It started with a question about Cannes. "If you could bring anyone in the world to Cannes deliver a keynote, who would you bring?" We'd been talking about the superstar speakers that had appeared recently - the likes of Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, Bob Geldof, will.i.am (ok, so will.i.am might be pushing the "superstar speaker" descriptor, but you know what I mean)
My dream keynote, I said, would be someone from outside of Adland who would talk about innovation and creativity. The expression I think I used at the time was "science and magic" because to my mind that is the key combination that our industry needs. The person that I thought best encasulated that was Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame. Not that I actually knew an awful lot about him, it was more of the impression of the man gleaned from the incredible tales of his molecular gastromomy and ancedotes such as his closing of El Bulli right at the absolute height of its worldwide fame.
So when I got invited by Telefonica to be part of an audience with Ferran Adria at their start up accelerator Wayra I was enormously excited. I went with a Spanish foodie friend of mine who was quite possibly even more excited than I was. Everything was set up for a great evening. But you know what, it wasn't great. It was so much better than great.
Ferran told a story in three parts: the first was about El Bulli and what occurred there and why; his new Foundation and Bullipedia, the online gastronomic website that he is in the process of building.
I will tell you the story that he told, as far as possible I will try and use his words (I was noting like crazy) but if not then I will paraphrase and hope people don't mind:
Right from the start E Bulli was only ever open 6 months a year but that's hardly surprising when you think that we were a restaurant located on the Spanish Costa Brava, a holiday coast where tourists simply didn't come to in the winter. So we had no choice in the matter. For the first 14 years El Bulli did not make money, but we believed in something. When success came it was hugely important for us to make time to refect and think, afterall if you don't make that time then you'll never reflect and think. So we decided to close at lunchtime. We lost the equivalent of £6m a year. But it was necessary. Then we decided to get rid of the menu. It got to the point when we had 2 million requests a year for reservations, which was also the point that we knew that we had to change. I said to the press that we were going to take a 3 year sabbatical. And do you know, no-one seemed to believe that we just needed some time out to focus back on creativity. No-one understood when we announced that we were going to launch a new restaurant which would also be a creative foundation and centre. They all thought we were crazy. But that is exactly what we are launching in Cap de Creus. The space will be utterly flexible, think of it like a film set, you're meant to move it all around and change it. We don't want anyone to fall into a routine. So we do things like change the pencils that we use every single year.
We will have three distinct spaces in our new centre - one for reflection, one for brainstorming and one for worksharing in which we will invite in "agitators" from other disciplines around the world to come and give us their point of view. This is about creating dialogue with other disciplines. The whole centre will be sustainable in every way possible, we want to be a reference for the world. We also want to create the most efficient environment possible. Just because you are creative, it's not like it's a divine right. You still have to be efficient. I really admire McDonalds in the way that they function. We take out the trash, we clean the kitchen. But we are also creative. Also I want to think about how best people work - are you more efficient if you work 5 days and then have 2 days off, or are you better working 10 days and then having 4? Are you better in the morning or the evening? In a group or solo? We need to consider all of that.
We are also creating "Bullipedia" as an online gastronomic resource where you can learn with precision, accumulate knowledge and get inspired. You can think of it like a curated search engine, I like to think of it like a neat and tidy cupboard with a lot of drawers. It will not be sponsored as we want to have absolute freedom, I want to make the decisions. People will pay for it but we are working out the payment model, it's not fair that a young chef pays the same as a large corporation so we are looking at how this will work at the moment. It has to be economically sustainable, that's what the internet revolution has to be about. It's not about giving everything away for free.
It's impossible to do Adria justice with my re-telling of us story. But there are so many elements that I think are hugely inspriational and also hugely applicable for our industry, here are my 5 key take-outs:
- Take time to reflect and think (given the Ferris Beuller quote that this blog is named after, that should be a surprise that I agreee so whole-heartedly with that sentiment)
- Be prepared to forego short term gains for longer terms success.
- When designing work spaces flexibility is key- keep changing.
- Being creative does not mean you're allowed to be an arse.
- Bring external "agitators" in otherwise you fall into the expected.
I will try and find out if Wayra have a video of the talk that I can post up here.