Creativity from a Bottle?

Well, it’s not quite that easy, but certainly there were many valuable creative messages from my 2005 trip along the Whisky Trail in Scotland. While originally not a fan of single malt whisky, I found the processes they used to produce the whisky fascinating. These observations generated some insights that are very applicable to leaders planning to enhance the performance of their organizations.

From what I have learned, certain standards prevail throughout the various in stages of the distillery process, such as the minimum number of years for aging and how long the barley stays in fermentation. However, it turns out, there are at least six factors driving the distinctive bouquets, flavors, and colors of the different malt whiskies:

  1.  A source of good, soft water is essential. Neighboring distilleries with different sources of water produce distinctly different whiskies.
  2. In certain parts of Scotland, the amount of peat used to fuel the barley fermentation process imparts a very distinctive flavor, as anyone who prefers Islay whiskies to those of the Glen region knows!
  3. The shape of the stills affects the amount of secondary substances left from the malted barley and the peat, which in turn affect the flavor of the whisky.
  4. The skills of the staff who determine when the distillate has reached the desired strength are also important in maintaining consistency over the years.
  5. The type of wood and previous uses of the barrels, for Oloroso sherry or American Bourbon for example, will cause the color and taste of the liquor to vary.
  6. Finally, the Scottish air and breezes that surround the casks as the whisky ages will also affect the quality and flavor of the whisky.

Many of the distilleries also have different ownership structures that influence the strategies of the distilleries. One we visited is part of an alliance with other distilleries. One has accepted a large Japanese investment and is focusing on producing whisky to be used in other blended scotches. And one has gone through multiple owners and is now the boutique whisky of a larger distillery. Some outsource different stages of the process, such as fermentation or bottling. Thus there are several different business and operating models.

As you sit back and sip on your favorite beverage, whether it’s whisky, wine, tea, coffee or whatever, you might want to ponder some questions. How long has it been since you’ve taken the time to consider what makes your organization distinct? How might the particular climate within your company and its operating structure affect the organization’s long-term prosperity? How are you making sure that the talents of your staff are recognized and that key staff are retained to maintain the consistency and the quality of your organization’s products and services?

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