Getting Past the First Bite

Greetings.  The four-hour drive back to Faizabad from Varanasi is a fascinating journey through the Northern Indian countryside and a wide variety of cities and towns that are filled with energy, commerce, unusual traffic, countless railroad crossings, and cows.  More cows than I've ever seen before.  And as result, the road is also lined with the most artistic and (at times) fragrant mounds of cow dung imaginable…formed into small "towers" of drying prairie pizzas.  Towers that are such a significant part of the landscape that they beg the simple question:  "What the heck do you use this stuff for?"  A question I had answered in my mind by assuming that they were used as an inexpensive and decidedly renewable form of energy by folks with limited resources.  But, in fact, the real answer was a bit more interesting (and tasty) because this gift from the gods–remember that cows are gods here in India–is used for cooking food.  And upon learning this I asked my host to "tell me more" as curiosity quickly got the best of me.

"Local people have used cow dung as a special way to grill their food for many years," she noted and continued by asking if I would like to have dinner prepared this way tonight.  "That sounds great," I thought aloud, then paused to wonder what exactly I'd gotten myself into.  "Perfect," she replied, "we'll build a dung grill in the backyard this evening where we can make one of my favorite dishes, and you can even watch the process if you'd like."  Now before I mention that you should not try this at home without the strict supervision of a professional, let me add that one of the responsibilities of an innovation consultant is go where no man or woman has gone before.  And that includes cuisine.

But back to our story…

So tonight when the very special fire was built I watched closely as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and some whole wheat rolls were careful placed inside the burning pieces of dung and roasted to perfection.  Yes, you heard it right.  Carefully placed into the middle of a burning pile of cow dung…not way above the pile on some fancy grill you might buy at Lowe's.  Then I watched as they were removed by hand, peeled, and combined with spices and fresh chilis to create a tomato chutney and a mashed potato and eggplant entree that was shockingly delicious.  I say "shockingly" because it was a bit of shock to put the first bite in my mouth under the watchful eye of Manjula who has enjoyed this unique dish since childhood.  And because I had relatively low expectations for this very thoughtful dinner.  Now I'm not suggesting that this meal is likely to become my favorite food, but I'd gladly eat it again if given the chance.  And I'd venture to guess that most of you would enjoy it too…if you could get past the first bite.  And isn't that what innovation and change are really all about–getting past the first bite?

Dung pile

We win in business and in life when we find interesting answers to obvious questions.  And when we are willing to spice up the world for those we have the privilege to serve.  Maybe it's time for you to offer something really different for "dinner."