Does Your Business Have a 'Test Kitchen'?

Underneath one of the many Shake Shack restaurants in New York City lives the breakaway restaurant chain's Innovation Kitchen. The full-time team isn't filling the orders of hungry guests; rather they're inventing what diners may enjoy for years into the future. The underground lab focuses all its resources on inventing what's next rather than delivering on today's business needs.

Test kitchens are common among food giants and restaurant chains around the world. They consist of a dedicated team that is focused on the future. Rather than extracting every ounce of efficiency, they often invest heavily to try completely different concepts, knowing that most will fail. The space is equipped with all the latest gear, ingredients, and supplies in order to foster fresh thinking and drive creativity. It's a place where inventive thinking and imagination are cherished instead of extracted to maximize near-term profits.

While the investment is tiny in proportion to a food company’s overall cost structure, these innovation labs play a gigantic role in the organization's ability to drive sustainable success. Test kitchens provide a steady stream of innovation, allowing team members to dream up tomorrow's solutions without being encumbered by today's imperatives. Without a test kitchen, a food company may be able to deliver on expectations for a while but would suffer greatly over time as inventive competitors leave the laggards behind in their creative wake.

If test kitchens are so vital to sustainable success in the restaurant business, why don't we all embrace the same concept in our own industries?

Your test kitchen could be a small brainstorming room, equipped with art supplies and funky seating to enable your team's creativity. Or it could be a small workshop for tinkering and exploration. In fact, your innovation lab could focus on innovations far beyond products and services; what about a test kitchen for improved processes, driving customer engagement, or boosting safety? Your test kitchen can be small, scrappy, and resource-constrained while still delivering a big punch of fresh ideas for growth.

Hospitals around the world have installed their own test kitchen concept called Maker Nurse - a dedicated space where front line healthcare professionals can safely tinker, explore and improve patient outcomes. Nike has a test kitchen in downtown Chicago called the Nike Lab Recreation Center where they invite people from all walks of life to help the shoe company discover new ideas.

Even if you can't dedicate full-time space, at least invest some time and effort to pull the team away from today's deliverables in order to invent tomorrow's solutions. Your test kitchen - whether physical or metaphorical - can yield gigantic leaps forward in growth, efficiency, service, and customer success.

Experiment. Tinker. Investigate. Test. Play. Give your team a chance to let their hair down and explore the limits of their imagination, and you'll invent a delicious path forward.

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