Cooking is a creative process and – for most of us at least! – one that involves a fair bit of trial and error. Few would argue that celebrity chef Jamie Oliver is a hugely creative cook. He’s also a serially successful business phenomenon, although he would be first to admit that his approach has benefited from a fair bit of trial and error too.
What is for sure is that Jamie Oliver doesn’t just confine his creativity to the kitchen. He uses it in everything that he does. Rather than restricting his activities to being a celebrity chef, churning out new recipes, TV series and cookbooks, he has constantly diversified and extended his brand.
It is this creativity that has really sustained his brand and made Jamie Oliver not just a national empire but also a global one. In a recent talk on creativity, Oliver said creativity is about “Learning your craft, looking around you and being responsive.” He then adds: “Be dynamic, be agile, interrogate everything you do every day.”
That’s what it takes to be at the top of your game and stay at the top of your game these days. It’s not enough to do one thing and do it well. You have to establish a brand, build on it, diversify and keep yourself in the public eye. You have to keep moving forward, keep re-inventing yourself, keep responding to market changes. No-one can afford to stand still anymore.
Look at Oliver. He started off as a cheeky chappie chef back in the 1990s. Now he’s not just a chef but an entrepreneur, restaurateur and very strong media personality. He has branded cookware, ingredients and an edible perfume, to name a few lines of his business emporium.
Then there is the activism and campaigning – the Jamie Oliver Foundation, providing opportunities for disadvantaged youths and the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation USA, promoting the importance of good food.
Who would have thought the Naked Chef would go on to become an activist and campaigner? Yet, in a TED talk he describes himself as a chef and activist. We had the high profile drive a decade ago to make school dinners healthier. Now he is hitting the headlines again with his campaign for a tax on sugar.
Will he succeed? We don’t know yet but like any good business person, he is prepared to take risks. In a Guardian article, Oliver admits to taking risks and failing 40% of the time: “I worked out the other day, I took a little review of my 17 years – we’ve done all right, I’ve sold a few books and we’ve made a few quid – I realised that I think I wasted and fucked up about 40%. That 40% is quite painful. But then I sit back and look at it: Would I change anything? Did the mistakes not teach me powerful lessons? I’m trying to turn those mistakes into what maybe you guys call R&D.”
So what can we learn from Jamie Oliver’s creative success? Here are six tips . . .
1. Fail in order to succeed
Like Oliver, be prepared for failures. Acknowledge them, learn from them and move on. It takes a certain amount of bravery and a lot of chutzpah to stick your neck out the way that Oliver does, but it can reap dividends.
2. Be clear about your purpose and communicate it
If you are going to stick your neck out, know why you are doing it however. It works best when you capture the zeitgeist, in the way that Oliver does. When the world of work, communication and cooking became less formal, Oliver came along with his relaxed approach to cooking. As technology increasingly pervades and informs every aspect of our lives, he is right there with a strong YouTube presence – Food Tube, Drinks Tube and most recently, Family Food Tube.
Oliver is commercially astute and has put himself squarely in the communication platform of the future. That’s what being successful in business is all about – moving with the times. Or even better, being at the forefront of change and driving the change. It is about capturing the zeitgeist and then riding with it.
3. Be enthusiastic about what you do
Business acumen is critically important here. It comes from knowing your craft, knowing your industry inside out and knowing how to move it on. Oliver has a seemingly relentless energy and passion for what he does. His enthusiasm is tireless, contagious and looks totally authentic. If you want people to believe in you, you have to make them believe in you.
4. Build your credibility
But, to be credible, you have to show that you know your stuff. Listen to Oliver’s TED talk and it’s obvious that he does– not just about cooking, but about the importance of diet, the importance of good health and what the numbers say. He has the information and statistics to back up what he says.
5. Be authentic and approachable
It also comes back to personality. We are in an age where having a media friendly personality is key. Reel off information and statistics by all means, but make it accessible and digestible. Think of Oliver’s very easy appeal. He is straightforward, likeable and an approachable person. That’s what you want in the world of business.
6. Work with like-minded people
You also can’t operate alone. You have to know the right people or at least have access to and be able to influence the right people. At the end of the day, you have to have the right vision, product and communications strategy that will resonate with your audience. You need the creative vision, flair and approach that Oliver talks about. Then maybe you too will end up with a net worth of £240 million. Be creative, aim high, take risks and be prepared for a few failures along the way.