We often hear about the concept of innovation and its’ importance in enhancing the competitiveness of an organization. However, the excessive use of this term has distorted its’ true meaning and content. So much is the overuse and the abuse of this word that it come to signify almost nothing. Due to this distortion we have come to impose to ourselves subconsciously artificial constraints that blind us from seeing the real big picture.
First of all, most people associate innovative organizations with either high-tech startups or large technology corporations such as Apple, Google and Amazon. Nevertheless, an innovative business could be even a small neighborhood barbershop, provided that it does / offers "something different that has impact". After all, the criterion is neither the turnover, nor the technology, nor the industry.
Another limiting belief regarding innovation lies in identifying the concept with the development of a new product. Innovation within a business can appear not in one, but in ten (!) unique ways, such as the revenue model, the organizational structure, the business processes or the product.
The well-known author Scott D. Anthony defines in his book "The Little Black Book of Innovation" the term (“innovation”) as "a process that combines discovering an opportunity, blueprinting an idea to seize that opportunity, and implementing that idea to achieve results". In layman’s terms, innovation refers to something different that has impact. It is important that we keep in mind these definitions, because through them we’ll be able to identify and separate innovative organizations from the crowd.
The Case of Curry Express
An example of an innovative business that breaks all “innovation stereotypes” and perfectly matches to the aforementioned definitions is Curry Express, a tiny Indian street food restaurant that has brought the pulse of Indian gastronomy in the heart of Athens. Curry Express is an excellent paradigm of innovation, in a "saturated" (according to many) market in Greece, the catering sector. In our interview with Ina, the owner of the restaurant, we had the opportunity to explore the key success factors of Curry Express, as well as to taste the unique Indian cuisine in a "street food" version. The restaurant opened less than a year ago and it has been left "untouched" by the COVID-19 pandemic, since it works mainly through delivery service. Curry Express innovation is identified in three main areas: the product, the customer experience and the "production process".
Firstly, it is well-known that Indian gastronomy is associated with rich and intense flavors accompanied by rice, pies and intense spices. The cost for a full Indian meal in Athens usually exceeds 10 euros. In the case of Curry Express, however, the consumer can enjoy a complete meal for just 5 euros (!) without suffering any quality discounts. But how is this even viable for the business? The answer lies in the concept of "product innovation", ie the "development" of a new product that reflects the needs of consumers and is currently not available in the Greek market. No, this has nothing to do with patents, partnerships with RTOs and laboratory analyzes. This innovation refers to the combination of two separate products (in this case main dish with side dish) to form a new one at a much lower cost. This reminds us of T. Freston’s definition on innovation: "Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way." The "bowls" as they are called, contain half the amount of rice and half the amount of cooked food, both enough to satisfy a hungry consumer. As Ina told us, bowls are popular in India, but not in Greece, since Greeks are not familiar with Indian street food.
Another element that got our interest in Curry Express has to do with the appearance of the food. All dishes are prepared in such a way that it is attractive for photography and sharing on social media. This is certainly not something new. On the contrary, if one takes a look at the emerging trends shaping the food industry, he/she will find that the production of "visually appealing meals" is a transformational trend that plays a significant role in the way food is processed and prepared for sale. Food is not just a primary need, but a lifestyle statement or even a statement of political beliefs. If we think that every month around 250 million posts with the hashtag #food are uploaded on Instagram, then we can truly understand the power and impact that social media have on food industry. Therefore, the effective exploitation of this disruptive trend by food manufacturers and restaurants, can help these businesses upgrade their customers’ experience as well as build strong brand awareness. This is what Curry Express so successfully does and this is where customer experience innovation lies in!
Finally, the way in which the “production process” of the restaurant has been organized is also another source of competitive advantage for Curry Express. Typical Indian restaurant menus are excessively long, suggesting a very wide range of food and flavors. On the contrast, a more conservative approach has been adopted by Curry Express with comparatively fewer dishes selected based on speed of preparation and maintaining high quality. The restaurant team focused its efforts on the "standardization" of the production process, while seeking small but equally significant improvements in product quality (incremental innovation). Τhis slight differentiation from the competition gave Curry Express the ability to maintain the high quality of products at a much lower cost compared to other Indian restaurants in Athens, as well the competitive edge needed to stand out from the “crowd”.
The case of Curry Express is a great example of an innovative business that breaks stereotypes and highlights the different ways in which innovation can appear and be implemented within a business or organization. These small differences in the production process, the product and the customer experience, are "the different" that Scott D. Anthony mentions in his definition on innovation. We may not have state-of-the-art technologies, R&D department and a pitch deck, but we do have impact and in the end, this is what truly matters…
This article was originally published on innovationmanagement.se by Seven Sigma consultants.