I went to make dinner the other night and was scouring the refrigerator for inspiration.

Chopped (TV series)

Chopped (TV series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Eggplant, chicken thighs, some leftover San Marzano tomatoes were what greeted me. What would you have made? I did a chicken/eggplant curry – it took all of 25 minutes and was delicious. I thought about that as a topic for our Foodie Friday Fun and was reminded again about it as I watched “Chopped” on the Food Network. That show is a cooking competition where the chefs are given a basket of ingredients and told to make something using all the ingredients in the basket, generally in 30 minutes or less. The twist is that there’s always something in the basket that doesn’t go with everything else – flounder, lemons, capers, and olive loaf, for example. Perfect for business thinking, right?

The key to being successful in this sort of improvisational cooking is to step back and think more broadly – and very differently – about the ingredients.  Olive loaf as a seasoning, for example, and not as a protein.  It’s how successful companies think about their businesses.   The iPhone wasn’t thought about as a phone per se but as a communication device with the Internet as an important form of communication.  I suspect it was thought of in an even more broadly way – a handheld computer with voice connectivity, perhaps.

We live in a non-linear world these days.  Thinking in straight lines may move us forward but it may mean we’re missing some fantastic opportunities.  You might think of your company as being in the tech business.  Maybe you need to focus on being in a solutions business.  How does that change how your technology performs or is designed?  The folks in sports realize they’re in the entertainment business – that opens up many new challenges but a ton of new opportunities.

I like Chopped.  Improvising solutions under pressure with seemingly incompatible ingredients is what business today is all about.  It’s inspirational to me.  You?

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