Cooking and Software

I first learned about David Chang from the show “Mind of a Chef”. I used to watch it on Netflix during my lunch breaks. I was drawn to it, because I like cooking and I like to understand how people that are good at other things think. On a trip to NYC a couple of years back, my wife and I were fortunate to try one of his Momofuku restaurants (Ma Peche) and it was one of the best dining experiences that I’ve ever had.

It is easy to think that since David Chang is famous, that everything he touches is successful. He definitely receives more attention and press when he opens up something new, but every restaurant and every dish they serve will still succeed or fail based on how well they connect with the customer.

Today I received a link to his recent Wired article in The Journal newsletter that Kevin Rose sends out periodically. After reading the article and watching the video, I was reminded of why I liked his show in the first place. Making his restaurants and dishes successful has many paralleles to making good software.

Every new dish they send out is like a new software feature. It doesn’t matter how good the chef thinks it is, people are either going to respond to it and enjoy it or eat part of it and never order it again. David Chang sets up his restaurants so the chef can see the reaction and they look at the dishes coming back. Software companies interested in positive user experience also watch their customer reactions, either by holding focus group demos of new features or using tools like Fullstory to watch sessions in real time. It is easy to just make stuff and hope people like it, but to be great, you need to see the reaction and quickly adjust. I’m jealous of the speed of the feedback loop in the restaurant, but we are much better at doing it now in software than we were a decade ago.

David says that he is always looking for a balance between something familiar and something new. I think this is a key to innovation in software as well. People need something familiar to anchor them when trying something new. Eventually once the new is well understood, that anchor can be taken away, but there needs to be a bridge to get them there. I also believe there needs to be a balance in solving the user need with being pleasant to use. To get there we need to be willing to try hard to make great things, watch reactions and correct.

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