I just came across an interesting post on Harvard Working Knowledge. Julia Hanna writes about a Harvard Business School case study that shows how Chef Ferran Adrià creates innovative customer experiences in his world-famous restaurant elBulli.
elBulli's numbers are impressive:
Each year, some 2 million hopeful diners vie to be one of the fifty customers he serves each evening for the six months that elBulli, his restaurant, is open.
However, what struck me most about the article was Ferran's focus on creating a unique customer experience. This includes a two hour travel from Barcelon to the restaurant on narrow, twisting mountain roads. Another example is elBulli's mysterious reservations system. It's more like a lottery system. If you are lucky to "win" one of the 8'000 available bookings a year, you are given a date and time to show up. This is everything else than convenient for customers.
elBulli seems to violate any common sense marketing rule (e.g. good location, listening to the customer, etc.). More interestingly, what elBulli does is also the opposite of the new "design thinking mantra" of observing customers and then designing services according to the gained insights.
In fact, elBulli's magic and success ultimately lies in Ferran Adrià's passion and his desire to create a one-in-a-lifetime experience. Now that takes real leadership! And in my opinion leadership is one of the most under-discussed ingredients of innovation. Other great examples of innovation leadership include Steve Jobs at Apple or Elmar Mock at Swatch in the 80's.