Disruptive innovation for a fast food giant

We worked with a large fast food company whose leadership was frustrated at slow and patchy innovation. They were used to their top-down initiatives, like marketing campaigns, being rolled out successfully. So they couldn’t understand why innovative new ideas ended up going nowhere, even with their endorsement.

‘Why,’ they wanted to know, ‘can’t we be as innovative as a start-up?’

Diagnose, Target, Create, Trial, Roll-out

We discovered that at every stage of the innovation process (Diagnose, Target, Create, Trial, Roll-out), the company’s approach was determined by their economic drivers. As a large business, this meant their approach to innovation looked very different to that of a start-up.

In particular, there was an ingrained aversion to risk – a worry that big changes would make things worse, not better. The business had a big customer base and reputation to protect.  

As a result, incentives were aligned to make sure solutions could be integrated with maximum efficiency. This led to a focus on incremental changes – a stark contrast with the big risks a start-up is prepared to take.

Where a smaller fast food company might jump into creating a new plant-based product, for example, an established one would be more comfortable making tweaks to an existing recipe – like developing a spicy version of a classic dish.

Harnessing their strengths

In the case of our client, the right solution was not about ‘being more like a start-up’ – it was about building a form of disruptive innovation that made the most of their strengths.

That included setting perfection targets – the type of thing the company was great at – for disruptive innovation mechanisms: a target number of big ideas developed each year, more testing of alternatives and building an evidence base of what worked and why.


You can find more details on our innovation framework in this article.