Innovation as the Pursuit of Wholeness

ramenTom Edison’s well-known clever line about how he discovered the incandescent light, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” tells us a lot about the nature of innovation, especially innovative service. Being correct can be the enemy of being effective. It is captured in the proverb, “to be a great cobbler, you must fall in love with leather.” Innovation is about the pursuit of the wholeness of an idea, product or in the case of customer service, the wholeness of a relationship.

Ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle dish that, well prepared, is a highly desired delicacy. That’s the back-story for the movie, The Ramen Girl. A young woman finds herself in Tokyo and wants to understudy a master ramen chef who speaks no English; she speaks no Japanese. He’s impatient and demanding; she works hard to be perfect. The climax of the movie (without giving away too much) happens when the frustrated chef takes the equally frustrated protégé to visit his mother, the person who taught him to be a great ramen chef.

Creating ramen, the mother tells the young woman, is not about mixing ingredients in the proper proportion and cooking the broth at the right temperature. In order to make a dish that connects your heart to your customer’s heart, you must put your whole soul into the preparation and presentation, not just your smarts and sweat. It was a turning point. The woman let go of her pursuit of precision and embraced the “from the heart” expression of spirit. Innovative service is like preparing ramen.

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