· 2 min read · Features

What can HR learn from the world’s greatest chef?

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I was lucky enough to attend an audience last week with Ferran Adria, the former head chef at the controversial and legendary Catalan restaurant El Bulli. The most famous restaurant in the world, with over 400 requests for every table sitting, El Bulli won top place in the Best Restaurant In The World rankings by Restaurant magazine five times between 2002 and 2009.

And while most of the audience were chefs or working in related industries, I kept hearing stories which resonated with business.

So what's the relevance to HR?

Ferran's unique approach breaks all the rules and demands attention. His relentless pursuit of inspiration extends far outside the culinary world into other diverse spheres. He expects the possible to materialise through collective effort and the freedom from the strictures of what is already known.

To achieve this he made space for contemplation and exploration. The restaurant closed for six months a year whilst Ferran and his leading chefs spent their time scouring the world in fields such as design , art, science to inform their thinking, approach and to feed into El Bulli ideology.

He took conscious steps out of his area of knowledge and experience to stimulate innovation in those working for him. He reviewed all aspects of his service continuously, challenging all pre-conceptions and seeking always to extend learning, skills and enrichment for the consumer's experience.

The menu changed completely every year. There was no room for complacency, despite El Bulli's phenomenal success. No favourite dishes were retained. He experimented constantly with techniques and technologies drawn from other fields with the solid belief that strengthening depth of knowledge through exposure to diverse experience was success in and of itself.

Interestingly, Adria experimented with working patterns. He holds the belief that a two-day weekend punctuating every five days of work is potentially wasteful, as people lose Monday and Friday looking forward to and reflecting on the weekend.

He and his team work alternate days and trialled a continuous 10-day stint, followed by four days off. Nothing was sacred in the pursuit of extending the creative process.

And part of this was embodying the values of excellence and democracy in the creative process. Nothing was impossible, everyone has a voice. it was this kind of working environment and the opportunity to realise the wildest of ideas that made El Bulli the Mecca for many contemporary, chefs keen to make their mark on the world.

The lessons for any business are plain to see. Talent is attracted to organisations that exude energy, understand the value of new voices and that invest in them. Sticking to the known is not a recipe for enduring success or sustaining competitive edge. Like many other parts of the business world, HR needs to seek out learning, techniques and ideas from outside its usual reference points if it really wants to stay ahead of the curve.

Adria is described as passionately curious, with a childlike enthusiasm. I'm not sure this is right. What he has, at his core, is a desire to connect with everyone he comes into contact with about the endless possibilities of what could be if we look for it beyond what is obvious and known.

I'm sure many HR and indeed wider business leaders could transform their organisations by applying some of his 'no barriers' thinking and challenging the norm.

Robert Peasnell is business director, government healthcare and education solutions at TMP Worldwide