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I fell in love with Giapo's innovation practices – here's why

Z Energy's innovation strategist Pete Robson fell in love with Giapo – not the man himself, but his business practices. He shares some key learnings from taking a masterclass with ice cream extraordinaire Giapo Grazioli, showing innovation can span completely unrelated industries and yet still have the same relevance.

Let me give that some context. Yesterday my team was lucky enough to visit the Auckland based ice-cream parlour Giapo for a master class. The Giapo master class is a 90 minute experience where you create your own ice-cream, coached by the owners, Giapo and Annarosa Grazioli. Funnily enough, Giapo must be the only other organisation to have both a masterclass and a fastlane (just like our Z Fastlane and Z Innovation Masterclass).

The "make yourself" ice-cream from the master class was truly amazing, but I can’t take any credit. I did nothing at all to help my team make it because I spent pretty much the whole time chatting to Giapo about his ideas on what innovation means. It was in those chats that I fell in love – not with Giapo the man, but with Giapo the concept and construct. 

GIAPO exists to change the function of ice-cream, by offering people different ways to interact with it.

I can only describe the experience as similar to how I imagine it'd be like to meet Willy Wonka and visit Wonka Chocolate Factory. It was that mind-blowing. Giapo's view on innovation was powerful, uplifting, thought provoking, informative, and most importantly, we all had fun.

Giapo shared that the entire premise of the Giapo store is built on a single vision – they exist to change the function of ice-cream, by offering people different ways to interact with it.

With their creations, they push the boundaries and challenge the status quo of what people expect ice-cream to be. The Giapo team believe they’re building the ‘third narrative’ of ice-cream, after the first & second narratives created by traditional American and Italian ice-cream makers. Ultimately, they aim to turn New Zealand into a global ice-cream destination, where both imagination and ingenuity are seen as important as anything else that’s produced in New Zealand.

During the discussion, Giapo shared a number of his ideas about what’s needed to be innovative. They were inspiring thoughts, and applicable to any business, field or organisation. I've typed up what I could remember (it was a bit of a whirlwind) – there's a lot to share, so sit back, think of ice-cream and enjoy!

If you want to be innovative, you must have clarity.

Giapo believes ideas come from having absolute clarity of your vision, across everyone in your organisation. Having a single focus, such as Giapo changing the function ice-cream, gives everyone the space to allow imagination and ingenuity in to their mind… and therefore allow them come up with new ideas. If you’re all over the place, trying to do everything, how can you know what idea is going to be good or not good for your business?

Changing the world takes time.

The Giapo store has been around for over a decade, and, Giapo knows that they’re going to need at least that amount of time again to change the world. Patience and dedication are vital ingredients when you’re following the recipe to change the world!

Don’t be for everyone because then you are for no-one.

If you try to meet everyone’s needs, you’re going to end up being normal like everyone else. Not everyone is going to like ice-cream and hot chips in a cone. Not everyone is going to understand why you’d make a colossal squid ice-cream. And, not everyone is going to get the purpose of a selfie cone – who cares? Those people want you to be normal, like every other normal company and you don’t want to be normal. Normal is not memorable. Normal is not innovative. Don’t be normal.

Make sure that you watch what happens.

Giapo believes in the power of observation. He spends almost every day in his store, and starting from the moment a customer enters the store, he will spend hours just watching what customers do with his products. It's all about learning what problems customers have that Giapo might be able to solve. The Giapo store experience is designed to be personal, offering a degustation experience where you sample many ice-cream flavours and cone types before settling on your final choice. That is fun, but it also takes a bit of time... which repeat customers, who already know their favourites, don't want to spend. So the Giapo store also has a fast lane where you skip the queue and place your order fast. Introducing innovations like fast lane, or wearable ice-cream, or selfie cones originate from observing customers. If you want to innovate, start by getting out from behind the keyboard and watch what your customers are doing!

Start with SWAG.

If you’re going to produce a magical and meaningful customer experience, you need to understand your SWAG first. Standing for:  

  • Story – what’s the story that your customer wants to tell themselves about themselves? Knowing this will help you create an experience that fits this.
  • Worldview – you need to appreciate the prejudices and expectations that your customers have about your company, importantly both the good and not good views.
  • Affinity – get your head around why your brand and the customer fit together. What do you have in common with each other?
  • Gesture – this is final and tangible part of your customer's experience. It’s the empathy part turning in to something real. Understanding this part is where you pull all your together

With all those things in place, your customers will want to be associated with your brand… which can only be a good thing!

You don’t need world domination to change the world.

Despite an amazing brand, there is only one Giapo store in the world… and in Giapo’s mind that’s plenty to change the world’s world of what the function of ice-cream is. Sure, if you were measuring success by EBITDA or turnover, more sites would be help but coming back to delivering Giapo’s vision, there’s more value in giving an amazing experience that can easily be shared in today’s digital world. That’s what’s going to be instrumental in changing the function of ice-cream. Plus, more stores means more management required, taking Giapo away from spending time with Miss Imagination and Mr Ingenuity.

Don’t measure yourself by your competition. F*#k, the question you should ask is 'do you even have competition?'

Giapo says that they don’t have competition. Sure, other places sell ice-cream, but the Giapo store is in the ideas business not the ice-cream business. Ice-cream is simply the medium that they’re 100 percent focused on delivering new ideas though. With that in mind, why care about what other ice-cream sellers are doing? Instead look at what other customer experience-led organisations are doing. 

I don't care if I am copied, because those who are important know that I was first.

If you create something that then gets copied by a so called competitor, don't lose sleep over it – instead view it as a compliment. In today's digital world, it's not going to be difficult find out what another company is doing... and by the same token it's not going to be difficult for customers to find out who did it first. As long as you focus on doing things like SWAG, and observing your customers, everyone will know who did it first.

Clearly I enjoyed the Giapo experience - it reinforced so many of the philosophies that I believe in regarding implementing innovative thinking, and even better they were shared with me by someone who is clearly passionate about his vision and craft (Giapo is Italian, so there's no surprise that he'd passionate!) Additionally the experience reminded me of what an awesome field I work in. It made me fall in love (again) with my job, and what it is we're trying to do at the Z Innovation Refinery – for that, I'm truly grateful to the Giapo team.

If you want to be part of changing the world, I'd really recommend that you make a trip to Giapo when you’re next in Auckland. Even if having a master class experience isn’t possible, you can always taste, and more importantly, experience what Giapo is doing to change the function of ice-cream. And, if you’re lucky, you might even fall in love again like I did.

Clockwise from top left: Annarosa with the Colossal Squid ice-cream; Giapo himself; Dana with a wearable finger cone; the GIAPO fast lane; Cody realising how good the ice-cream was; the famous Hot Chip & ice-cream in a cone; Using nitrogen to quick freeze our ice-cream; Paul, Laura and Norah do some sampling; and finally a photo of Shane and I holding our self-made hokey pokey ice-cream (where I'm feeling proud of the fact I did zero work but got to taste everything...)

  • This was originally published on LinkedIn.

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