Isomorphism

Quick Read: Cooking up amazing food and language translation could have something in common. Isomorphism. 

Chef David Chang – the famed American restaurateur who owns the Momofuku restaurant group shares a great insight on what characterises amazing food.

When you eat something amazing, you don’t just respond to the dish in front of you; you are almost always transported back to another moment in your life.

He believes that food – like fragrances – has a set of ‘base patterns’ that people inherently respond to. So, as long as you can string together the required base patterns of any given dish- no matter what the ingredients are – you are sorted.

So the formula for a hit, according to him, is to strip a dish down to its component flavours,  and re-compose the dish bottom up, by staying true to its constituent set of base patterns albeit with unexpected ingredients.

Think of it like making Bolognese, the Italian meat sauce but by using only Korean ingredients. (He calls it Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes, and when most people taste it, it reminds them—even on a subconscious level—of a spicier version of Bolognese.)

And that’s what makes his dishes the smash hits that they are.

He calls it his Unified Theory of Deliciousness. 

UTD_WIRED

(Source: WIRED, August 2016)

Featured as the cover story in this August edition of WIRED, David Chang’s give away is his insight into base patterns and how they constitute the building blocks of any given dish from around the world.

He draws parallels to the concept of isomorphisms – concepts that can be expressed in different ways while retaining their core form.

That’s how I feel about food. Different cultures may use different media to express those base patterns—with different ingredients, for instance, depending on what’s available. But they are, at heart, doing the exact same thing.

They are fundamentally playing the same music. And if you can recognise that music, you’ll blow people’s minds with a paradox they can taste: the new and the familiar woven together in a strange loop.

Now think of the concept of isomorphism for a moment.

It occurs to me that languages are perhaps the best examples of isomorphism.

Different cultures may use different expressions to communicate their ‘base patterns’—with different words, phrases and idioms, depending on what their language is. But they are, at heart, doing the exact same thing.

So a software that powers a good language translator has to be able to strip down a sentence according to it’s language’s base patterns and be able to construct them back in the other language for the user to be able to appreciate the original meaning.

Almost like how David Chang believes his hit dishes should be made of.

(Incidentally, Google Translate paired up with some amazing food earlier this year.

In April Google opened Small World, a curious pop-up restaurant in NYC with celebrity chefs like Danny Bowien, Eina Admony and JJ Johnson.

But, there was one catch: diners could only order their food using Google Translate. This recent video captures the essence of the campaign.

This short film documenting the restaurant’s run, “#EveryoneSpeaksFood,” was directed by Josh Nussbaum.)

(Featured Image: Momofuku Ssam Bar’s Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – the spicier version of Bolognese made from all Korean ingredients)

 

The Allure Of Being Limited: Part 2/2

Quick Read: Value as a concept to a consumer has 2 key dimensions: perceived benefit and perceived cost of a product. But the moment a third dimension called ‘availability’ is introduced, the equation becomes intriguing and interesting, especially when the former is limited – in reach or time.

Imagine someone unboxing a case of 20 blind boxes – each box contains a sealed wrapper that holds a mystery toy within.

For each foil he unwraps and realises the actual toy within – a miniature character –  he lets out an exclamatory ‘aah’. The look and feel of this miniature character makes him marvel at the detail and the exquisite craftsmanship that must have gone into its make, while he also makes a mental note to himself regarding its probable name and where it fits in the larger family of its ‘toy clan’.

And this goes on for each of the 20 blind boxes containing a mystery miniature character within.

Box after box.

And did I tell you that he is an adult in his 30s?

Difficult to imagine, right?

No worries.  For there are thousands of videos here showing this very story unfold. Box after box.

This video here is a good representative version. (strongly recommended dose of some infotainment before you read further)

What did we just see?

Adults –  acting like kids on a christmas morning, unable to contain their excitement as they hold their breath while they unwrap a foil to discover a pretty little toy character within.

Welcome to the world of Urban Vinyl and Designer Toys – a world where toys become prized possessions and collectibles because of two reasons: 

  1. They are works of art designed by prominent international pop culture and graffiti artists.
  2. They are produced in limited quantities  – some as few as 10 to a maximum of 2000 – thereby becoming some of the rarest toys of that kind to be ever made.

Qee series produced in Hong Kong by Toy2R,  Be@rbrick from Japan and the Dunny series produced by Kidrobot are some of the most prominent examples of Designer Toys and Urban Vinyl.

Let’s take Kidrobot – known to be the Mecca of Designer Toys enthusiasts – founded in the US in 2002 by Paul Budnitz. It calls its limited edition Designer Toys as an innovative cross between sculpture and conceptual art, offering not only a powerful medium for today’s international fashion designers, illustrators and graffiti artists, but also the creative canvas for emerging street trends and pop art.

And due to these toys being ‘limited edition’ in design and make they retail anywhere from $5 to $25,000, and many appreciate in value over time. (source)

Kidrobot Dunny(At the intersection of Art and Cult –  The Kidrobot Dunny, Source)

A few more fascinating details regarding Kidrobot and its Dunny Series Designer Toys:

  • Packaging: Each Dunny Designer Toy comes in a foil wrapped inside a blind box. These blind boxes are identical in every way to any other box in a given set so nobody knows which toy is inside. A foil is used to wrap the toy so nobody can open the box and peek inside. (also shown in the unboxing video above)
  • Product Assortment: While the outer case would have some indication of what characters to expect inside, not all of them can be expected to be contained within. Each toy character would have an odds ratio indicating its probability of occurrence within a set. Interestingly there are some characters called ‘chases’ with unknown odds called out as ‘?/??’, while a few are shown mysteriously only in silhouettes. Occasionally, they also include ‘super mystery figures’ that aren’t even indicated on the box, which tend to be some of the rarest ever made of the kind!

