Same ingredients, different result. Is it in the giant leap or the small but critical step?

Most cakes are made with the same essential ingredients – flour, eggs, milk, butter, etc. However, the way in which those ingredients are measured, added, and mixed can produce very different results. Our most famous chefs can take the same ingredients we use at home and combine them in a way that we can’t even imagine and yet the minute we see it we wonder why we never thought of it. Business is much the same.

Contrary to popular belief, Microsoft, for example, were not the first to launch a desktop computer with a graphical user interface that allows a user to use it with various windows and buttons. That was done by a company called Xerox PARC in 1973 but it’s the Microsoft version that catches on.

Monopoly wasn’t the brainchild of the Parker brothers. They purchased the patent from a bloke called Charles Darrow. He, in turn, appears to have nicked most of the game from a lady by the name of Elizabeth Magie, who patented her version in 1903 and called it The Landlord’s Game. Nonetheless, it’s the Parker Brothers 1935 version that we know today.

In 2010, Steve Jobs walks out on stage and introduces the iPad. At the time it’s hailed as something totally new, but it wasn’t. The computing industry had been trying to create a tablet for more than 30 years but none of them had caught on. Apple didn’t create anything new with the iPad – they simply introduced their variation of what everyone else had been doing. It was their interpretation of the accepted tablet recipe and it consisted of exactly the same ingredients – wires, chips, screens, cases, motherboards, and so on. All of which were available elsewhere and all of which, for the most part, were not even produced by Apple. Yet Apple was able to combine them in a way that, as soon as we saw it, we all wondered why all the others hadn’t been done this way.

It begs the question: where does the real value of innovation reside? Is it in the ability to discover something previously unknown or in the ability to combine what is already known in a different way? Is it in the giant leap or in the small but critical step? Is it in the creation of something new or in doing something old so well that it becomes new?

Our chef friends offer an interesting clue. Every famous chef in the world seems to be known for one dish. They all seem to have a signature dish. It’s something they do better than anyone else. Jamie Oliver’s signature dish is a steak sarnie while Gordon Ramsay’s is a Beef Wellington. Wolfgang Puck is known for his Pork Schnitzel. Daniel Humm is a world-famous Swiss chef who rose to fame in the United States with multiple award-winning elite restaurants and if you ask him his signature dish, he will tell you… wait for it… granola.

There’s nothing new here but each of these chefs do a version of something that is so good and so right, that it becomes hard to imagine it being done any other way. Except that imagining it done another way is exactly what all of them did. So did Steve Jobs and Apple with the tablet. So did the Parker Brothers with Monopoly. So did Microsoft with the desktop computer. All of them took the same ingredients that were available to everyone else and changed the way they were measured, added, and mixed to deliver a completely different result.

There is no reason your business cannot be the same. Take what you’ve got and mix it up a little. Take the same ingredients and try to come up with a different recipe. Make your cake stand out. Find your signature dish.

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