Innovation has emerged as a bit of a theme in my blog. As I wrote recently, it is a real passion of mine. I’ve also tried to take a very broad definition of the word “innovation” so as to include things like the dessert sandwich alongside the microprocessor and polio vaccine. Sadly, I don’t really consider myself all that innovative. True, when I was a student at Penn in the 80s, I did once come up with the idea of drinking beer through my nose, but later learned that this had been done at Dartmouth 2 years earlier. Besides, it was really impractical and mostly resulted in a lot of coughing, snorting and a sinus infection. But, for the most part, I am not a “see the future” kind of guy. As a venture capitalist, I’m much better at recognizing which “see the future” type ideas other people come up with will actually work and be profitable. I always wonder what it is that causes the light bulb to go off in the truly innovative brain. Is it just happenstance? The innovator suddenly envisions the molecular structure of the new cancer drug in his/her brain while playing Madden 2011 on the XBox. Or is it a more deliberate process of scanning the possibilities and knowing when to stop on a particular idea?
Well, I’m happy to report that I got a little insight into that process and, yes, I came up with a major innovation today. Let me back up a step. We just got back from our annual vacation to Maine. Like most people, we relax the standards on healthy eating when we’re on vacation. Which is to say, we stock plenty of Nutella.
As I was closing up the house in Maine to return to Maryland, I had to make some tough decisions on what food to keep and bring back to Maryland and what to dump into the landfill in Maine. Needless to say, the Nutella made the keeper list.
One more relevant background factoid before we get to my story of innovation. As just about everybody knows, the east coast was hit with a major hurricane yesterday. And by “major hurricane” I mean it was rainy and a little windy (note: TV networks, radio stations, and Internet weather sites sell way more advertising when it sounds like the sky is about to fall). Like all families, we went into massive preparation mode yesterday. My wife went out and bought a whole bunch of lunch meat, batteries for the flashlights, and candles. My kids dutifully moved all the deck furniture into the basement. I went to the store and bought a large movie theater sized box of Sugar Babies. Yes, that’s right – if there’s any chance you’re going to be stuck inside with no electricity for a week or two, you better darn well have plenty of Sugar Babies. By the way, I need to digress for a moment – there is no question that the Sugar Baby is the single most underrated candy in the world. What could be better than a yummy little nugget of caramel, coated with a layer of harder caramel.
Back to innovation and hopefully you see where this is headed. We woke up this morning to find that the hurricane was a rain shower, the roof was intact, and, regrettably, Sunday would proceed on a normal course. I was looking forward to hunkering down for a few days with my Sugar Babies, but that was not to be. So, I finally got around to unpacking the groceries that had made the trip back from Maine. I took out the jar of Nutella and placed it on the counter next to the big box of Sugar Babies. Holy shit – a light bulb went off over my head so bright it almost blew a fuse in my brain. I’m guessing this is the exact same innovative flash that happened with the dude who invented the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup (“two great tastes that go great together”).
Without hesitation, I grabbed a spoon from the silverware drawer, scooped up a big spoonful of Nutella, neatly embedded two Sugar Babies on top of the mound of Nutella and gobbled it down. Pure heaven. Like all innovators, I refined my invention by trying various levels of Nutella combined with a different number of Sugar Babies. It turns out this is a robust innovation. You can use any combination you want and it’s phenomenal. Personally, I like about half a teaspoon of Nutella with two Sugar Babies on top. But, feel free to try different combinations and report back. Hey, all great innovations can be improved upon. Enjoy.