Spoiler alert. As a kid, I grew up on leftovers. I loved everything about them. There’s just something about the taste of spaghetti or meatloaf after it’s had some time to marinate. All of the flavors gelling together allowing the essence of the spices and seasonings to reach their full potential. While most people threw out leftovers, my mom’s food game extended the life of what otherwise would have been just another night of the same thing. Every so often, to be able to have leftover steak mixed in with my mom’s famous chicken and rice…pure food heaven.
Now as an empty-nester and self-diagnosed foodie, my definition of leftovers, or even a home cooked meal for that matter, has changed. So it should come as no surprise that I am known to have a pretty decent collection of leftover dishes from some of Boston’s tastiest restaurants. Inevitably there is that one evening during the week where I just want to go home to a home cooked meal of restaurant leftovers. When mixed together, the cod from the work dinner off Newbury in Back Bay, the best shrimp and grits from my favorite brunch spot in Southie, and the half eaten salad from the Pru, make the best creation of a home cooked meal.
Ask anyone what innovation means, they will likely give you some stereotypical definition that includes ‘new,’ ‘disruptive,’ ‘transformational,’ or ‘Apple’. However, innovation is often about taking pieces and parts from existing experiences and mixing them together in a different way to create something new. Many modern-day conveniences come from combining different elements together. For example, today’s life-saving heart pump is a gardening weed eater and the heart. The printing press was invented by combining a wine press and a die punch. Or one of my favorites, the dramatic mix of circus and street entertainment that created Cirque du Soleil.
Some may argue there’s no creativity or true innovation by combining existing ideas differently. And that, my friends is the problem with how many define innovation. It’s less about being masters of creativity and more about being trained to solve problems that are not immediately obvious. Unfortunately, it usually isn’t as obvious until well after the fact. I mean, of course it is obvious that a company would rent you access to a car that comes directly to you complete with a driver for just-in-time need…in hindsight. When you stop and think about it, the concept of getting from point A to point B via a car that isn’t yours isn’t really novel or disruptive (so says Clay Christensen). But combining the elements of Hertz, limo service, and an app in a different way is.
Now there are some times when leftovers need to be thrown away or you run the risk of some serious food poisoning. No matter. Another lesson of innovation. The most important job of an innovator is to solve problems that meet a need. Once a solution no longer serves a need, toss it and order take out.