What the birthplace of Buffalo Wings taught me about innovation PLUS a Bonus


Last week I visited  the Anchor Bar in Buffalo NY where on March 4th, 1964, Teressa Bellissimo invented Buffalo Wings.   Eating Anchor Wings for the first time taught me an important lesson about innovation. 

My wife Debbie and I along with our two dogs and cat were making our summer migration from Cincinnati to Prince Edward Island.  For decades when we drive past Buffalo I have thought about visiting Anchor Wings.   This summer, because of a change in travel times, we stayed over night in Buffalo so I got my chance. 

I was really excited about experiencing the true, the original, the "top chef" of chicken wings.   After getting the animals settled, I went out for take out and brought the wings back to Debbie. She listened as I told the story of the invention of wings.   We reached in and took one bite then another. 

"What do you think?"  I asked. 

"They're ok.  They're not bad...nothing special." Debbie said

UGH - I had to agree. It was  incredibly disappointing.   In their day they were probably magical.  However as time has passed....Anchor Wings are stuck in time.   They've been copied,  transformed, and taken to new heights by others.   

I'm actually being a bit unfair.   They have found a way "market" their same old wings.  When I hesitated when ordering the hostess advised me "we have a special tonight when you buy a large pizza. You get wings...."

Ahhh....the ultimate solution when you are marketing a commodity......if you're not unique you better be cheap.  Importantly, Meaningful Uniqueness comes from the product or service - not marketing message.  

Being the first with a commodity is still a commodity.   In the case of Chicken Wings it's what it tastes like in your mouth.  And truth be told, the finest wings I've ever had are those crafted by my friend Toby Lay.  He uses an innovative spice rub, slow smoke process for cooking and a unique twist on sauces. 

There was a time when you could put a fancy marketing message on the same old thing and get away with it for a period of time.  Today, with the Internet and social media putting a fancy "message" on the same old thing is a losing strategy.  

 People ask me "When will we be able to stop innovating?"  My answer is what Deming master Walter Werner told me...never.    To thrive you need never ending, continuous innovation.i

And this is hard for most people.   Most see change as something to be done only when you MUST do it.  This mindset needs to change and the change must happen from within each individual.  Each of us must make never ending change the new normal.   And, as Brad wrote in the No Guru Required Blog Post last Friday - this means we need to unleash the natural curiosity within each of us.   

To my Canadian friends and relatives have a wonderful 150th anniversary celebration July 1.  

To my USA friends and relatives have a wonderful July 4th celebration. 

SPECIAL BONUS:  This just in from Walter in response to a first draft of this Blog Post. 

What is innovation but a curious mind(s) looking at something from a different angle or need? You can never stop innovating because that assumes that your competition know and unknown are lazy brainless oafs. I am very sorry but they are not! They are desperate, curious, envious, hungry, proud and ambitious. How can any intelligent human being assume their competition is anything but every bit as consumed with success as we are?

Did you know that nachos used to be a local food at Texas Stadium? One night on Monday night football Dandy Don bragged about Nachos on network TV and the rest is history. Remember that IBM could have dominated the PC market and the diskette market. All they could see was big mainframes. They weren't even interested. The PDSA wheel spins when anyone spins it. There is no magic involved in finding out the secrets of science, medicine, music, math, psychology, politics, business or any other discipline. If you are too short sighted, too complacent, too lazy, or just too unlucky someone else will improve on your original idea and lock you right out of the market.

Customers are never satisfied. They may be pleased at the moment but they have zero loyalty. They can't afford it. Their competition is well described above. If a customer becomes complacent then your customer is already going out of business. They can't afford anything but the best things available today and even better things tomorrow. 

If you really don't want to be involved in continuous improvement, if you really don't want to be involved in never ending innovation, if you really don't understand this single point: then it's really time to retire. You have already turned off your brain so you might as well be honest and remove your body as well.

The general manager of the Nashua Chart Division would show me the calendar on his wall every time I visited him. He was counting down to his last day before retirement. At the same time his biggest customer HP was demanding action on continuous improvement. 

Never means never. There is no alternate meaning. Continuous improvement means never ending improvement. There is no alternative meaning. You either want to work hard to prosper or you want to lie down and die. Working hard while doing nothing productive is not trying to prosper, it's delusion. 

Be honest and be tough, there is no time left for pampering lost souls. I used to wonder why Dr. Deming had to be so brutal on our reluctant managers. He knew that Dr. Nelson and I would sooth them later and then show them how to avoid repeated beatings. I no longer have time to be somebody's nurse. Either we will scare somebody straight or their competition will take everything without resistance. 

I am well thank you. I hope this finds you well also.

Have I helped you?

Yes Walter you have helped me and many other "kindred spirits."  It is our mission to enable the innovation mindset.  The mindset is not an all or nothing proposition.  To some it comes quickly. To others it takes time to teach it.  It takes time, because as Dr. Deming famously said "How could they know?"   And thus we educate, educate and educate.  We do this because we believe that within everyone is curiosity and a desire to do meaningful work.