Innovation In One of the Oldest Industries In America

“We cannot solve problems by using the same thinking we used when we created them.” — Albert Einstein

Innovation is defined as:
1.something new or different introduced: numerous innovations in the high-school curriculum.
2. the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods.

Innovation is a characteristic that most people associate with being an entrepreneur. An entrepreneur creates value in the market place, and innovation is creating a different value in any setting. I am a co-founder and CEO of Peli Peli , a restaurant group in Houston, Texas with multiple locations and concepts focusing on South African flavors. Prior to us, there has never been a South African concept in the United States geared towards the mainstream. As a result, innovation is part of our DNA and was borne out of necessity.

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.” — Simon Sinek, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action

Innovation starts with WHY. The first step is my internal intention of my own WHY. Why do I want to be innovative? Do I want to be right and justify my views of the world, or do I want to inspire myself and others to see what is possible? Is my innovation for the betterment of myself and others? Why is this important to myself and others?

Inspiration wall at Peli Peli Kitchen. Photo by Ellie Sharp.

We do many things that are different in the restaurant industry. We cherish our guests, and we treat our team members as family members. Our WHY is not just to make a few dollars but build something that will last and make our world a happier place through food and service. Our WHY costs us something, and we are willing to pay for it. Before I thought that only technology companies — the Googles, the Tesla, and the Amazons of the world — can make a real impact through innovation, but it turns out that even businesses like restaurants have unlimited potential for innovation if the WHY is a core value!

These questions will help me understand my internal WHY. After I understand and agree with my WHY, I try to paint the end results with the end possibilities in my mind. If I were to come up with a better solution, I need to see what that would be like. If I were to die the next day, who would take over and what they would do? I try to envision an outsider, an insider, or someone in between. How would each make me feel if I were to implement the search for those people?

Our inspiration mural at the office.

“A journey of 1000 miles begins with one step” — Lao Tzu

The next step in innovation is actually pretty easy — initiate the smallest possible steps. Its the next possible steps towards some possible solution with the ability to change at any moment. It starts with a small step to pick up momentum and get your core group or yourself to believe that it is possible. During this time, you will have to fight your own doubts and doubt from others. If there isn’t any, then its likely not very innovative and is the same as everyone else’s thinking. Look at the people that are agreeing and disagreeing with your level of thinking. Look at their credentials and who they are. That is an indication of your level of thinking and processing of your ideas.

The ceiling at the new Peli Peli Katy which opens July 2017.

Most restaurants are not set up for an easy change. For example, we have not been able to change our ambiance (what our guests see, hear and feel) at the restaurants as often as we would like. Ultimately, the guest experience is diminished because it is human nature to explore new settings. We intended to create a stage for our restaurants that would be easily adjusted, but ran into issues with architects, designers, and builders who had no idea what we wanted for our guests. We could not find anyone in Houston that could cut and fabricate one-of-a-kind art pieces for our restaurants. As a result, we knew we had to do it ourselves. We ordered three large laser machines at a cost of over $200,000, and it took us close to 9 months to hire all of the people necessary to operate the machines. It started with a WHY of “we want our guests to be blown away every time they visit us.” Our small steps continue to evolve as we are learning how to innovate with limited resources and experience.

“Innovation is not a single act, but a lifestyle.” -Aiki Tran

The last step in innovation is “don’t stop.” No matter how long the possible scenarios play out, be patient to see the idea and implementation of it come to fruition. Sometimes it takes a few different versions and different approaches. This is critical because most of the time, the answer is right under your nose and you’ve overlooked it. The law of attraction states that like attracts like, and the reason you had the idea for that innovative solution is because its already very close to you. Your subconscious has been working to pull everything close to you so you can access it. Once you truly acknowledge your WHY, initiate and then don’t stop, it will appear before you know it. The journey of discovering it is usually more fun than the actual discovery itself!

In conclusion, innovation makes the journey SO MUCH FUN!! Without it, life, work, and everything in between is just boring, and we are just waiting to die. God gave us a brain and a mind, but it doesn’t mean we all use it. Innovation is the first step in really using what we have to make the world a better place. Start with WHY, initiate with small steps, and NEVER ever stop. You will do something spectacular if you believe in yourself and your WHY. Life is short my friends, enjoy the ride!

My “WHY”.