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Fearless Innovation in the Face of Unflinching Change: Part Two

Fearless Innovation in the Face of Unflinching Change: Part Two

08 January 2020

Successful businesses are built by change agents who share similar leadership abilities.

(This is a two-part story. Please click here to read part one A look at leadership qualities required for guiding businesses through change.)

By Lisa Parrish, GMC Editor

Radical change is on the horizon for culinary education. Leading this change will be difficult and fulfilling for educators who have the courage and innovation to see what comes next. These trailblazers aren’t waiting for the future, they are busy now leading, guiding and changing their successful programs.

In the last installment of Fearless Innovation in the Face of Unflinching Change, Robert Iger’s book, “The Ride of a Lifetime” provided concrete examples of specific leadership qualities required for driving his company, Disney, into the future. Those same leadership qualities can be found in educators who are driving culinary education change forward too.

Michael Carmel, Culinary Institute of Charleston department head, was featured last month for his qualities of optimism, innovation, and belief in the positive power of change. This month, Dr. Frank Costantino, dean of Monroe College’s Culinary Institute of New York and School of Hospitality Management, will illustrate Iger’s ideas about fear, perfection, and innovation and how these qualities serve to drive his program forward in the face of change.

Both Iger and Costantino say they are not perfectionists, however many people confuse their styles with that trait. They are both driven to go beyond mediocrity. Constantino said, “What I demand of my students, staff and faculty is that their approach is always to give their best effort and utilize all of their innate and acquired skills to generate an outcome that is undeniable.”

In Iger’s book, he employs a culinary example to explain his sense of perfection. Iger said that he watched a documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” about a master sushi chef who owned a three Michelin star restaurant in a Tokyo subway. In the film, Jiro Ono is in his late 80’s and was still trying to perfect his sushi art beyond all the accolades he had already received. Ono used a Japanese word to describe his relentless perfection pursuit, shokunin, meaning the endless pursuit of perfection for the greater good. Iger stated, “This is what it looks like to take immense personal pride in the work you create, and to have both the instinct toward perfection and the work ethic to follow through on that instinct.”

Another similarity Costantino and Iger share is a lack of fear. Both have honed their skillsets in the corporate world and culinary education sector to understand and mitigate perceivable risks. With past experience, data that supports a position, and strong feelings about right and wrong; sometimes it just comes down to a leap of faith, according to Constantino.

It is this sense of fearlessness that is required to change an industry. “The key to success in innovation is being fearless,” Iger wrote. “Toss out old beliefs. Be innovative, creative and fearless. Take risks. Do what you believe is fundamentally right.” In Costantino's case, he does not feel fear but rather holds a strong belief in where things are going by anticipating the change curve.

Iger is fond of saying “innovate or die,” as was stated in the previous article. Constantino also looks to the future in anticipation of transformational change. He said, “Rarely do people make good decisions when they are back on their heels (in a reactive position). It is necessary to stay positive as leaders and to say, ‘Things are good now. But will it sustain?’”

Costantino offered an example of culinary education’s need for change when he discussed culinary careers that usually begin with long hours, low pay and the expense of a costly culinary education. “It didn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind was blowing in culinary education over the last five years and the impact of gainful employment,” Costantino said.

A tremendous amount of courage is required when a leader decides to change or disrupt a business that is fundamentally working but whose future is in doubt, Iger said. “When you innovate everything needs to change, not just the way you make or deliver a product. Practices and structures within the company need to adapt,” he said.

Iger also touched on changing in spite of tradition - which is a very special concept in higher education. He observed that maintaining tradition generates much friction with every step of change that people tend to fail to innovate because of it.

Questions to ponder
Iger listed several questions Disney’s leadership team asked themselves when considering revolutionary change. How would either you or your institution or program leaders answer these?

  • How do we deliver our products to consumers in more relevant, more inventive ways?
  • What new habits of consumption are being formed and how do we adapt to them?
  • How do we deploy technology as a powerful new tool for growth instead of falling victim to its disruption and destruction?

Perhaps the answer to these questions can help culinary educators courageously plot their future course through change and come out on the other side as fearless and successful navigators of the next chapter in the foodservice industry.