Connecting Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship over the Long Haul

By Karli Thode The Office of Innovation Creativity and Entrepreneurship

On Tuesday, February 26, Winston Hall housed yet another very special visitor. Wake Forest Grad and Innovator in Residence at Chick-Fil-A, Steve Nevidek made a visit to Wake Forest’s Reynolda campus to share with students the importance of innovation in growing and sustaining a company. Steve graduated from Wingate University in 1985 with a BS in Communications and from Wake Forest University, in 1987 with an MA in Theatre. He joined Chick-Fil-A’s team in October of 1988 and has held a variety of positions within the company over the years—producer, marketing consultant and programming manager over Kids Meal, Local Store Marketing, and Licensing in Creative Services. Steve currently heads the innovation charge at the Atlanta-based Chick-Fil-A restaurant, leading the systemic innovation efforts for the company.

Nevidek first began by setting the scene for his story, introducing us to founder S. Truett Cathy and the Dwarf Grill, the chain restaurant’s birthplace located in Hapeville, Georgia. He shared the story behind the first Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich, which was created as a solution to a problem that Cathy observed while in the assembly line. The chicken on the bone took too long to cook. If Cathy wanted to keep up with his recent influx of customers, he needed to make a change. After months of experimentation, he eventually decided to take the bone out of the chicken and cook the chicken in between two sandwich buns—and thus the Chick-Fil-A Sandwich, originally referred to as the chicken steak sandwich, was born! All of Steve’s stories articulated the importance of innovation and creativity in an enterprise. Cathy and his team utilized these two skills in order to continue to help the chain move into the future.

And Chick-Fil-A continues to discover new opportunities to innovate each and every day. As the current Innovator in Residence, Nevidek shared with us a few of Chick-Fil-A’s secrets to success in achieving the goal of systemic innovation. Nevidek and his team decided to define innovation as transforming ideas into business value. This set definition unites all of Chick-Fil-A’s employees with a clear understanding of what it means to systemically innovate. Nevidek’s team also came up with a model which outlines the innovation process for their company, instructing employees on how to transform those ideas into business value. This process is defined by 5 simple steps—understand, imagine, prototype, validate, and launch. After defining the process of innovation for Chick-Fil-A, Nevidek and his team decided that they were in desperate need of an environment which encouraged creative thought. And thus, the Chick-Fil-A Hatch was created. This Hatch is Chick-Fil-A’s innovation center which fosters the generation of ideas and creative thought. The ‘hatch’ consists of the ‘pen’ where ideas are prototyped, the ‘incubator’ where thoughts and ideas are brainstormed, the ‘coop’ which is the office center, and the ‘feeder’ which is the on-site café.

Chick-Fil-A serves as a model of an organization that holds innovation as a cornerstone in combating challenges of the industry while maintaining both consistency and excellence. Nevidek stresses the importance of this and brought great energy to the discussion, engaging students in his story and inspiring them to lead lives of creativity and innovation.