At elBulli people, organization and values are aligned towards the strategy of the firm: being the most creative place in the world.
At elBulli many questions emerged to understand the emergence of a creative organization:
What was going on in that place that fueled such an extreme creativity? What kind of organization had emerged there? Who led this creative experiment? Who was Ferran Adrià –a cook, a thinker, a culinary philosopher?
elBulli allows organizations to realize the importance of business, strategy and organizational alignment. At elBulli creativity is the driver of the whole place, a rooted value that has influenced the way elBulli organize itself. 5 determinants of organizational creativity emerged from the elBulli's experience such as strong organizational identity, low macroculture embeddedness, focus on creativity and creation, diversity and open business model.
- elBulli, owned by Ferran Adria (Chef) and Juli Soler.
- Location: Rosas, Spain (in Girona, in a very difficult place to reach)
- Industry: Restaurant
- Founded in 1961 by a German couple, the restaurant was alway trying to being creative by attempting to innovate in an industry that in the 1960s was underdeveloped in Spain.
- Adria started to work in 1983 and began to revolutionalize the industry first of all by innovating in the kitchen and later by creating from scratch
- The restaurant has been chosen for the 4th year in a row best restaurant of the world and best chef (Restaurant Magazine)
- elBulli opens 6 month a year and the restaurant opens for dinner time
- the rest of the year, Ferran Adria and his team work in the elBulli's workshop in Barcelona in research creating the new dishes of this avant-garde cuisine
- elBulli receives 2 million booking request. Only 50 people per night are allowed in the restaurant (8,000 people per year)
- 70 employees work at elBulli, 50 of them are stagiaires.
- 5,000 request per year to get a place in elBulli's kitchen as a stagiaire
- There is no menu a la carte, but a fixed one. Each customer tastes 40/45 dishes per night
In 1987, Adria took a trip with a group of chefs. He visited several places in Europe and we attended a class by Jacques Maximin. During the demonstration, Maximin invited some questions from his audience. Adrià asked him what creativity was, and Jacques Maximin answered, “creativity means not copying”. This phrase changed Ferran’s concept entirely and, at that moment, he caught a glimpse of the spark which would eventually ignite his creativity.”
“I am the creative director,” announces Adrià forcefully. “A creative director sets a vital creative pace, deciding when to stop, what to do, and when to advance. This is very important and extremely difficult. (…) If I ran a company, I would be in charge of creativity issues, which are the driving force behind an organization. If I devote myself to creativity, I will be able to subsequently fix financial and commercial issues, but if I don’t do the former, I won’t be able to do the latter. (…) on the other hand, I would never have a permanent staff. I prefer temporary employees, to allow for a free flow of ide as and to avoid routine.” (Interview with Ferran Adria)
Since he took over the kitchen in 1984, Adrià and his team’s creativity exerted a strong impact on elBulli’s evolution. In the beginning, the influence of the nouvelle cuisine personal style was soon to emerge. In 1987, following the phrase “creativity means not copying”, the local cuisine became a significant source of inspiration. Association, inspiration and adaptation prevailed in elBulli’s cuisine until 1992. This was a period of “Mediterranization”, with dishes featuring local ingredients rarely used in haute cuisine restaurants.
In 1992, Adrià spent some time with the artist Medina Campeny in his workshop, cooking and creating. That year, he visited Gras and Gagnaire’s restaurants. This inspiration provided a new language to his cuisine, in which lights, textures and volumes played a dominant role.
The technique-concept pursuit will characterize elBulli as of 1993, when new concepts, techniques, elaborations and products come together. Its cuisine becomes more abstract, and there is a change in culinary paradigm. Deconstruction, the five senses, the six sense, minimalism and pluralism make their way into the dishes. The 1994-1999 period is a high productivity time in terms of products and techniques. The technique-concept search marks Adrià’s highest creativity point, giving way to new exploration paths and roads.
In 2022, elBulli publishes its general catalogue, revealing its knowledge to the world through a retrospective and an evolutionary map of its work and elaborations, where organization, philosophy, products, technology, preparations and styles become interrelated.
In 2003, Adrià discovers Japan, and the Japanese feeling slowly sneaks into his cuisine: simplicity and purity of flavor, aesthetics and the value of nature gain significance in his elaborations, up until today. However, his dialogue with science, which has driven so many products to elBulli’s tables -such as liquid nitrogen and lyophilization, among others- also accounts for a relevant impact.
Adrià’s relationship with the world of science, design and other disciplines bears a powerful effect on his cooking, product pondering, immediateness, and changes in menu structure, while shaping a new way of serving food, in which waiters become key players in dish preparation. The dining area begins to participate in dish elaboration
(See Exhibit for a detail of elBulli’s creative and organizational evolution in Case Study attached).
The Challenge: Creative People
“Adrià once told me”, recounts Oriol Castro, creative right-hand man, “that creativity is seeing what other people do not see.” “But that it also demands perseverance and effort”, steps in Adrià. “Exactly”, agrees Oriol Castro. “Everyday work is the key. You will not wake up one day and raise your eyes to the sky to find wonderful ideas raining down on you. Everyday work and perseverance will do that.” Adrià and Castro were working at the kitchen with different textures.
Oriol Castro approaches and comments, “we baked this meringue yesterday. It’s longer than the typical meringue, it looks like a thin baguette. When you create, you look, you ponder, you think. That’s how we made these cold baguettes. We also tried with hot baguettes.”
