Learning from the Fat Duck

Organizational practices that are related to specific technologies significantly influence how firms adopt and use new technologies.

IT still today widely mirrors old manual tasks; sending an email is mimicking sending a physical letter. The vast majority of corporations choose incremental migration paths to the future. Past processes structure present ones. Most firms clearly prefer to use new technologies in the least disruptive way possible, creating as much continuity with past practices as possible. Communication researcher Carolyn Marvin has explained this tendency the following way: “Early uses of technological innovations are often conservative because their capacity to create social change is intuitively recognized amidst declarations of progress and enthusiasm for the new.  There is fear to expose old ideas to revision from contact with the new.”

The preferred incremental migration paths also explain the productivity paradox. Many economists and managers have claimed that information technologies have failed to boost the productivity rate of the firms investing in IT. But new technologies coupled with old ways of doing things cannot generate change in productivity. Manuel Castells claims that organizational and cultural changes are necessary before productivity gains can be achieved. He writes: “For new technological discoveries to be able to diffuse throughout the economy, thus enhancing productivity growth at an observable rate, the culture and institutions of society, such as business firms, need to undergo substantial change.” This statement is very appropriate in the case of the technological revolution centered on information and communication that we are in the midst of today. Why is it then that most firms choose the slow migration path while some are able to learn and change much faster? What kind of revolutionary thinking is needed to benefit from revolutionary technologies?

The Fat Duck is one of the best restaurants in the world. From the very start, chef Heston Blumenthal decided that, far from avoiding new technology and new science in his cooking, he would try to find people who could answer his questions and doubts about the accepted wisdom that was passed from chef to chef.

The timing was perfect. There was already a small group of people, some scientists and chefs who met on a regular basis to discuss the issues of science and technology transforming the habits of cooking. To make sure that the efforts were taken seriously, they coined the term “molecular and physical gastronomy” in 1992. The scientific understanding of the factors that determine the pleasantness of food is of importance, because it provides a strong platform for helping to make foods that are healthy, but are at the same time delicious. Heston Blumenthal thinks that new technology and the art of cuisine have much to offer each other and there is much that can be achieved by using them in mutual support. It is not just about the three star restaurants in the world, but the everyday practices around nutrition.

The starting point is the combination of an experimental chef and new technology.

The leading figures in combining the role of science and the kitchen have been Ferran Adrià, Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal. They don’t like being labeled molecular gastronomists because this interpretation reduces their culinary intentions to a simplistic agenda. Perhaps it is accordingly time to stop calling Google an Internet company. The Internet is not a simplistic agenda reserved for the Internet companies any more. Perhaps we should accordingly stop talking about social media. The timing is now right for those leaders who are willing to doubt accepted wisdom regarding how things are done and are prepared to experiment.

Anyway, it is time to gather and talk, perhaps in the kitchen.


Thank you Joanne Yates and Heston Blumenthal

The San Pellegrino list of best restaurants. About El Bulli