Creativity helps generate innovation

Chinese cooking will improve your creativity.

This case study is about how I applied the various aspects of  Chinese cooking (my hobby) to business and community development. And how it improved both my creativity and ability to innovate. In the creation of FAQ Support, much of what I learned from Chinese cooking, helped me to think through new paradigms for the complex world of small business, non-profits and their communities. Food is one common denominator.

A case study by Peter Sergeant

What’s Chinese cooking got to do with creativity

For me, food is an experience. It is both a science and an art form meant to be savoured and enjoyed, just like owning a business in a community you like. When you have a passion for food, you also like talking about the creative and innovative aspects of it. If you are feeling a little low, frustrated or need inspiration for your business, then this case study may help.

It was not that many years ago a woman who wished to work had minimal choices available to them. My wife recalled having only three real options for nursing, teaching or secretarial work; she chose to nurse.  Now, of course, it is very different the choices of work available to women are the same as those open to men. Because of the changes that have taken place in the world, there have been thousands of new types of jobs opening up. Similar changes have taken place in our eating habits with the influx of migrants from around the world. Changes have taken place in our lifestyles we no longer eat just ‘meat and three vegetables’.

Chinese cooking can inspire change

About thirty-five years ago I was looking for a change in lifestyle and a way of becoming more involved with my family. I looked at Chinese cooking because it was thousands of years old, so assumed it must have had some great qualities. I had discovered a new hobby, something that was totally foreign to me. With Chinese cooking, I could involve my children in learning this ancient culture. As a bonus, it would hopefully give my family and friends some new experiences and new ways of looking at things. We started purchasing Chinese cookbooks, ingredients and utensils. By doing so added another dimension to our lifestyle which is still going today.

I had never really thought much about China to this point in my life. It is vast, over 9,561 million square kilometres of land, with over 1.3 billion people with many different dialects. This compares with Australia’s 7,682 million square kilometres of land with just on 24 million people. Apart from the indigenous people and the new immigrants, we all spoke the same language throughout our land.

As my knowledge grew about China and Chinese cooking, so did my knowledge of just how this great cuisine related to lifestyle and business. I certainly had plenty of time to think about it while I was doing all the chopping and cutting and other intricate preparations required. I remember working out one day that I performed approximately three thousand actions to prepare one meal for twelve people.

The story of Chinese Cooking involves history and geography

The climate of China ranges from sub-arctic to sub-tropical. It has a wide range of different climates, soil types, provinces and fiercely independent traditions. No wonder there is such a large and diverse variety of Chinese dishes. A diversity that rivals the diversity of businesses and ways of doing business.

Four major regions with twenty-nine provinces in China providing plenty of variety:

  1. Northern or Peking – Centred in Beijing where they use minimal seasonings, lots of noodles and bread. It has many unique dishes because of the Mongolian influence. Also influenced by chefs continually presenting their dishes to the Emperors of the day.
  2. Western or Szechwan – This region has highly spiced flavours from the intensity of their famous, chillies and peppercorns.
  3. Eastern or Fukien –  The Fukien province has lightly seasoned marinated and generally richer dishes.
  4. Southern or Cantonese –  Has its subtle flavours, clear sauces and where rice is the staple accompaniment.

China has aridness and harshness in some of its regions. Consequently, the Chinese have developed highly sophisticated methods of drying and preserving food with many of the old methods still in use today. When you look at this diversity, you see the enormous number of different ingredients. This leads to a very large number of businesses required in their value chain, to grow the crops, process and market them and eventually preparing them for consumption.

Testimony to the appeal of Chinese cooking is the way it has captured the imagination and respect of cooks and food lovers throughout the world. Many of my recipes are classic Chinese dishes. Some of them have my creative interpretations after adapting them to our likes and dislikes. Individuality, creativity and inventiveness are true characteristics associated with the nature of Chinese cooking.

How do you describe your business?

When describing successful businesses, or communities, you can also say they have individuality, creativity and inventiveness of their character. By applying the Chinese cooking characteristics and principles to your businesses, you can come up with significantly improved outcomes. The unique style and simplicity of Chinese cooking provide much wisdom for us to all learn from.