Kidrobot Official Dunny Series 2012 Checklist & Ratios(The odds ratios as printed on the cases of Dunny Series 2012, Source) 

  • Kidrobot’s approach to marketing is anything but ordinary: Read here a short interview with Paul Budnitz where he reveals how he has taken a marketing approach opposite to that of most companies.
  • How Kidrobot manages its creative capital: Kidrobot’s approach to distribution of decision making power within the company, its open source design strategy, and how it regularly commissions rock star designers rather than in house artists in order to let a sort of ‘fluidity’ permeate the entire company makes for a fascinating read.
  • Tie ups and Partnerships: Given the cult level popularity and the artistic appeal of Kidrobot’s limited edition toys, it naturally makes for a very coveted partner. For e.g., in Jan 2014 CES, Samsung Galaxy partnered with Kidrobot to land the message about the brand being a new touch point in artistic expression.

samsung_kidrobot_0235wtmk-1280x878(Samsung partners with Kidrobot in CES 2014, Pic source: Slash Gear)

And so it goes on – a fascinating story of how a bunch of unassuming tiny vinyl toys have grown to become icons of pop culture that regularly pull in rabid fans and ardent collectors, who neither mind queuing up for hours outside its stores nor forking out hundreds or even thousands of dollars to buy these designer toys while making its company a multi million dollar brand that it is today.

And when one reads this, sometimes all one can manage to say could be …

…while perhaps even wondering on a wishful note to oneself  damn! where can I get one myself!!”

(Featured Image: Set of Huck Gee’s Night & Day Raku 8” Dunny released in 2011.These were a limited edition of just 500 sets.source)

The Wabi Sabi Edge

The Ise Grand Shrine – a Shinto Shrine – in Ise, Mie prefecture in Japan has been preserved exactly like it was around 2,000 years ago. Despite such a rich legacy, the UNESCO has refused to list the shrine in its list of historic places.

Why?

Shinto Shrine

(Shinto priests walking beside the Ise Grand Shrine, Japan. Source)

This is because the shrine is not built of a ‘permanent structure’. The ISe Grand Shrine is built of wood and hence it  gradually loses its structural integrity over years. So the Shinto priests have a solution;  every 20 years they tear down the structure and rebuild another – in an adjacent plot –  in exactly the same specifications as the original using the wood from the same forest that the original structure was built from. Result: the shrine  is  forever new,  ancient and original! The present structure, dating from 1993, is the 61st iteration to date and is scheduled for rebuilding in 2013!

A centuries old Shinto belief of death and renewal of nature and the transience  of all things called Wabi- Sabi underscores the philosophical and artistic significance of this shrine. To quote the wiki  page ….

Wabi Sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

Burning Man

Further to the west, in northern Nevada US is the Black Rock Desert –  an open swathe of desert land where a week long annual cultural festival called Burning Man is held every August/September. This iconic event is described as an annual experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance – a week long celebration of extreme creativity, art, spirituality and innovation. Often compared to TED for its potential to provoke, inspire, connect, indulge or just ‘let be’, Burning Man regularly attracts stalwarts like the Google founders, Eric Schmidt, Chip Conley among many many others. But what makes Burning Man stand out as an exceptional event is the fact that it is transient by nature. The whole venue, the structures and the shelters for the event are practically built from scratch and again torn to dust without leaving a trace at the end of the week!

See below the time lapse video of 2011 Burning Man to appreciate the ‘dust to dust’ cycle typical of the Burning Man.

As Business Strategy

Transience as a method, an approach or a strategy is not just  an expressionist arts style or some exotic charm of a shrine.  It also has far reaching implications on contemporary business strategy. The June 2013 edition of Harvard Business Review features an interesting article by Rita Gunther McGrath on what she calls as Transient Advantage. She argues that  in a world where competitive advantage often evaporates in less than a year, companies can’t afford to spend months at a time crafting a single long-term strategy. She introduces what she calls as The Wave of Transient Advantage and explains its ‘curve’ (below). Companies possessing this edge constantly start new strategic initiatives, build, exploit, re configure and if need be even actively disengage from an initiative as a means to reprioritise, reinvent and renew their approach to growth.

Transient Advantage

(Wave of Transient Advantage, Source)

She posits that the thinking in this field “has reached an inflection point” leading to an acknowledgment from a multitude of strategy practitioners that “Sustainable competitive advantage is now the exception, not the rule. Transient advantage is the new normal.”

The latest post in the Gaping Void newsletter by Hugh Mac­Leod pays an artistic tribute to this concept through this delightful piece of ‘office art’.

permanent_state

(You must subscribe to his newsletter, sure to make your day!)

Essentially from which ever perspective you look at it – artistic, personal, emotional, professional or even strategic, the ability to accept transience as the new normal, the ability to let go of the status quo to rethink, re-invent and renew our  approach forms the bedrock of the new competitive edge – The Wabi Sabi Edge.