In Nathan’s yearly July 4th contest, it took just 10 minutes for speed eating champ Matthew Stonie to down 62 hot dogs with buns. Up to 2001, the top number was 25 1/8.
Where are we going? To the impact of innovation.
Speed Eating Innovation
Our story starts in Japan in 2000. An economics student who needed money entered a four-stage speed eating competition. Using game theory, he based his strategy on what he expected from his opponents. Rather than gorging himself during the courses that were at the beginning of the competition, he estimated what others would eat. Then, because he ate just enough of a first course of boiled potatoes, a second one with a seafood bowl and a third course of Mongolian mutton BBQ to exceed the competition, he progressed to the last stage with the capacity to eat more noodles than anyone else. He took home $5,000, a new direction in life and plans for winning the speed eating “super bowl” in Coney Island.
Takeru Kobayashi (aka Kobi) was not your typical speed eater. Analytically inclined, he realized that the winners of Nathan’s International Hot Dog eating contest were just eating their normal way, only faster. They gulped down a hot dog and a bun, drank some water and started all over again.
Like all innovators, he said that there had to be a better way. So he redefined the problem. The hot dog was the easy part. Slippery, it could glide down your throat. The bun though required the water and drinking the water slowed you down. His solution was to separate the two. As hot dogs slid down his throat, he squeezed the buns into moist balls after dipping them in water. Moist, the buns went down much faster.
Like all top athletes, he used video to break down his movements. Deciding when it was best to “sprint” and when to eat more slowly, how to move and which muscles needed strengthening, he changed the sport.
Here is how he does it:
Even more than an athlete though, he sounded like an innovative entrepreneur.
Our Bottom Line: Entrepreneurs
Joseph Schumpeter was the economist who explained the impact of innovative entrepreneurs.
An academic superstar, an Austrian finance minister, and a Harvard professor, Joseph Schumpeter left Europe to teach at Harvard in 1932. Explaining the evolution of capitalism, he attributed its growth to entrepreneurs and its eventual demise to the resentment that would build against its elite. Schumpeter tells us that entrepreneurs are the source of “creative destruction” because their businesses render others obsolete. With their new products and processes, entrepreneurs create jobs, progress and productivity. They change consumer habits, develop new means of production and new forms of economic organization. Not necessarily concerned with risk, they are unusually focused on making a difference in the world.
Kobi’s approach echoed how innovative entrepreneurs change the world. Perceiving a product or process in a new way, they render their predecessors obsolete.