Ever been on a blind date? Most people say it’s simultaneously scary and exciting, and always memorable. Which is also what people say about Axel Rudolph’s Unsicht-Bar, 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. Diners are attended by blind waiter/guides who describe the food and its location on the plate using a clock face metaphor.
Success without Looking
Since its opening in 2002, Unsicht-Bar has won acclaim from restaurateurs and critics alike. In addition to the novel 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 you might never have tasted before.
“You smell better, you are more receptive to differences in texture, consistency and temperature,” Rudolph explains. Unsicht-Bar’s popularity has led Rudolph to open additional locations in Hamburg and Berlin. (A similar venture, Dans le Noir, opened in Paris in 2004.)
Rudolph’s venture embodies a powerful insight into opportunity. Take Post-it notes, for example — who would want a glue that cannot stick? Similarly, blindness is generally considered a liability. 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. Criticised for the disruptive psychological effects on minors, games such as Full Spectrum Warrior are now the basis for an emerging software market in treating war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Retro styles are an inversion of the idea that clothing goes out of fashion. And celebrities driving the inexpensive, compact Toyota Prius 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.
Stuart Read is professor of marketing at IMD. Saras Sarasvathy is associate professor of business administration at the University of Virgina’s Darden School.
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