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Inside the mind of a Genius - Ferran Adria

Last year, I had the privilege of attending an intimate private dinner with my forum group, which is a group of 9 Spanish-based entrepreneurs working in industries such as fashion, telecommunications, transportation, meetings & conferences, technology and automotive. The group meets together to share ideas, insights and experiences in order to help each other grow personally and professionally.

The dinner was one of a series of “Learnings” that are organised throughout the year in order for the group to learn from captains of industry and other influential personalities. On this occasion we were honoured to host the owner of former El Bulli Restaurant, Ferran Adrià.

For those very few people who have not heard of Ferran Adrià, his restaurant has consistently been voted the best restaurant in the world and he has received more than 40 prizes and awards during his career.

The experience of dining with Ferran was in itself a mind blowing experience that only few have had the opportunity to enjoy, but what absolutely blew my mind was the man himself and the amazing conversation that flowed during the meal.

Free falling for 2 hours

On first impressions Ferran is a very humble figure, he arrived on time and introduced himself to our members and spouses with astonishing humility. You could tell that his brain was already working overtime even before we had sat down. After the brief introductions it was time to buckle up our seats because Ferran was about to take us all on a meteoric tour through the mind of an absolute genius.

Imagine jumping out of a plane and freefalling for 2 hours before the parachute opens, and within those 2 hours various objects of true value and beauty flash before you. Your job is to capture as many of them before your parachute opens. Well that’s what the conversation was like with Ferran. He spoke at a breakneck speed as the thoughts whizzed through his mind and as mere mortals we were there to capture as many pearls of wisdom as we could before landing safely back on earth.

Here are the orbs of gold I managed to pick up on my freefall:

On business

It is hard not to think of Ferran as the Dali of the Gastronomic world, however like Dali he is not just creative in the kitchen, he is creative full stop! His skills are so transferable that he is in high demand all over the world from schools like MIT, Harvard and other organisations keen to apply his disruptive approach to their own industries. Today he has several projects on the go (as you would imagine) and each of them share his passion for change and innovation.

On passion

When asked how he and his teams remain motivated he answered with one word – ‘Passion”. When you feel you are really making a difference in the world, how can you fail to have passion? Too many people walk around with no passion just because what they are doing doesn’t really make a difference to anyone.

On being number one in the world

We learnt that his motivations were never to be number one but to remain creative and continually innovate gastronomic experiences. By committing 100% to this ethos he became number one by default. Ferran looks at gastronomy as science and a journey of true discovery. He gave a live example by pointing out how each of us were preparing to eat our first dish that evening. Just before we were all about to start the maestro froze the scene and had us all observe how we were beginning our meal. Some started by moving the plate around, others by slicing the fish, others by spearing the cauliflower and others by sipping the wine to wet the palate. This “freeze frame” demonstrated that although we had been served the exact same dish, our experiences would be totally different. Understanding that level of thought and introspection is in a nutshell what makes him such a genius.

On creativity and innovation

Today people use the terms creativity, innovation and talent interchangeably. Most people have talent; some are talented and a few are highly talented but a very select number of people are genuinely creative. Making something out of nothing is a gift reserved for those who come from the same planet as Ferran.

On failure

Ferran said he doesn’t believe the mantra that you must fail so many times in life before you succeed, but does believe that it's ok to fail. When asked for an example of a failure, he said: “We came up with an idea to create a simple good quality burger with fries and make it affordable to eat a good quality meal without having to wait for ages. This idea failed in its time but now there are plenty of stores adopting this concept. No one should set out to fail but if you don’t fear failing then you can get on with being innovative.”

On poverty

We are living in tough times in Spain where many people may be living on very low salaries and not able to eat well on a daily basis. We must bare in mind that those of us who are lucky to not be in that position have duty to try and fix these problems. But we have to pick the battles that we think we can win. We are not going to change people’s habits for eating overnight nor can we correct an industry that insists on using terms like “natural” and “ecological” products in very misleading ways. But we can start by educating our children about the importance of diet and gastronomy.

On social media

Social media has helped so many businesses and companies because in the digital world anything becomes possible. The challenge however is to continue to be original and creative. “At El Bulli one of our main motivations was that we wanted to surprise people with their experience. With social media the element of surprise is lost because within 2 minutes your whole network can share in your “surprise experience”. We would close for long periods of time (up to 6 months), this enabled us to work, experiment and innovate.”

When you meet Ferran you immediately sense you are with someone who is speaking and thinking on another dimension who sometimes may struggle to get his points understood by mere homo sapiens. His depth of knowledge of history, technology, gastronomy and human psychology demonstrates his sheer pleasure of learning and sharing with others. I feel very lucky to have met the man behind the myth and for people who have heard stories about his magnetic energy and mesmerising powers of communication… they are all true.

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