A cover story in the Times today told the story of a restaurant that personifies innovation. Eleven Madison Park is a New York City restaurant that was owned by one of the most famous restauranteurs in the world, Danny Meyer. Six years ago he brought in a partner, Daniel Humm, who transformed it from a popular bistro to a Michelin-star-rated, James-Beard-award winning destination with a 200 person waiting list for dinner. Last year Meyer sold it to Humm—possibly because the next step in innovating was a bit off the charts.
After Labor Day the restaurant will take a leap and become a new kind of dining experience for which there is no precedent. It includes food, decor, presentation and entertainment created exclusively for the diners based on a theme of New York City.
Many businesses make changes to their business model when they are challenged. This restaurant is making changes just at the moment it is at the top of its game when it has everything to lose. In the risky world of innovative ideas, this takes the cake.
The plans to change this restaurant from a wildly successful eatery to a new definition of dining out provide an example of what true innovation looks like.
The owners are taking a significant risk.
Since there is no precedent, there is no way to know if the new model will pay off. By definition, innovation is risky.
Logic says it can’t work.
Some say that no one will take that much time with a meal in a city where people are constantly on the run. The price is going up. In a down economy, people may not pay more to go to a restaurant. The fact that conventional wisdom is contrary to the idea is key to being innovative. It’s why innovation is so risky.
The inspiration comes from outside the industry.
Extreme innovators don’t look to the history of their business for their next new idea. Humm’s muse is Miles Davis, a jazz musician. Humm is improvising on themes that are cutting edge and augur the future. Steve Jobs took his fascination with design to reinvent a computer experience that included all text and green backlit screens. Cirque du Soleil transformed a traditional circus by taking its inspiration from outside the world of sideshows and tent performances.
The concept turns some people off and excites others.
An original idea takes a stand and inclines potential users to do the same. For every guest who has said that this is not the restaurant they used to love, there are as many who are excited about the prospect of the reimagined version. That’s great marketing. People are dedicated to your product because they feel strongly about it. People don’t feel strongly either way about store brands and standard fare. But the kind of devotion that causes people to pay extra for extraordinary products also turns a lot of people off.
The ideas tap into human needs and drives .
Humm’s goal is to create a grand experience that is fun. His restaurant will not just be about great food and service. It may be expensive but if the experience is extraordinary, like that of an iPad or a performance of Circque du Soleil, people will prioritize the expense as worthwhile, because it satisfies more than basic needs. It offers excitement, education and fun.
The ideas relate to cutting edge trends.
The plans for this innovative restaurant coincide with emerging trends. The big payoff for innovation lies in the fact that the landscape for business, technology, and every other human endeavor changes quickly and those that can see the future win. The trends that Eleven Madison Park is tapping into are hand-crafted, local, and artisan products, as well the importance of consumer experience including entertainment that drive buying decisions.
The ideas are driven by the passion of a visionary individual.
Extreme innovation is the vision of one person. He or she will depend on the support, talents and input of others, but it is an uncompromising view of an as-yet-unrealized future, that is at the basis of all great innovation.
Will the restaurant succeed? There is no way to tell, but it has the earmarks of a business that could succeed. It’s not innovation for its own sake. And that brings us to one reason that this idea has a better than even chance. It was developed by someone who is expert in his field (he’s got that 10,000 hours behind him) and is passionate about making a new venture work.