The traditional advice for businesses is to “eliminate inefficiencies.” But a lot of the things that could be labelled as inefficiencies are actually what steer your product away from being a commodity. When you cut out anything that isn’t efficient, you wind up with a cookie cutter product.
Now that’s not to say you want your business to be riddled with random inefficiencies. It’s about what you purposely choose to leave in. It’s about deciding what’s important to your vision and then refusing to cut corners on those things, even if it might save you a few bucks.
“Customer Feedback Not on elBulli’s Menu” [via JK] is a Harvard Biz School look at Ferran Adrià’s restaurant El Bulli (ranked the #1 restaurant in the world). It talks about how streamlining operations at elBulli would turn it into just another restaurant.
There is much about the restaurant that is inefficient, as MBAs are quick to note: Adrià should lower his staff numbers, use cheaper ingredients, improve his supply chain, and increase the restaurant’s hours of operation. But “fixing” elBulli turns it into just another restaurant, says [HBS assistant professor Michael] Norton: “The things that make it inefficient are part of what makes it so valuable to people.”
Before you cut out something simply because it’s inefficient, ask if it’s adding value in some other way. Maybe spending extra to have pretty packaging or fresher ingredients or more durable stitching or a handwritten thank you note or whatever will wind up being why someone tells a friend about you. Often, the “wrong” things you choose to do are what set you apart and make your product unique. They’re the spice that make your dish special.
In the piece, Norton also uses Adria’s approach to highlight the distinction between understanding and listening to customers.
Adrià’s idea is that if you listen to customers, what they tell you they want will be based on something they already know. If I like a good steak, you can serve that to me, and I’ll enjoy it. But it will never be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To create those experiences, you almost can’t listen to the customer…Adrià says he doesn’t listen to customers, yet his customers are some of the most satisfied in the world. That’s an interesting riddle to consider.