t have to be world changing like the iPhone. In the recesses of the massive Ohio Union in Columbus, I saw innovation in how the back-of-house staff organizes its pots and pans by displaying pictures on every shelf to make it easier to know exactly where everything goes.
In the July issue, we feature Michael Rosenberger and Irving Schools as our K-12 Innovator of the Year. Within minutes of meeting him at the Healthy Kids Conference hosted by the CIA in San Antonio a couple months back, he was enthusiastically telling me about the somewhat rudimentary and unique method he came up with to solve the challenge of serving breakfast in the classroom (see Page 30 for exactly how). He just oozed passion for innovation. I think he thrived on solving problems: the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity to find a solution and innovate.
The mark of these leaders is they’ve all created a culture that not only allows for innovation, but encourages it and they’re not afraid to take a chance.
Also in the July issue, you’ll notice a new feature called Last Question. This month we asked a handful of leaders across all segments to tell us the story of the worst meal they’ve ever created. Yes, of course, we hoped their responses would be entertaining, but we didn’t do it to embarrass them or to highlight their failures. We wanted to show that even some of the most well known directors occasionally miss the mark and we want to encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and try something new.
How can you innovate? Let’s go back to the Freibergs, who say one of the keys is to question the unquestionable:
“Step out of the prevailing paradigm. Think like an outsider. Challenge your taken-for-granted assumptions about the way the world works, about your customer’s expectations and what your employees are truly capable of doing.”
And don’t be afraid to fail.
Eric Stoessel, Editor-in-Chief