“Creativity” Goes Beyond Industries - What Engineers Can Learn from Charismatic Chefs

“Creativity” Goes Beyond Industries

I often think that charismatic chefs and engineers who carry out research and development are similar in their style and approach related to creating something new.


Charismatic chefs create new recipes one after another and prepare totally new dishes by making full use of seasonal ingredients. They go out to the market in the morning and can determine the freshness and the taste of the seafood being sold just by engaging in short conversations with the sellers.

Their ability to prepare great dishes one after another with the foodstuffs they acquired by combining the ingredients with optimum cooking skills and newly developed flavors as well as their expressive power to arrange the food they prepared on the plate are outstanding. Their overwhelming ability to create beautiful meals, raised to the form of art, which fit the word “eye-pleasing” perfectly, is just remarkable.

The expression “state of the art” is often used in English to indicate the highest level of technique. As an engineer, we must also aim for a “state-of-the-art” level in the products and services we develop and put out into the world. 

The process of creating products and services also involves art and design. While it is generally considered that industrial design is necessary only for the appearance of cars and electronic devices, art and design have become more instrumental in creating software than hardware in recent years.

The internal beauty of a software structure is reflected greatly in its functions and experiences, thereby affecting the evaluation of products. Artistic quality is emerging as a new perspective in various elements that make up products and services and is becoming an important and noteworthy factor in creating products and services.

Being engaged in technical development work for many years, I have acquired the ability to accurately imagine how it will be possible to create unprecedented products and services by combining a large variety of technical elements just by looking at them.

Just like a chef who prepares dishes by making accurate judgments on what ingredients are lacking, what seasoning should be added and what cooking procedures are necessary, it has also become possible for engineers to envisage the “scheme” of products and services. This includes what technology is lacking to finalize the product or service and whether the technology will soon be available for practical application or not.

It is said that Steve Jobs took an inventory of technologies every year and was always on the watch for new technologies that might be applied in products. We can also commercialize new products and avoid falling behind competitors by keeping a watch on new technologies that could become the technology of the moment. As for technologies that cannot be commercialized, it may also be important to produce many prototypes so that they can be commercialized at any time.

Methods for Developing New Menus

While new recipes are obviously completed after many trials and errors, they may not turn out to be as popular as the chef had expected. I think these difficulties are the same as those faced by engineers.

For over 30 years, I have been engaged in R&D based on digital technology, especially new platforms for general users, carrying out various developments from nano-micron base semiconductors to global-scale cloud services over a long span of time. During these years, I have come to believe that there are several “methods  ” for “developing new menus”. I would like to share this with everyone who is hoping to compete globally.

Cooking basically consists of “processing” ingredients such as meat, seafood, vegetables and fruit with spices, seasonings and oils. In this process, there is a technique of developing new menus by changing the ingredients. 

One of the methods is a combination of “raw ham and melon”, which is a standard appetizer. Here, we can replace them with ingredients with more abstract relationship such as “fruit + meat with little more fat”, which will enable us to create many variations such as “peach and pork back fat”.

The rule to “reverse physical parameters” such as serving a hot dish as a cold dish may also serve as a useful reference. Actively utilizing physical properties that are believed to be defective in technical development may apply to this.

Semiconductors that now serve as the basis of big industries are a good example. Compared to conductors that carry current such as metals, and non-conductors that do not carry current at all, semiconductors were neglected as ill-defined materials that are neither conducting nor non-conducting materials.

However, semiconductors with impurities were found to deliver physical phenomena that were not possible with conductors or nonconductors by controlling the carriers of current within the impurities. Semiconductors are now widely utilized in radios, televisions, computers and smartphones.   

In order to create totally new dishes, it is also necessary to develop new cooking procedures. This is quite similar to the way in which we, as engineers, start out by considering the production method, especially the mass-production method, when creating new devices.

The culinary world is also changing through the times, for instance, in the case of people’s preferences and the evolution of cooking utensils. Chefs are also working hard to maintain a contemporary sense by incorporating “seasonal features” of the moment. As engineers, we must also be conscious of the “latest digital technologies” at all times so that we can build products and services by making use of digital technologies that are evolving at a dramatically fast pace.

“Creativity” is Indeed the Work Required of Human Beings

With the appearance of AI that creates recipes, automation of cooking is also accelerating due to the introduction of robotics. The possibility of using AI for programming is becoming realistic in the software industry as well. The age when we must compete against AI before competing globally may be right around the corner.

AI will initially automate routine work while human beings will carry out non-routine work. However, AI will also carry out these non-routine tasks and eventually decision-making and strategy planning tasks as well.

I think that “creative work” will ultimately be the work that must be carried out by human beings. The preference for design schools over business schools and a master’s degree in art over an MBA is also becoming a trend. 

This trend is proof that synthetic abilities such as “imagination” and “creativity” rather than analytical abilities such as “logical thinking” and “analytical intelligence” are being required. This may also implicate the future roles of human beings in this time of rapid advancement of digital technologies including AI.  

With technological evolution advancing at an accelerating pace in the world, the roles of human beings are being redefined. Now that the environment surrounding companies is changing drastically, I believe that finely honed “imagination” and “creativity” are necessary to revitalize Japanese companies.

Learning from the creativity of charismatic chefs is in line with this trend. A number of Japanese masters are working abroad, exercising unsurpassed creativity in the universal food industry. I believe that business people and engineers that are aiming to take on challenges globally can learn a great deal from them.

Charismatic chefs are not only familiar with the “orthodox method” of creation and the “methods for being creative” but also know how to handle elements that serve as the core of creation such as “how to incorporate seasonal features” and “how to transform value”. I hope that people that are aiming to compete globally will learn from the creativeness of these charismatic chefs and contribute to Japan’s economic recovery by becoming top runners in “creative work”.

※This article was published in "Forbes JAPAN posted on April 12th, 2020". This article has been licensed by Forbes Japan. Copying or reprinting without permission is prohibited.

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