On a recent family trip, we visited a pretzel factory (many of our family vacations involve touring food factories) where I learned two interesting things about the classic hard pretzel.

First, it’s a relatively new innovation. All pretzels were soft pretzels until the owner of this particular bakery realized that pretzels left in the oven longer were more shelf stable.

The second was that our tour guide didn’t love the modern pretzel. Most pretzels today are made through the use of extrusion. Dough under pressure is squeezed into molds that form the shape (food doesn’t sound as appetizing when you say extrusion). She demonstrated how pretzels were hand twisted and formed a knot in the center. No hand twisting; no knot. Pretzels with knots just tasted better to her.

For our guide, the knot was the essence of the pretzel. Extrusion just left it out.

Change is hard. Probably harder than a pretzel.

Anyone who has tried to shift organizational culture or make a change in the way that an organization will tell you that. No matter how much planning that you do, something always seems to get in the way of making changes stick. You might get a few people to make the shift, but there is always a stubborn few who just don’t make the change.

Change agents come up with all sorts of names for this group of people. Laggard is probably the most polite; pain in the neck is another. Usually, change agents are so frustrated by this group that we don’t bother to understand why. We just want them to get with the program.

What we often miss are the little details that make an experience, a process, or even a food better. When we fail to ask questions about what makes something work, we miss these details and risk alienating part of the group that we are working with. Effective innovation requires gaining as much perspective as possible so that you don’t miss the “pretzel knot” of your change.

At another stop on our food tour, we learned that an ice cream company had removed the green dye from their mint chocolate chip ice cream, only to replace it a short while later. As an ingredient, the dye was an addition and not part of the mint flavoring.

Why? Because when people looked at white ice cream, they couldn’t taste the mint as much. Our eating experience is as much with our eyes as it is with our taste buds. Their customers were conditioned to think of mint as green and with their eyes open couldn’t taste the mint.

A similar phenomenon was probably at work with our tour guide. Without seeing the pretzel knot, the pretzels just weren’t as good to her. It didn’t matter to her that extrusion was a faster process to get the same dough into a pretzel shape. For her, it just wasn’t a pretzel anymore and she couldn’t bring herself to love them the same way.

When we innovate, we need to figure out what the pretzel knot is that makes the current way work for our clients. Without this, we run the risk of making everything taste like it was extruded.

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