In addition to perseverance and effort, Adrià firmly believes the creative ego and passion are two essential elements. “How many ventures manage to convey creativity and passion? It is not an easy thing”, he concludes. As regards the creative ego, he explains that “a creative person will always want to be the best in his/her field. A painter might dream to be Picasso or an architect to be Le Corbusier. But the creative ego has nothing to do with popularity. Adrenalin is the creative ego. (…) Our creative ego allows us to be generous. I will never experience a creative depression. If I ran out of creativity, well, I guess I will go home, take all my books and things with me, and that will be it.” As for passion, Adrià speaks of “passion with pressure”. Passion by itself is useless, you need pressure to channel it.
What is creativity for Ferran? In his book, “El secreto de elBulli”, Adrià draws a distinction between creativity and invention. “Although very little is currently invented in the cooking world, there is ample space for creativity.. (…) Creativity is seeing what others do not perceive. Since whatever we can think of already exists, one way or another, the creative individual will be able to grasp what few people can see, and, with the help of his/her knowledge, he/she will offer something new.”
For Adrià, another essential value for the creative person is honesty, also related to the creative ego. “We are all affected by influences, and we seek inspiration in them. It is almost impossible no to do so, since so much has already been invented. That is when honesty –as related to the creative ego- comes into the picture. Out of one hundred things we do at elBulli, we could say ninety seven of them are done influence-free.”
Adrià has been compared to Picasso, Dali, Klee, and other great artists. Hardly ever is he compared to another chef. Although he has been linked to the art world, on account of the kind of work carried out at elBulli, Adrià would rather speak of creativity. “Yes, the experience at elBulli is similar to an artistic experience. Today, what really matters is creativity, and art lies within creativity.”
During the months when the restaurant remains closed, numerous activities are held, including courses on products, tools, technologies and techniques. The creative group also seeks new products and suppliers, and this requires traveling around the world to acquire more and deeper knowledge. The team also visits specialists in other disciplines, such as industrial designers and scientists.
However, in Adrià’s opinion, creativity demands methods and rules. “Nowadays, even painters -the most radical of creative people- require methods. Being innovative is much harder today than it was ten years ago.” He believes creativity can be measured, “Creative audits are also essential. Most companies do not conduct creative audits, and this results in millions of Euros spent without any kind of control. Auditing is key.”
elBulli’s creative audit is implemented through the publication of its product and invention catalogues. Since 2001, Adrià’s creations at elBulli have been catalogued, together with an evolutionary map tracing the changes undergone in its cuisine. Thus, in addition to the creative audit, elBulli shares its discoveries and information with the market. “Do you know why we do it?” ventures Adrià. “Because this year’s elaborations are history. Sure, this means pushing the creativity boundaries …but that is our adrenalin.” “To open yourself up and teach”, contributes Oriol Castro, “that is what makes you big.”
This information sharing is the result of an internal generosity culture and the value of team working in the creative process. Mateu Casañas considers that “the team is crucial. We all move forward together and you won’t hear anyone say ´this dish is mine’. The dishes are elBulli’s, that’s the way it is. We all work towards the same goal…. (…) we put all ideas on the table, so we make sure nothing is lost, on the contrary, we will go over tests we have deemed negative and do the testing again. The whole team participates to make the most out of every work session.”
As regards the generosity culture and teamwork at elBulli, Juli Soler remarks, “In the past, if you worked in a restaurant kitchen as an apprentice, you were usually banished to a corner. You were not allowed to do anything and you had no idea about anything. Nobody taught or explained you anything. Here, our doors are always wide open.”
The creative team at elBulli works six moths at the restaurant and the rest of the year at elBulli’s workshop, a place especially equipped for creating and testing and the search for new concepts and recipes for the next season. “We open six months a year”, explains Adrià, “because we increasingly need more time to create.” A true innovative company, elBulli features a considerable R&D budget and a workshop (laboratory) to carry out research activities.
The creative process at elBulli includes several steps and stages. Even though it may seem that creativity is restricted to the winter months at elBulli’s workshop, significant creative efforts are carried out at the restaurant.
Research is performed in different dimensions: new products, new techniques and new concepts. This is done at elBulli’s workshop in Barcelona. All tests are documented, and workshop creations are continued in the elBulli’s kitchen. In fact, dishes are finished and perfected in the kitchen.
ElBulli's experience in building the creative organization brings to the fore the importance of having a model of organization aligned towards creativity. 5 determinants of the creative organization at elBulli are presented:
-1-Creation and Creativity
-Focus on creativity rather than customers
-Exploring new path rather than leveraging activities already carried out
-In team composition
-Broad, diverse cognitive base
-Incorporation of new ideas
-Greater ability to interpret reality, crafting innovative options
-3-Strong Organizational Identity
-Based on strong long lasting values
-Generosity to share knowledge in and outside the organization
-Teamwork:individual talent to enhance organizational talent
-4-Low macroculture embeddedness
-No comparison or benchmark with competitors
-Viewed by the market as an artistic experience: elBulli=art
-elBulli's gastronomy spans across arts, psychology, science and technology
-Breaking new ground: avant-garde cooking
-5-Open business model
-Knowledge is created in and outside the organization
-Partnership that enable knowledge acquisition (i.e.,Harvard)
-Sharing knowledge with others
-The restaturant operates as an R&D laboratory, with little profit, but it provides the necessary knowledge for other businesses that are highly profitable
-Other companies approach elBulli for co-branding and knowledge