Illustration by Jake Dwyer

What does Healthcare Design have to do with Ramen and Pork Buns?

Lessons for Healthcare Innovation from the Culinary World

David Chang is a culinary innovator and wildly successful chef and restaurateur who is famous for his ramen noodles and his pork buns. His culinary activities started with the Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York City and have expanded to his larger enterprise which has included opening more restaurants across the globe, and producing and starring in a number of Netflix television shows like Ugly Delicious and Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner.

In 2004 he opened his first restaurant Momofuku, the concept of which was a simple ramen shop. His motivations for opening the restaurant were simple:

And he is very transparent about the fact the he was not initially successful. As described in this Forbes article:

What’s interesting about his story is that the constraint of imminent failure combined with the proximity to customers eventually led to success with Momofuku:

Because he was cooking in front of the customers, he could iterate on recipes, test them with customers, and receive direct feedback. That’s the design process, yet how often in healthcare do we actually develop prototypes, test them with consumers and learn from their feedback on a daily basis?

Lesson #1: Design with consistent and constant feedback from your users.

Despite his personal success, Chang has a lot of humility. This attitude translates to his staff.

Lesson #2: You need humility, attention to craft, and accountability as a team, not just as an individual.

Finally, I am fascinated by his curiosity and desire to learn and understand the world from people outside his tribe. I would love to visit Chang’s Momofuku culinary lab, which has a team of food scientists and chefs experimenting:

The lab has made pine nut, pistachio, sesame, lentil, and mung beans misos. The lab has made Butabushi, which is pork loin that is steamed, smoked and “left to rot”. After making the Butabushi he had to reach across the aisle to microbiologists at academic institutions to determine whether this was even safe to eat (Watch the second episode of the first season of The Mind of a Chef to learn more!)

He has clearly been successful as a restaurateur, but combines the scientific method with innovation to infuse new ideas and products into his enterprise.

Lesson #3: Don’t be Afraid to be Creative and Try Some Crazy New Things, backed by the Scientific Method. Chefs should definitely connect with microbiologists and Healthcare folks should definitely connect with…

Which unconventional partner will you connect with to learn from and iterate your health innovations?

I tweet and blog about design, healthcare, and innovation as “Doctor as Designer”. Follow me on Twitter and sign up for my newsletter!

Click here for information about creative commons licensing. Disclosures: T1D Exchange, Grant funding from Lenovo.

Joyce Lee, MD, MPH, Physician, Designer, Researcher. #learninghealthsystems; #design for #ai; and the maker movement