Ever been on a blind date? Most people say it’s simultaneously scary and exciting, and it’s always memorable. Which is also what people say about Axel Rudolph’s Unsicht-Bar. Unsicht-Bar is a small Cologne eatery run by the blind where patrons enjoy wine, cuisine and conversation in pitch dark. Even the glow of a mobile phone is not permitted in this establishment. Diners are attended by blind waiter/guides who describe the food both in terms of its preparation and its location on the plate.
The Success of Less
Since it’s opening in 2002, Unsicht-Bar has won acclaim from restauranteurs and critics alike. In addition to the novel yet empathic experience of spending the evening with someone you can’t see, eliminating the sense of sight intensifies the rest of the senses so that Unsicht-Bar’s simple fare (the chef seasons with only salt, pepper, garlic, onions and herbs) comes alive in a way that you might never have tasted before.
“You smell better, you are more receptive to differences in texture, consistency and temperature”_it’s a holistic experience.” ? Axel Rudolph
Unsicht-Bar’s popularity has led Rudolph to open additional locations in Hamburg and Berlin, and has brought an intriguing innovation to the reasonably mature restaurant industry.
Rudolph’s venture embodies a powerful insight into success that is visible in innovations in a variety of areas. Take Post-It notes, for example ? who would want a glue that cannot stick? Blindness* is generally considered a liability ? a handicap. Rudolph inverts it. Unsicht-Bar makes blindness a point of differentiation and a basis for advantage. He takes a negative and makes it positive.
Seeing Upside Down
Inversions are everywhere. Consider violent video games. Criticized for the disruptive psychological effects on minors, games like Full Spectrum Warrior are now the basis for an emerging software market in treating war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorders. Retro styles are an inversion of the idea that clothing goes out of fashion. And celebrities driving inexpensive, compact Toyota Priuses invert the notion that wealth and luxury are embodied in a large car.
An Eye to Opportunity
The next time you feel you are on a blind date with destiny, look around you. Look for things that evoke a negative response. And think about transforming them into a positive basis for a new venture. For, as experienced entrepreneurs will tell you, opportunities are usually blind dates ? simultaneously scary and exciting, yet memorable and, more often than you might think, worth embracing. * About 2.6% of the world population is visually impaired to a level that constitutes legal blindness in the US or the UK (source: World Health Oganization).
Written by Stuart Read, professor of marketing at IMD and Saras Sarasvathy, associate professor of business administration at the University of Virgina’s Darden School and also available at Business Life.
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