The Talent Poole

Breaking bread: James Eid’s recipe for creative leadership

By Jon Poole

- Last updated on GMT

Jon Poole speaks to James Eid (pictured below) founder of Earth & Wheat to hear how he's harnessing creativity
Jon Poole speaks to James Eid (pictured below) founder of Earth & Wheat to hear how he's harnessing creativity

Related tags Food waste Leadership

James Eid is the founder of Earth and Wheat, a subsidiary of his family’s business, Signature Flatbreads. At only 24 years old, Eid has, through his enthusiasm and creativity, challenged the family business and also the wider food industry by re-thinking how to tackle food waste.

This month, in The Talent Poole, I caught up with Earth and Wheat’s​ founder James Eid to find out how he has gone about encouraging and harnessing the creativity within his business.

Creativity at the heart of innovation

Innovation can be seen as the outcome or application of creative thinking. As leaders, we therefore have a critical role, encouraging those in our teams to always be thinking creatively and so, seeking to continuously improve.

Eid agreed: “Innovation is, in my view, the key to success, whether this relates to developing new products or improving processes. I think everyone has creativeness in them and I see it as my role to empower everyone to speak up and share their ideas and opinions. Great minds colliding is what leads to new and innovative ways of working.”

Harnessing the power of youthful thinking

It is well researched and documented that our minds are at their most creative and free-thinking when we are children. Those with small children will recognise this, when struggling to keep up with a child’s vivid imagination when they are playing or making things. As we develop into adulthood, most of us lose a lot of our ability to be truly creative – partly through time and other pressures and partly because our brains become filled with the rules and boundaries which help us navigate the complex world we live in.

Eid understands this and reflected on its impact: “I recognise that red tape and politics can potentially stifle great ideas. Something may appear a wacky idea but could, ultimately, be scalable. You will never know unless you take risks and let ideas evolve.”

Creative thinking is not something most of us can simply turn on and off at will. Even the most creative minds need to have the right environment and put themselves into the right mindset to allow their creativity to flourish. It can be difficult, for example, following a conversation or meeting concerned with detailed facts and analysis, to immediately switch into creative mode.

We need to block out time and create a break from our everyday work environment to free our minds from detail and from being critical. It can sometimes help to go off site to create a physical break from our routine.

Encouraging creativity in the team

In the case of managing others, we need to give individuals permission or the confidence to be creative – providing a safe space for them to think beyond their everyday work – and without fear of criticism.

Being a relatively young company, Eid has been able to build this into the business’s ethos and way of working.

I like to encourage autonomy and freedom of discussion,” ​he said. “We hold regular workshops and forums with different stakeholders which are a great way of gaining new insights and ideas. For example, we ran an anonymous idea forum using sticky notes, just to generate as many ideas as we could. We didn’t evaluate any of the outputs at this stage. When we reconvened the group to explore the valid ones further, we still didn’t identify the originators of the ideas. This makes people feel safe to put forward their ideas.”

Eid explained more about the opportunities they create for ideas generation: “We convene what we call ‘Blue sky sessions’ to encourage the really crazy ideas – as well and less crazy ones! We will hold these as-and-when, but at least once a quarter. In addition to these, we also meet fortnightly to refresh ideas – a much shorter cadence.”

If at first you don’t succeed

Of course, not all ideas are viable to be taken forward for a variety of reasons. They may not all be practical or in line with the business’s strategy. Some may not be financially viable, or the business may not have the capability or resources to deliver them. There does, therefore, need to be a process of careful evaluation. But, even at this stage, Eid is careful not to simply discard ideas: “I think ideas should be trialled – sometimes we have to take risks to let an idea evolve. A wacky idea may just be scalable, but you’ll never know until you trial it.”

That said, there does need to be a well-defined process for determining when an idea is not going to succeed and when it’s time to pull the plug. This can be a hard decision if significant funds, time and effort have already been spent nurturing a new idea – especially if people have become too invested in its success.

Eid recalled such a situation: “Two years ago we decided to implement a more sophisticated website. It meant choosing new developers – it was a massive project. Unfortunately, the developers let us down and we were forced to have to write it off and start again.

“Knowing when to stop is important. Right from the start of a project, we set in place KPIs [key performance indicators] and determine how we are going to monitor progress without overly impacting the delivery of the project.”

Challenging paradigms

Inevitably, when introducing new products or ways of working, there will be resistance. Market disruption requires courage and conviction. Even within the family business, Eid encountered some initial push-back from within the business. Questions were asked whether this was the right strategy with concerns expressed that customers might look to down-grade to wonky bread​ and therefore undermine the core business. Selling wonky bread at the same price-point as their standard lines negated this concern.

Selling the idea

Some ideas may not be instantly understood or accepted – either by those needing to bring the idea into reality, or by consumers, as Eid highlighted: “One of our biggest challenges, right early on, was explaining to consumers that wonky bread is a thing! Most people would not be aware of the potential waste from product being out of spec. We did also get some early complaints and comments as to why we were selling our wonky bread at the same price as our premium breads. We needed to explain one advantage to consumers is that, because we are selling to them direct, it is fresher and so has a longer life.”

Eid and his team must have sold the concept well because, when Earth and Wheat first launched, they achieved their annual target for online subscribers in just four weeks!

Bright and shiny things

Harnessing creativity is not about coming up with a single idea and then sitting back and watching it, hopefully, come to fruition. It’s an ongoing process where everyone in the business is constantly encouraged to come up with new ideas and ways of working – whether they are radical or incremental changes. The danger with this approach can be that a business can easily lose focus on delivering what it already successful at, in favour of chasing the next ‘bright and shiny thing’.

Eid is keen to continue to push the boundaries of his business but is also clear on maintaining focus.

“It’s about understanding the brand vision and mission and sticking to that. This helps to ensure we put out ideas that are in line with brand. We could easily start looking at how to tackle food waste in the home, for example, but this is not our mission – we are focussed on tackling waste at the point of production,” ​he concluded.

I am sure we will all look with interest to see how Earth and Wheat develops in the coming years and how Eid and his business ventures grow and succeed.

James Eid

James Eid is the founder of wonky and surplus subscription service Earth & Wheat – a brand owned by Signature Flatbreads. James headed up the launch of the world’s first ‘wonky bread box’ in March 2021 as part of the company’s mission to reduce food waste and help save the planet.

A fourth-generation baker, he started ‘rescuing’ baked goods from his own family bakery in Hertfordshire which would have otherwise binned because it does not meet strict size, shape or even colour standards set by retailers.

Earth & Wheat sold 10,000 boxes in its first six weeks and has since partnered with other independent bakeries to help them reduce their waste too. The brand has so far saved more than 600 tonnes of wonky or surplus food from being binned and donated 300,000 meals to UK food charities. 

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