Categorical Boundaries and Innovation


Mashup or Mashed Potatoes? A report from the Stanford Graduate School of Business looks at haute cuisine for insights about breaking category boundaries to create innovation. Their observations:

  1. culture (i.e., music, food, art) is an area where violating categorical lines can lead to perceptions of inauthenticity
  2. but authenticity is about following the rules, while still being original – a balancing act
  3. the opposing worlds of classical and nouvelle cuisine are based in different philosophies, but as individual chefs began to borrow ideas and techniques the boundaries were lowered
  4. The questions they asked their respondents:
    1. How was borrowing possible when boundaries were ideologically charged and authenticity was important?
    2. What were the repercussions of breaching boundaries?
  5. The chefs who broke boundaries had influence and were copied by others, suggesting that the leaders of a field have more flexibility in their balance between originality and sticking to the tried-and-true (while still maintaining their audience’s support for being authentic)
  6. Innovation corresponds with the weakening of the power of critics over time;” how palatable is the shift from the established rules – those who mediate and influence the tastes of consumers may be a powerful barrier

And from the report itself

In many cases, says Rao, categories sit on ideological fault lines. In the Italian wine industry, for example, a battle is ensuing between entrepreneurs who are turning winemaking into a chemistry business and those who want to retain the old, slower way of production that reflects an entire traditional way of life. “What managers need to realize is that a lot of times they’re operating in cultural space,” says Rao. “If they don’t come up with new ways of doing things that take this into account, their businesses can sometimes be hit hard.”

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