Not with my pizza you don’t

Can innovation go too far?

I used to have this theory about Pizza Hut.

I suspected that someone very high up in the Pizza Hut corporate structure, someone wealthy and influential, had an adult son or daughter. And this adult son or daughter lived under the misapprehension he or she was actually a visionary, a genius, an IDEA PERSON — sort of like Michael Keaton’s character Bill Blazejowski in the classic 1982 comedy Night Shift. The adult son or daughter couldn’t hold any sort of real, regular job, and at the behest of his or her wealthy, influential parent, was eventually given employment at Pizza Hut, where he or she was supposed to just kick back, shut up and collect a paycheck.

Unfortunately, this adult son or daughter had too many BIG IDEAS to just kick back, shut up and collect a paycheck. He or she kept saying things like, “What if we put cheese in the crust?” and “Check this out — we make a calzone, but it’s, like, a gross low-rent version of a calzone, and we don’t call it a calzone, right? We call it … the P’Zone.”

And because some people in the company were afraid of the adult son or daughter’s wealthy, influential parent, we got a bunch of needless, idiotic “improvements” upon something that — provided you got it somewhere other than Pizza Hut — was already pretty much perfect.

A pizza needs no improvements. It’s cheap. It’s delicious. You can put anything on it. It is more than enough food, and comes cut so that you can eat just as much as you want, and even take part of it anywhere and chow down with one hand. Were you forced to winnow down your food needs to a basic 10-item checklist, it’s a good bet pizza would fulfill more of them than any other.

An IDEA PERSON would do better to focus his or her genius on an area more desperately in need of innovation.

So that’s the only reason I could imagine why a company that can’t even make a great regular pizza would keep trying to make pizza better by endlessly adding the culinary equivalent of different colors of racing stripe — because some people at the company were afraid of a more powerful person’s dumb-ass kid.

Eventually, I realized this theory was bullshit. Adding metaphorical racing stripes to products that don’t need them and calling it “innovation” is the rule, rather than the exception. It’s simply a fact of corporate growth: success kills real innovation — which can be risky — and replaces it with what only rarely even qualifies as refinement.

Refinements don’t author the course of civilization; they’re little luxuries, and history shows that the presence of too many can indicate a culture past its prime. A culture that innovates is thriving; a culture that scrambles to add unnecessary ornamentation to past innovations is spinning its wheels, clinging to yesterday’s accomplishments.

That’s why we’ll always need the nutjobs, the believers, the IDEA PEOPLE not yet beholden to a bottom line, or something else to lose. The Blazejowskis who might, despite themselves, be on to something. We need them, and the corporations need them as well.

Because one of them just might be on to something.

And I really, really hope it’s something more than a way to get one continuous hoop of sausage into a goddamn pizza crust.

Then again, come to think of it, that would be pretty cool. I could carry a slice in my combination oven glove/napkin that rolls up to become a beer coozie …

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