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Culinary Education Adopters or Disruptors
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Culinary Education Adopters or Disruptors

05 December 2019

A process to begin change that will drive culinary education into the future: Part one.

By Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC

Change is just plain hard. Even the smallest redirection in our lives can cause a fair amount of angst. When the changes are revolutionary in scope, the tendency is to try and discredit them, resist them, or simply hope that they will go away on their own. This is human nature, but in today’s exponential change environment, this resistance can be devastating to an organization and the stakeholders who are attached.

Some organizations cautiously accept change is coming and somewhat-reluctantly agree to adapt to the change. They watch other organizations and when there is no longer any real room for resistance they copy others’ efforts as a way of “giving in.” Some may say, “Better late than never,” but adoption is more an admission of failure to thwart rather than embracing the opportunity. Whether your business is providing a product or a service, it is important to note those on the cutting edge - the ones who follow the environment surrounding their business and enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to move in a new and exciting direction - are the ones who draw attention and set a course for redefinition before it is forced upon them.

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
-Albert Einstein

This two-part article on change is focused on educational products and services and how both must move in the paradigm shift direction and not simply change. Those in education must embrace this reality now.

As I stated in the November Think Tank article, change in education is painfully slow and not in tune with the breakneck speed of today’s business environment change. Education chooses the exhaustive research and democratic debate route, but that only works when the change pace is in sync with that process. Change in the modern world is instantaneous and those who are not prepared will quickly be run over by it. Take a look at how many Fortune 500 companies of 50 years ago that are no longer even on the radar.

“Fewer than 12 percent of the Fortune 500 companies from 1955 are still on the list and 88 percent have either gone bankrupt or merged with another firm.”
-The American Enterprise Institute

So why is this the case? Why do enormously successful companies and business sectors suddenly lose their grip and drift out of our consciousness? An unscientific study would likely point to either mismanagement or failure to innovate and drive the change their industry and consumer demands or will demand.

A brief business sector scan points to industries that are completely different then they were just a few decades ago: communications, transportation, computation, music, entertainment, food distribution, retail, banking, and medicine. These few industries are totally different and have massively changed in just a few years. Within those sectors are examples of multiple winners and losers. The winners are companies that did not resist change, they are not companies that simply adapted to change – they are companies that drove change and they are paradigm pioneers.

Note that education is NOT on that list. Education is one of the last strongholds of complacency, tradition, slow to change, meccas for those who are comfortable with a lengthy process that supports resistance to change. Last month’s article set the stage for this deeper understanding. So, let’s move on. What must be done and why must it be accomplished quickly?

Here are some thoughts on the general process. Next month we will look at specific examples of products and service change initiatives working in other industries and are perfectly positioned for education as the next target.

Stop your current thinking manner
Educators tend to think like educators and are unable to step aside and view things from a different perspective. You are a products and services provider, a visionary who predicts future moves and needs within an industry. You are an expert on all things related to a specific discipline. This is a different hat to wear and one that will help you build new initiatives from creative thought.

Look beyond your business sector
Stop being part of a closed-loop system where educators determine what education means and how it is delivered and consumed. When we actively digest what is happening outside of our field then innovation has a real chance. What can you learn from Amazon, Apple, Google, LL Bean, Facebook, Peloton, and Blue Apron? Think about the possibilities when your thought process is not confined.

Engage with free thinkers
Who is part of your task force groups, committees, advisory panels, or just those informal discussion groups and think tanks? When you align with people who think with reckless abandon then active IDEATION can lead to breakthrough thought.

Eliminate certain words from your vocabulary
The first word to eliminate is “NO,” followed by “CAN’T,” and closely aligned with, “THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS.” It is probably also wise to set aside words like degree, credit, grade, pass and fail. When those words are part of our dialogue then “WON’T” becomes the driving force.

Invite dissident thought
Try hard not to tune out those who have radical thoughts about education. Listen to them, dissect what they have to offer, take notes, and use what they offer as a springboard for innovative discussion. This is what disruptors do well.

Connect with all stakeholders
Leave no group out. Breakthrough ideas in education should involve professionals from other departments, employers, industry leaders, students, alumni, faculty members, and even an occasional facilitator without any allegiance to typical education.

Build in a sense of urgency
I can’t emphasize this enough: CHANGE IS HERE! Don’t delay – it is already nearly too late. There is no time left to work from a slow, encumbered radically democratic system. Action is required if culinary education is to remain vibrant. This is the push that must be used to wake everyone up.

Don’t be afraid to shake things up
Shaking things up is the disruptor’s lifeblood. Some are too slow and blind to see what is taking place. Disruptors take a revolutionary approach rather than an evolutionary one. Be a radical change artist, challenge current thinking methods, propose radical solutions, rally those around you, and build a support cohort. Never accept, “That can’t be done!”

Ask “why” at least five times in every discussion
When it comes down to it, the real reason why the process exists is that people are comfortable with it or uncomfortable trying to change it. In so many cases, the rationale for sticking to the tried and true method is to coddle those who are OK with the status quo and spend their days hoping problems will go away. Simply ask “why” until you unveil the real reason for resistance.

Know that being comfortable is a thing of the past
Being comfortable with how you do things is no longer an option. If you don’t encourage change, then someone else will. If you don’t work fast, then someone else will. If you resist change, someone else will embrace it. This is just the way it is.

Part two of this article will focus on specific ideas for change in education and food for thought as you address change among your peers, administration and reports.


Paul Sorgule, MS, AAC, president of Harvest America Ventures, a mobile restaurant incubator based in Saranac Lake, N.Y., is the former vice president of New England Culinary Institute and a former dean at Paul Smith’s College. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..