Despite a 5,000-year-old heritage Chinese cooking is very relevant today. Variety, healthy eating, simple or complex as you choose. It can be quick to prepare or in the case of Peking Duck, you can actually start with the breeding and growing of the ducks. Chinese food is commonly regarded as the ideal food for our modern times, being high in protein and complex carbohydrates and low in calories. Meat plays a secondary part to vegetables, particularly the starchy varieties. Grains are widely used, particularly rice and for making noodles along with soybeans and their derivatives. Most of the elements of a good diet can be combined in one single Chinese dish. Naturally, their cooking and eating methods are also conducive to good health. Recent reports are quite damming of western food, as oriental people start to eat it and put on weight.

 Chinese food is the ideal food for modern times, is your business ideal?

Chinese food is commonly regarded as the ideal food for our modern times, being high in protein and complex carbohydrates and low in calories. Meat plays a secondary part to vegetables, particularly the starchy varieties. Grains are widely used, particularly rice and for making noodles along with soybeans and their derivatives. Most of the elements of a good diet can be combined in one single Chinese dish. Naturally, their cooking and eating methods are also conducive to good health. Recent reports are quite damming of western food, as oriental people start to eat it and put on weight.

Naturally, their cooking and eating methods are also conducive to good health and well-being. Recent reports are quite damming of western food, as oriental people start to eat it, put on weight and suffer from some Western diseases.

Creativity characteristics of Chinese food and how they apply to business

Chinese cooking is an art form, you like to be entertained, and you like it when something makes you feel good, and so it is with business.


The flavours are the most important test of a good dish. So is the taste of your businesses, your products and services in the hands of your customers, providing them with great customer experiences.


30% of your enjoyment comes from visual impact, the shapes, colours and presentation. If your business and its products do not have a good visual impact on your customers the expected sales will not follow. How many times have you walked out of a restaurant because you did not like the visual impact of the restaurant or its food?


Crunchy, smooth, soft, melting, bony and gelatinous, you like variety just the same as your customers. You do not like the same old stuff being dished up all the time. Using your creativity, you can improve your customer experience and keep on doing it.


Communal eating, a good group sharing dishes. You all like that feeling of belonging and so do your customers. How welcoming is your business to your customers, both on and off-line?


The many and varied smells should whet the appetite. Good clean, fresh, inviting smells are always appealing. They help you make buying decisions just like the smell of the onions on a barbeque.


Some Chinese dishes are prized by the noise they make. Excessive noise can always be a turn-off. Again this is one of your key senses that must be respected and catered for. Would you buy a car that does not have good sound-proofing? But then again how many people buy Harley Davidson motorcycles because of its unique noise.

You would think it has all been done before

There are more than 80,000-recorded recipes in China. Probably more has been written down through the ages about Chinese cooking, than any other cuisine. Thousands of cookbooks and recipes have been written. They will continue to be written, as people try to express their feelings and creativity to help others achieve the same experiences. I have about 150 Chinese cookbooks.

As with business, you would think that after all these years it has all been invented? How many recipes does it take to run a business and how many do you have? There must be millions of recipes on how to run a business better; there are certainly millions of books.

The reason that I relate business to Chinese cooking is that the principles and methods that I have used in Chinese cooking help me to think with creativity and to more constructive about business.

There are 16 methods of cutting, 11 distinctive shapes, 40 methods of cooking and untold ingredients to choose from. It is no wonder people think Chinese cooking is difficult. Really it only serves to show the scope for creativity that can be opened up to everyone. Whether you are a cook or not. The same good principles can be applied to any business, where there are many inputs required for good management in a timely fashion.

Cookbooks or recipes should only be used as a guide and for creativity

There are so many common and exotic ingredients becoming freely available, through specialist Chinese shops and importers. There should be no limit to your creativity. Specialist shops stocking Australian meats such as Crocodile, Buffalo, Camel, Kangaroo and Emu are now springing up, providing an additional dimension of your creativity. So it is with business today as the world opens up to you with new and exciting markets, technology and communications.

The technology explosion and many of the other trends have only served to open up an abundance of opportunities. Opportunities to apply your own individuality and creativity. Things that are needed to improve your customer’s experiences along with your profitable growth and sustainability. If you do not learn the basic fundamentals of your business, then it will surely feel like a war out there in ‘business land’, and you can be sure that you will be the loser. With business books, cookbooks and any other books and sources of information, you are ultimately left with a lot of information and ideas to which you must apply your imagination and creativity.

