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Innovation Popcorn

Innovation Popcorn

| On 13, May 2008

James Todhunter

There are parallels visible in all aspects of life.  Recently, my personal experiences in the kitchen served as a reminder of how even small changes can have hidden complexities.

Years ago, based on concerns over the possible connection between aluminum exposure and Alzheimer’s disease, my wife requested that we replace all our aluminum cookware with alternative materials.  Most of our pots and pans quickly were replaced with shiny new stainless steel versions.  However, one pot remained—a pot which we use for one purpose only.  We call it the popcorn pot.

A few weeks ago, we finally got around to buying a replacement for the popcorn pot.  We were looking forward to trying out the new vessel, and so it was with great ceremony that we inaugurated the new popcorn pot to be.  But, all was not well in the land of popcorn.  We followed the ritual popping of the corn ceremony to a tee.  It was a disaster.  The popcorn was poorly popped, many kernels were singed, and there were far too many unpopped kernels.

[IMG title=Popcorn style=”FLOAT: right; MARGIN: 0px 0px 5px 5px” alt=Popcorn src=”” border=0]

You wouldn’t think something as simple as changing the pot would have such profound effects, but the evidence was indisputable and barely edible.  Could it be that the change in pot technology was incompatible with our method for popping corn?  Could the differences in thickness and diameter of the pot’s base be affecting its cooking properties to such a great degree?

It took many experiments with modification of various parameters to test the new corn popping system.  Cooking temperature, preheating the pot, amount of oil used in cooking, and the placement of corn were all varied.  The initial experiments were dismal failures.  Eventually after we stepped back and examined the functional system of popping corn, our persistence paid off.  We found a modified cooking method that worked with the new pot.  Even better, the new method produced superior popcorn than we had been able to make with the old pot.

So where is the parallel I previously mentioned?  Recently, in talking with press and analysts, the topic of green innovation has been a recurring theme.  Many companies are beginning to embrace green programs as important initiatives.  Green means different things at each company.  In many cases, the emphasis of green is finding alterative resources to replace ones that are non-renewable, toxic, eco-harmful, or otherwise considered not socially responsible.  The popcorn pot vignette is a good example in miniature of the challenges these organizations facing in going green.

Consider the situation if you were a snack food manufacturer looking at how to respond to the food versus fuel tension that is growing as a result of growing focus on alternative fuels.  Recent mandates in the U.S. have created higher demand for corn oil.  If you want to replace corn oil in your products, you will quickly realize how big a change that really is.  The impact will of this change will be felt in the supply chain and on the processing line.  The change may require alterations in formulation of your product to avoid changes in flavor, texture, and aroma.  Packaging will need to be altered.  The list goes on and on.

The bottom line is that going green creates many innovation challenges.  A strong complementary innovation program is needed to achieve the corporate goal.  If effect, you need sustainable innovation practice to drive your sustainability initiative.  If green initiatives are pursued in this way, companies will find that going green can be the catalyst which leads to greater operational efficiency and new revenue opportunity.

[Crossposted from]