What would you do if you were given a blank canvas and asked to create an innovative food program for a top-brand client? EHL students in Dr. Marc Stierand’s Innovating the Customer Experience course were given just that opportunity when presented with their final project: Imagining Google’s food program in the year 2030.
While Google may not be the first company that comes to mind when discussing food service or the most obvious partner for a university focused in the hospitality industry, Dr. Stierand recognized the opportunity to allow his students to not only work with a top name brand but also to approach hospitality from a different angle.
Dr. Stierand wanted to encourage the creativity and out-of-the-box thinking that sometimes takes a backseat to the tradition of the industry, and Google is certainly well-known for their innovative approach:
"Management is a practice and therefore world-class management education has to create real-life learning situations that inspire students to explore the nature of practice. We are extremely fortunate that Google supports exploring not only their retrospective but, most importantly, their prospective sense-making practice that will help us all to shape a better world through food and hospitality."
Google’s food service program has influenced the way many employers invest in their talent, recognizing the need to provide services more holistically to support employee development and a positive and healthy working environment.
Students were divided into eight teams and set free to envision what Google’s food program could be in 2030. Research was done in numerous ways, including visiting the Google offices to explore the current offerings, conducting surveys with Google employees, interviewing Googlers, and secondary research into trends and issues facing the industry, as well as innovative solutions and technologies that could enhance or influence the way people experience food.
Creativity was at the heart of the presentations, and no two ideas were alike. Students approached from all angles, focusing attention on social, sensory, and sustainable aspects, in addition to a number of other qualities and contributors to the food and dining experience. These areas of focus played into each presentation, as students walked Mr. Camenzind and Ms. Weber through the various concepts with visuals, music, and even food prepared to engage the audience and give each person a sense of how the project could be realized. The presentations embodied innovation and creativity, addressing all senses and truly providing an immersive experience.
Students explored both the physical and digital sides of the project, recognizing the technological savviness of the client but additionally the need and desire to create concrete connections. Expanding the Google Food project beyond solely the dining experience, however, would allow employees to continue to build and maintain relationships with each other, share unique experiences or insights with non-Google employees, and impact the society at-large through activist positions, charitable organizations, or volunteer activity. Students saw the opportunity for the Google Food project to have lasting benefits beyond the simple dining experience, and proposed imaginative ideas that could create lasting value through the technology, whether a platform to internally share photos and ideas, to donate or get involved in an activist movement, or to contribute and learn more about certain programs.
Of the experience with the EHL students, Mr. Camenzind stated:
"It is great to see what the next generation is able to come up with when they get the chance to. All ideas and projects were very much thought through and build upon opportunities, trends and technology enhancement that will be possible in the future."
While the individual groups interpreted the potential for Google Food’s future uniquely, a few common themes could be seen across the projects. The main theme was experiential – whether it was focused on an issue, such as sustainable farming, or a place, having a cohesive story to the experience ran through the students’ presentations. The idea of experience also led to much conversation about co-creation, allowing the Google employees to take part in the development of the concept, whether in idea or food preparation, active participation, or post-experience sharing or continuation. Technology was incorporated in all aspects, from projected walls sharing employee images, to facts on food and food technology, or sensory additions, making the dining experience inventive, unique, and forward-thinking. Lastly, an emphasis on local sourcing and environmental and social sustainability took the project beyond Google and discussed how Google could positively impact the greater society through the use of innovative technology or simply the influence of its brand name.
Students showed their creativity, and the activity was a great exercise in out-of-the-box thinking and how hospitality can learn from other industries. Mr. Rochat, CEO of EHL, confirmed:
“Innovation is a core value at EHL as it allows an industry to stay fresh. Working with respected companies outside of hospitality encourages students to take a different approach and can bring about alternative ideas and solutions to drive the industry forward.”
Although the students were given a blank page to start with, what they presented in the end was a canvas of colorful and innovative ideas.
Student Concept: “The Blank Space” proposed a space where Googlers could uniquely share memories by controlling all aspects of a room to re-create a memorable trip and bring cultural awareness and an immersive food experience to fellow coworkers.
Student Concept: “Google Foodle” proposed a space where Google could educate and empower food choices of employees to encourage and support sustainable food practices by providing opportunities to explore unexpected dishes and share these experiences in an online platform.