Quest for the ultimate cookie!

By: Shivangi Kelkar

What comes to your mind when you think of a delicious cookie? What about nutritious cookies? Is your idea of a perfect and ultimate cookie -a dark chocolate chip, a thin mint, or something exotic? Well, that’s exactly what a food company decided to find out!

Watching the video of Malcolm Gladwell posted by Kate Sweitzer in the June 5th article, spurred my interest in Malcolm Gladwell’s writings and I came across another one of his brilliant articles related to the food industry, published in The New Yorker in 2005, titled – The Bakeoff!

In this article, he has chronicled a product development experiment carried out by a food research & development firm, Mattson, to create the ultimate cookie.  Project Delta, as it was called, was designed to reinvent the cookie by making it both healthy and indulgent. It consisted of 3 research teams, composed of top US food scientists, based on 3 different models of technology innovation used in the software industry. Each of the teams with their strengths and limitations were given the task of creating the world’s greatest cookie in 6 months.

Malcolm Gladwell provides a detailed description of the progress of the teams over the time period. It was fascinating to read about the success and setbacks of the teams as they worked towards their goal of creating a perfect cookie. It was remarkable to know how and why the teams had a different outlook on their definition of a perfect cookie. There was a ‘Dream Team’, which was an absolute favorite from the start to win the bakeoff challenge. But the actual winner surprised everyone! For the company, in the end, it was less about the cookie, but more about the lessons learned from the whole experiment.

The article got me thinking about product development, research teams, and importance of leadership. Product development is a challenging task in the food industry. Trying to win the consumer with a healthy, flavorful, and cost-effective food item is indeed an uphill task!  Consumers want to be surprised and all it takes is one exceptional idea to gain their satisfaction and approval. At the same time, the process behind this idea is often overlooked. Teamwork is an integral part of innovation. Group dynamics are critical and many-a- times their significance is greatly underestimated in research teams. Astute leadership of an individual can certainly outshine the collective expertise of a group!

Are there any tips from the article that you can use when you undertake your next product development experiment or a research project? 

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Science Meets Food

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