If you do not learn the basic fundamentals of your business, then it will surely feel like a war out there in the business world. You can be sure that you will be the loser if you maintain the status quo. With the flood of information and knowledge, it can be difficult to cope. I have found the approach and discipline of Chinese cooking invaluable.

Visualising is always important

You need to conceive a Vision for your business just like you need to conceive a vision for a particular Chinese dish or a dinner party. Then you can apply your common sense and creativity to pull it off. Chinese cooking has been called a living art, and I believe business is, or should also be a living art.

Many feel Chinese cooking is a bit daunting. There are also many business owners and potential owners that feel the same way. This is particularly so if they are not a creative person, or they do not have the support of their family. Maybe Chinese cooking or some other form of cooking or a hobby is the way to show yourself and your friends the hidden creativity within you.

Start simply, using simple everyday ingredients that you are familiar with. Learn a few simple principles and experiment from there. Start with a simple business model, business plans and budget.  Keep it simple and apply the fundamentals and then apply your new found creativity.

Don’t accept second best

Some people are only used to second-grade Chinese food. Dished up at many Chinese restaurants that use lashings of MSG to give their otherwise dull food some flavour. Your use of good quality fresh ingredients will make the difference. Just as using good quality materials and methods in your business will make a difference, just like putting good foundations into your house.

There are no defined rules, no definitive Chinese cookbook. There was never a ‘Bible’ written for Chinese cooking just as there isn’t one written for business. This great cuisine just keeps on growing and absorbing new materials and methods across the world. Much the same as successful small businesses do, they continue to reinvent themselves.

This is probably the reason that most people find Chinese cooking not only good to eat but also fun to cook. Understanding the role of creativity and innovation can make all the difference to the success of your business and the fun you have with it.

The vital steps to success while improving creativity

With Chinese cooking, as with running a business, the three vitally important steps in learning and perfecting your skills are:

  1. Practice
  2. More practice
  3. And even more practice

Many people shy away from Chinese cooking just as they shy away from the business because they think it is too much work. Well, this may be so when you are learning. As you become more proficient, you will find you can whip up a great Chinese meal very quickly. Particularly when you use recognised shortcuts. Learn by practice, and you will perfect what you are doing. This will give you more time to do other things that you really want to with your life.

Most people are afraid of Chinese cooking just as they are afraid of business

This is because of the seemingly elaborate preparation, the wide variety of ingredients and the special utensils required. Most recipes are easy to follow and can be prepared in any western kitchen. Again start simply and master the basics. Yes, there is a lot of work involved with Chinese cooking just as there is in running a business. If you are not prepared to do the hard work while you are learning, then perhaps you should never start. The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.

People still hesitate to cook Chinese at home in the belief that there is some mystery about it. The Western mind simply cannot come to grips with. In reality, it is remarkably simple, economical and practical. After all, you don’t want to become bored do you, as boredom leads to failures you don’t need?

Having a bad week, month, year, or life? Need to make a fresh start and expand your horizons, become a better person and enjoy life to the fullest? Is the pain you are suffering in your organisation becoming too much for you? Then perhaps it’s time to do some serious planning. Perhaps it’s time to let go of the past and celebrate your life with some new insights and a fresh start. Life is full of challenges, so what you need now are a breakthrough and a more positive direction. Never, ever give up on what is important to you,

Some of my findings relating to Chinese cooking and business

The character of people in business includes individuality and creativity can be improved with Chinese cooking. Chinese cooking principles combined with business principles can create significantly improved outcomes. The unique style and simplicity of Chinese cooking have been developed over many centuries. Whereas most business people have only been involved for a very short time without a lot of practice.

You can’t please everybody

One of the first things you learn is if you try to please everybody, it can be the key to failure. The old adage ‘the customer is always right’, is wrong. Cook with passion and love to please your family and friends, but only after you have decided what you want to cook. By focusing on what is important to you first, your enjoyment will be enhanced. Don’t see this as being selfish, but rather as necessary if you want to help others. Success breeds success and success requires you being motivated by what you are doing.

There will always be failures

Everyone has failures when they are learning to cook, just like there are failures in business. Don’t be disheartened and learn from your mistakes. What you consider to be a failure because it did not meet your expectations, may be a delight and be enjoyed by hungry guests. They would not necessarily know what a failure in Chinese cooking was.

