Cupcakes and Innovation – It’s all about Experimentation

Cupcakes and Innovation – It’s all about Experimentation 150 150 Jason Lauritsen
Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

Today’s fun fact that you may not know about me is that I’m married to a pastry chef.  My wife works in the art of desserts, but lately she’s been focused on cupcakes since cupcakes are hot right now.  One of the cool things that happens in our kitchen is the creation of a new cupcake recipe.  The process is fun to watch and participate in (particularly the taste testing). 

Her process starts with some kind of inspiration for the flavors.  Most recently, she’s had two cool new cupcakes she’s been working on.  The first was to create an “Irish Car Bomb” cupcake.  For those of you have been bartenders in the past or who come from communities where St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated with more fervor than New Year’s Eve (as it is in Omaha), you know that an Irish Car Bomb is a alcoholic drink/shot/”bomber” comprised of dropping a shot glass filled with Bailey’s Irish Creme and Jameson Irish Whiskey into a pint class filled with about 4 ounces of Guiness beer.  We have a friend who challenged my wife to turn this drink into a cupcake last year during St. Patrick’s Day festivities.  She has now perfected it.  And it has become my favorite cupcake on earth.  
The most recent inspiration came over dinner with friends recently.  A dessert was ordered at the table that was called a Mounds Bar.  Without being too inappropriate, one of the women at the table described eating this dessert as a “peak” experience.  Suffice it to say that she was a big fan of it.  Again, a challenge was made to turn this dessert into a cupcake.  And, so the process began.  
Once she has found her inspiration, the way the new cupcake comes into existence is through a lot of experimentation.  Generally the first batch of a new experiment is just the jumping off point.  We taste them and decide what needs to be added or changed in the next iteration.  Then she tweaks the recipe and makes another batch.  We taste, make recommendations and she does it again.  The process continues until she finds a recipe that she is satisfied will wow her customers.  
So, why all the cupcake talk?  Well, I think this process of creating a new cupcake is one that we can learn from in our work.  Yesterday, I sat in on a webinar hosted by that was titled “Early Adoption: Against HR’s Nature?”  which explored the adoption cycle of new technologies, particularly in the HR space.  The session reminded me how we’ve come to think of innovation as a major transformation event.  Our expectations of innovation are so big, that it can feel overwhelming at times to even talk about it.  That’s why we sometimes chase and implement shiny new software products to great fanfare.  We feel like innovation needs to have huge impact, that’s it’s a “go big or go home” endeavor.
But the truth is that most innovation happens the way that my wife creates new cupcakes.  It’s not a huge leap all at once, but rather a series of small steps that ultimately result in an outcome that does have significant impact.  There are a few other lessons from cupcake creation that I think have broad application.
  • Look for inspiration outside of your field.  The idea for a new cupcake rarely comes from another cupcake.  In HR, there are lots of places to look for inspiration.  Study sales for influence, online dating sites for recruitment, sports for team building and skill development.  There are great models all around  us that we can use as inspiration for our work.  You just have to be curious enough to notice them.
  • Experiment a lot.  When you are trying to change things, some times it might take a few different trials in order to find the right approach or solution.  Keep tweaking and testing until you find something that works.  Then run with it.  
  • Creating something new requires that you fail along the way.  Failure is simply information that helps you decide what to do next.  By approaching innovation as small steps, the failures are far less fatal and easier to survive.  
Innovation isn’t a thunderstorm with flashes of lighting and booming thunder.  It’s more like the small river that gathers water from many sources and slowly, and almost unnoticed, carves a canyon out of the countryside over time.  
1 comment
  • Doug Shaw

    Some great learning as a result of trying different things. I'm inspired by the approach – nice work and I hope to taste some of these super cakes myself one day. Cheers!

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