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Bite-Sized Brilliance — How to Use Stories to Fuel Innovation

June 30, 2023
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7 min read
Photo by Jem Sahagun on Unsplash
Stories have to be told. Or they die inside us.
Zora Neale Hurston

Consider framing as you munch on your burger on the 4th of July.

Not the burger itself. The meaning behind it.

You might think of its Americaness, of flags and fireworks, of motherhood and apple pie. The humble burger as a representative of the very American values of commercialism, entrepreneurship, and capitalism. The flavor of the burger, with its dance partners of lettuce, tomato, and sesame seed. Or even the word “burger” that makes your mouth water on independence day.

Apologies to the non-US readers of this Article. Over here, the holiday is a big thing.

Framing is essential to leadership. It is the essence of storytelling.

Framing is the concept in communication theory and social sciences that refers to how we portray information, events, and ideas. The framing effect is a cognitive bias that helps us choose. And leadership is a choice. Storytelling is how we amplify those choices.No alt text provided for this imageAnd the burger has been framed.

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And the burger has been framed.

64 AD.

Gaius's stomach growled as he trudged through crowded streets. The city is alive and bustling; merchants hawking wares, children playing, and citizens about their daily business.

The smell of cooking drew Gaius to the thermopolia. The shop owner greeted him, standing behind a counter of dolia—large terracotta jars filled with different kinds of food.

"Isicia Omentata, sodes" Gaius handed over a few sestertii and munched into his Isicia Omentata as he turned for home.

The thermopolia of ancient Rome were what we would call fast-food stalls today—the precursor to McDonalds. Sestertii were a lower denomination bronze coin worth less than a denarius, a silver coin—the equivalent to modern-day cents and dollars. A common laborer might earn a few denarii for a day’s work, and a dish like Isicia Omentata would likely cost less than a denarius.

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Isicia Omentata was a spicy grilled meat patty, the forerunner of the hamburger.

The Founder.

If you need a movie to watch on the 4th of July, watch this one.

Michael Keaton stars in The Founder as Ray Kroc, the American entrepreneur. The story is an object lesson in the cornerstones of capitalism; persistence, ethics, ambition, and innovation.

It is the story of McDonald’s.

As the movie starts, Kroc is a struggling Multimix milk-shake machine salesman. His job and workaholic nature mean a distant relationship with his wife. Kroc’s travels take him to San Bernardino, California, where he meets Mac and Dick McDonald—owners and founders of McDonald’s.

The McDonald brothers' burger tasted great, but their true innovation was the "Speedee Service System," an orchestrated ballet of efficient hamburger production. That system revolutionized the fast food industry.

On a handshake deal, Kroc partnered with the brothers to expand and franchise the business. His first restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois, proved a runaway success, allowing him to bring in more investors and open more franchises.

But Kroc felt he wasn’t earning enough.

Kroc worked around his contract with the brothers. He incorporated a new company, Franchise Reality Corporation, which bought and leased the real estate each McDonald’s sat on. After the speedy service system, the land-lease model was the second foundational innovation in McDonald’s history.

Land-lease was a piece of strategic genius.

The Franchise Reality Corporation was also the chess piece that allowed Kroc to force out the McDonald brothers. Land-lease gave Kroc a second, stable, high-profit income. He could collect rent from the franchisees as well as the franchise fee and percentage of sales. This gave him more control over the operators. He wasn’t just the franchisee; he was their landlord.

Kroc's original agreement with the McDonald brothers gave him the right to franchise McDonald's but also gave the brothers a degree of control over the operation, which led to conflict. In 1961, Kroc bought the McDonald's brand and operation rights from the McDonald brothers for $2.7 million. This deal allowed Kroc to take complete control.

Part of the buyout was a verbal agreement to pay the McDonald brothers a 0.5% royalty on future profits.

Kroc, now framing himself as the founder of McDonald’s, opened a new restaurant in San Bernardino, close to the original McDonald’s store. Kroc forced the brothers to rename their store.  The newly monikered “The Big M” ultimately closed.

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The McDonald brothers never saw their royalties, which would have eventually been about $100 million a year.

Would you eat pink slime?

Probably not. But maybe you have eaten lean, finely textured beef.

AKA boneless lean beef trimmings. It’s a food product made from the processed offcuts of meat packing plants. Heated, spun in a centrifuge, and then treated with ammonia gas to kill off nasty bugs, it’s used as a filler to reduce beef’s overall fat content—and price.

Critics call it pink slime.

If you’ve had a Big Mac or two in your lifetime, you’ve eaten it. Although it’s safe, according to the USDA, McDonald’s stopped putting it in their burgers in 2012, probably because it doesn’t sound too appetizing.

It’s all in the name.

That’s the beef the Cattleman’s Association has with Beyond Burger. The patty is from California-based startup Beyond Meat; the plant-based burger looks, cooks, and tastes like traditional beef burgers. Except it’s never seen a cow.  The Beyond Burger derives from beans and rice.

To consumers, the compound noun of Beyond Burger quickly conveys meaning. It’s like real meat, but not. That wordhackery skates too close to the edge for cattlemen. They insist it’s fake meat, and they’re ornery about it. To date, the debate rages in law courts and state houses.

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McDonald’s, sensibly, has avoided that particular fire with the McPlant.™

A burger from the other side of the world.

That quintessential Roman American invention, the hamburger.

The legend of its creation dates back to 1885 at the Outgamie County Fair in Seymour, Wisconsin. Fifteen-year-old Charlie Nagreen flattened meatballs he was selling between two pieces of bread to make them easier to eat. Or—it was first served at Louis’ Lunch in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1900 to allow a customer to eat on the go. That’s another claim.

Also in the mix is Fletcher Davis at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. He ran out of pork for his sausage patty sandwiches and instead used ground beef, probably delighting any visiting cattlemen.

The name itself originates 4,516 miles from St. Louis, Missouri. Hamburg, Germany. Hamburger. Hamburgian immigrants, who enjoyed finely chopped beef in their homeland, found it used in this oh-so-American delicacy.

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Snack on that as you eat your burger.

Gavin McMahon is a founder and Chief Content Officer for fassforward consulting group. He leads Learning Design and Product development across fassforward’s range of services. This crosses diverse topics, including Leadership, Culture, Decision-making, Information design, Storytelling, and Customer Experience. He is also a contributor to Forbes Business Council.

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