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5 fundamentals for innovation in food: # 1 become a resilient leader

July 13, by Marieke van der Heijden &samhoud food

Corporate companies are, under pressure of their stakeholders, struggling to come up with the ‘next big thing’. In most cases this results in incremental renovation instead of disruptive innovation. Innovation can be defined as mixing two existing things together to create something new (O’Sullivan & Dooley, 2009). This sounds incredibly simplistic, but is proven to be very complex in reality. A managing director of one of the world’s biggest FMCGs once told me: “We should have the power of the big and the spirit of the small”. But, what is that ‘spirit of the small’ exactly and how can you leverage on that spirit from the very beginning? What are the fundamentals for innovation that will increase the chance for long-term success?  

“In the future we are wonderful people — but we don’t live in the future, we live in the present and in the present we make mistake after mistake after mistake.”

(Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioural economics at Duke University.)

The first critical success factor for innovation is becoming a resilient leader. It is very easy to get lost in today’s complex world. Therefore it is crucial to know where you are heading. Develop a clear vision: what’s your higher goal? This will help others to see your dream and make it easier for them to help you realize it. In a corporate career, talents are often trained to become managers who fulfil ‘key management positions’ in the long-run. However, in order to grow innovation appetite companies don’t need more managers; they need leaders, entrepreneurs. This requires a fundamental shift in mind-set and behaviour. When employees act as  resilient leaders, it means that they take full responsibility and ownership for their own actions. They don’t blame others for failures, apart from themselves. This also relates to values. CEOs are often driven by short-term quarterly results, not necessarily by living their core values and long-term thinking. To compensate this short-term thinking, dedicated corporate social responsibility programmes are introduced (in my opinion, social responsibility comes from social irresponsibility in the first place). One of the reasons why family-owned businesses tend to last long is probably because their leaders intuitively have the next generation in perspective and use their core values for making key decisions. Feeling responsible for the future and the world around you helps to resist short-term temptations. We need resilient leaders with a clear vision in order to stimulate innovation.

Case example: define your higher goal

For &samhoud food we defined our higher goal as “Together we build a brighter future. We give gastronomy to the world by inspiring and connecting people”. A huge goal, yes for sure. But building a brighter future directs us to develop long-term thinking and endurance when things don’t turn out perfectly right away.

It’s hard to focus when you see a million different opportunities. Especially when you’re getting caught up in enthusiasm and try to launch all of them at the same time. This can be fatal for all of your ideas with a lot of potential. Therefore, leading by saying ‘no’ is often more important than saying ‘yes’. For example, at some point last quarter we realized that we wanted to launch a list of innovative new food products that reached over twenty. This made it extremely complex for us to come to execution, simply because we were trying to do too many things at the same time.

You can have a million innovative ideas, but if you are not able to put them into practice, innovation is not going to happen. That is why we decided: let’s focus on three products we think are great, execute them well and then move to the next bunch. A higher goal on the horizon helps us to make those decisions.

Tools and inspiration

We have sourced some interesting content to get you inspired and reflect upon your own leadership habits. First watch the youtube-movies, then grab a pen and a piece of paper and answer the 5 questions below.

Tools to develop your own personal vision (in Dutch):

Moshik’s vision on food (video, 0:56 min):

Inspiration for value-based leadership by Tim McCartney, Childrens’ fire (video, 13:42 min):

Reflection of life ‘In the Fall’ (video, 1:49 min):

Short-term thinking ‘MAN’ (video, 3:36 min):

  1. Write a speech that someone else (your spouse, a friend or colleague) will give at your 75th birthday party. What will he or she tell?
    1. What is your higher goal? This does not necessarily have to be achievable, but must be something you are striving for
    2. What is your legacy?
    3. What will you have achieved every five years from now until you are 75?
    4. What do you have to do to complete your first five yearly achievements?
    5. Start today!
  2. Are you a manager or a leader?
  3. Try to think of a recent business-related decision that you would have made differently if you were an indigenous American that has pledged not to harm the children’s fire in every action and decision.
    1. What would have been your decision if you had pledged not to harm the children’s fire?
    2. Which benefits would this decision have had for the future of your company?
    3. What would have been the downside of this decision for the future of your company?
    4. Which decision has the best long-term effect?
  4. Try to think of a basic unconscious assumption on which you conduct business or give leadership that is in violation with the children’s fire.
    1. Write this assumption down.
    2. Write down a new rule of thumb that is not in violation with the children’s fire and can replace your assumption.
    3. Imagine how the situation – in which you’ve used the ‘old assumption’ for the last time – would have went if you used your ‘new assumption’.
  5. Think of a ‘short-term thinking’ business-related decision you’ve made recently and try to change it into a ‘long-term thinking’ decision.

What’s next?

This article series presents five fundamentals to be aware of in any innovation ‘adventure’, big or small. Insights stem from extended research combined with practical experience. Each fundamental is presented with concrete examples and provides tangible tools to get you started. In this publication the first fundamental is presented to you, the subsequent fundamentals will follow:

  • Fundamental 1: Become a resilient leader
  • Fundamental 2: Find experimental space
  • Fundamental 3: Inspiration comes from everywhere
  • Fundamental 4: Do move fast and flexible
  • Fundamental 5: Value harmony and empathy

In the coming weeks, this series will be published where the next fundamental for innovation in food is presented. In the meantime, use the personal questions and tools as inspiration to build a strong fundament for innovation. I am looking forward to hear about your experiences! Please keep me informed at



O’Sullivan, D., & Dooley, L. (2009). Applying Innovation. London, England: Sage.
Business Innovation Culture,

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This is an article in the &samhoud Inspiration series: “5 fundamentals for innovation in food”

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