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Uncertainty Mindset: Innovation Insights from the Frontiers of Food

by Vaughn Tan Columbia University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 304 pages
AU$57.99 NZ$61.73
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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Innovation is how businesses adapt to market conditions that change in unpredictable ways. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, high-end cuisine underwent a profound transformation. Once an industry that prioritized consistency and reliability, it turned into one where constant change was a competitive necessity. A top restaurant’s reputation and success have become so closely bound up with its ability to innovate that a new organizational form, the culinary research and development team, has emerged. The best of these R&D teams continually expand the frontiers of food—they invent a constant stream of new dishes, new cooking processes and methods, and even new ways of experiencing food. How do they achieve this nonstop novelty? And what can culinary research and development teach us about how organizations innovate?


Vaughn Tan opens up the black box of elite culinary R&D to provide essential insights. Drawing on years of unprecedented access to the best and most influential culinary R&D teams in the world, he reveals how they exemplify what he calls the uncertainty mindset. Such a mindset intentionally incorporates uncertainty into organization design rather than simply trying to reduce risk. It changes how organizations hire, set goals, and motivate team members and leads organizations to work in highly unconventional ways. A revelatory look at the R&D kitchen, The Uncertainty Mindset upends conventional wisdom about how to organize for innovation and offers practical insights for businesses trying to become innovative and adaptable.

PrefaceAcknowledgmentsPart I. A Partial History of New Ideas in Food1. From the Margins to the Center2. The Undercurrents of the NewPart II. What Is Innovation in Food?3. Well-Known, Barely Understood4. Four Types of New Ideas in FoodPart III. Innovation Is Uncertainty5. A Nondelusional Worldview6. The Uncertainty MindsetPart IV. Building the Ever-Changing Team7. Innovation Implies Change8. Building Innovation Dream TeamsPart V. Creating the New Familiar9. The Power of Familiar Novelty10. Learning House StylePart VI. Staying in the Discomfort Zone11. The Motivation Paradox12. Desperation by DesignPart VII. Insights from the Frontiers of Food13. All Change14. A Mindset for an Uncertain WorldNotesReferencesIndex

“Chefs are responsible for some of today’s most novel innovations. Vaughn Tan goes behind the scenes to show how R&D is organized inside the world’s most famous kitchens, uncovering surprising lessons that have wide application. This is a provocative contribution to studies of culture and R&D.” —Woody Powell, Stanford University
VAUGHN TAN is an assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at University College London’s School of Management. He previously worked for Google in California.