Try giving your failure a new name, or a new twist, you might have a ‘hit’ on your hands. One extra simple ingredient could make the difference. It wouldn’t be the first success to come out of a failure, and it will not be the last.  A failure in business, just like in Chinese cooking or anything else, is not the final outcome. Failure is only a lesson along the way to ultimate success. If your business seems to be failing, it might need a slight adjustment to the business model. The introduction of one new activity could make all the difference.

Hasn’t it all been invented?

I relate running a business to Chinese cooking. This is because the principles and methods I have used in Chinese cooking help me to be more creative and to see things more constructively about business. There will always be room for improvement and a need for innovation in everything you do. Never think it has all been invented as you will find out when you try new things.

Lifestyle changes can improve your life

What is your recipe for building a lifestyle and business that works? It’s easy to see the people who understand how things work and have strategies to create the results they want. You will end up a loser if you keep stumbling along wishing, hoping and constantly complaining that you never get a break. Change the way you want to live and work by changing the culture you operate in. Bring some balance back into your life. Chinese cooking might be the catalyst you are looking for,

Never take things for granted

I once agreed to cook a Chinese banquet for a wedding reception for 150 guests. I had no concept of the issues that I would have to face, and I was over confident. It is one thing to cook for your family another to cook for ten to twenty people. It is quite another thing to cook a Chinese banquet for 150, particularly when more than half of them are Chinese. Had I thought about the different skills it takes to run a 20-person business as against a five-person business, I would have coped much better.

I needed different equipment; different methods and I had to manage eight helpers. A false sense of security came over me when I was shown this great looking commercial kitchen we would be working in. But the gas wasn’t strong enough, there was inadequate bench space. As the ‘master chef’, I didn’t need to prepare a work schedule for the helpers did I?. We only just averted a disaster by sheer brute force and a lot of stress. When you are doing something you have never done before, preparation is critical.

Do things in the right order

Chinese cooking taught me that everything works better if it is prepared, cooked and served in the right order. The new world will challenge your businesses to improve performance continuously. And to build new alliances and venture out both locally, regionally and internationally. People often come into my kitchen when I’m preparing a banquet. They immediately comment on what appears to be a disorganised mess. In reality, Chinese cooking teaches you to do things, not only creatively to adapt to new situations but to do things in the right order. Of course the uninitiated can’t see that.

Don’t get too complex too early

Keep things simple until you master the fundamentals. Just as the global economy is opening up new opportunities for creating business opportunities, so it is with Chinese cooking. There are technology explosions and other trends you have to cope with in business. They only serve to open up an abundance of opportunities to apply your own individuality and creativeness. If you do not learn the fundamentals of life and your business, then it will feel like a war out there, and you will be the loser. With business books, cookbooks, eBooks, the Internet and social media you have a flooded river of information which you can apply your creativity too.

Like business, cooking starts with a dream and a vision

Just as you should have a clear vision for your business, you need to have a vision for a particular Chinese dish or a proposed dinner party.  Then you only need to apply your common sense and creative talents to achieve the outcomes you want.

Chinese cooking may be the way for you to expose the hidden talents within you

Start simply, using ingredients you are familiar with. Understand the basic fundamentals, learn a few simple principles and experiment from there. Likewise, start with a simple business and make it grow into what you want. Start simply so people can simply understand, you can become more complex with experience.

Business like Chinese cooking should not be a chore

Both should be fun activities. The blending of ideas, colours, tastes, textures and utensils to give you a great deal of satisfaction as well as being popular with your guests. Pleasing to eat and something you can profit from. As in business, it must be fun for everyone. Stirring the creative juices in you, keeping you vibrant and putting the ‘sizzle’ into the sausages. Avoid the negative and boring people and provide your customers with exceptional service and experiences.

What is your current reality

The reality is often hard for many people to accept. Close your eyes and imagine yourself building a better future. What do you see yourself doing and when would you like to do it. When you look at your current reality, do you feel there’s something missing from your life? Or, you’re always waiting for something to arrive? This blog is about helping you have a reality check on your aspirations.

Most businesses, non-profits and communities need innovation, not imitation. Why not use Chinese cooking to help you?

Quotable quotes

“Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think”. Chinese proverb

“Talk doesn’t cook rice”. Chinese Proverb


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