The Cemetery of Ideas

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In a small Austrian town Riegersburg, outside of Graz, there is a chocolate factory that produces hand-made organic and fair trade chocolate straight from beans to the final product. In this truly whimsical place, you will not be greeted by Willie Wonka. Instead, you have a good chance of running into the equally whimsical Josef Zotter, the owner of this family-run business, who can be recognized by his chocolate-smeared face on the portrait at the factory entrance, his big smile, and inevitably mismatched shoes.

Mr. Zotter will surprise you with his well thought-through and somewhat extravagant tour of the facility featuring the unlimited tasting of unimaginable flavors, colors, and textures of chocolate as well as with his environmentally friendly Edible Farm where you can eat organic, “look food in the eye” and enjoy the beautiful scenery of lush green meadows and surrounding gardens. While everything around you catches your eyes there, one thing that kept my attention and stayed with me was the cemetery located on the farm grounds. It was a Cemetery of Ideas.

Here you learn that not all of the ideas generated by the progressive minds of Zotter’s team for the past nearly 3 decades of their existence proved themselves to be worthy. Some didn’t last long, some others failed to take off altogether. The chocolatiers are fully aware of and are completely at peace with this fact. They know very well that not all creative concepts work out right away, there is a lot of trial and error involved in the process of innovation. So, bad chocolate flavor ideas, such as Sausage-Mustard-Praline, Cornelian Cherry with Pig Blood or Strawberry with Lobster, for example, all ended up in this symbolic graveyard each given a headstone to commemorate its essence and its short life. Having buried their mistakes and moving on from them, allowed the team to focus their attention on creating over 300 winning choices, thus continually furthering the variety and the quality of the products they manufacture at their exciting plant.

The concept of the Cemetery of Ideas is definitely working well for these passionate chocolate makers who treat humor as one of the necessary ingredients of success. Seeing it made me think that all of us can benefit largely from adopting the idea of taking ourselves and our mistakes a bit more lightly. I know enough people who for years have carried around their old disappointments, brought the memories of their past failures into all areas of their life and allowed those to heavily influence their mindset and chances for success. While some people take dwelling on the past to the extreme, many others still tend to beat themselves for it, while reliving the negative events as well as the emotions and feelings associated with them. Meanwhile, mistakes are unavoidable steps on our journey called life and have to be treated as learning opportunities. I believe when they say that things happen for a reason. And even though we may not see it right away, whatever happened in the past was meant to put things in perspective for us and to shape us into who we are today.

Every one of us has made our own share of mistakes, and the goal is to disallow their mustard-praline or pig blood aftertaste to linger around for too long and to hold us back in life. Are you willing to put to rest the bad ideas from your past so that you can focus on the present and more confidently step into your future? Do you have any tips for moving forward that have worked for you? Please share as we are always happy to hear from you.

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    1. Thank you, Lida! You sound like the kind of person who would be able to implement this fun way of parting with your bad ideas. I wouldn’t even be surprised if you started a symbolic cemetery for them 🙂

    1. Hi Vanessa, these things are never easy. I would be lying if I said it was easy for me to move on from my mistakes. It just takes a conscious effort and constant reminders to ourselves that it’s not helping us in any way to stay stuck in the past.

      1. Unfortunately, it is not easy at all. But it is the only way to move on with your life. And this symbolic cemetery of our past mistakes can be a big help in this process.

  1. What a powerful title Natella! I am practising to look at my life as ” what happened” vs “why happened”. When I ask “why” then I start blaming myself and sad about my mistakes. When I ask “What”, it opens the door for me to be emotionally detached from the result. It helps me to analyze what happened and learn from it. Being not emotional helps me to move forward.

    1. Hi Guler, I really appreciate your feedback. Thank you so sharing how you deal with your mistakes. It goes very well with what I recently learned about being attached to the outcome vs being committed to the results. So you are making sure you are emotionally detached from the outcome in order for you to be able to focus on what happened and how you can move forward from it. Excellent advice and beautifully shared!!

  2. Thank you very much, Mr.Zotter for such a creative idea! Thank you, Natella for introducing us to such a great person!
    Will definetly visit that chocolate factory when in Austria!

  3. This place sounds very inspirational, I’m adding it to my bucket list. I love the ideas you took away from your experience and when you said “Pig blood aftertaste to linger” it really stuck with me, such vivid writing!

    1. Hi, Aydan, I do hope you get to visit this place – it’s absolutely worth it! And thank you, I am so glad to hear that with my writing I was able to bring the images alive for you.

  4. The concept of an idea cemetery is very relevant for me as just last week I was involved in business strategy meetings where our team was tasked with creating new concepts for the “future of our business”. It was an exciting process that involved removing any limits to our creativity and letting our imaginations explore all possibilities. Admittedly, some of the ideas that came from these think tank sessions were buried and put to rest quite early, while others lasted through some initial debate before they met their unfortunate demise. The desired outcome of the meeting was achieved with several great ideas that for now at least, are still alive and gaining momentum along their journey towards fruition.

    1. Hi Jason, thank you for sharing about our experience. It’s great to have an environment where the creativity is not stifled and everyone feels free to present what they think of. Good luck to your team! Sounds to me like what you guys went through last week could be documented using a Value Graph, a tool from Lean Methodology. Not sure if you ever used this tool but it’s actually cool. The graph consists of 4 quadrants and as the team brainstorms to generate ideas – each of the ideas is evaluated and placed on the graph where the team decides it belongs. The four quadrants represent the following categories: Quick Fixes, Gems, Strategic, and lastly, Rethink. The last and least category is made of the ideas that are not worth pursuing. And with the Idea Cemetery concept in place, they can get buried with no hurt feelings so that the team can move forward.

      1. Thank you for sharing such interesting feedback Natella. I had never heard of the Value Graph until now and I agree that it does look like a very useful tool in the idea creation process. I wonder if Mr. Josef Zotter and his team use a Value Graph to categorize some of their more unique new chocolate flavor creations?…….It would be a fun and tasty job to sit in on one of their Chocolate Creation concept meetings. Aydan seems eager to try the Cornelian Cherry with Pig’s Blood…..I’ll be brave and try the Marshmallow Pecan Pie Deluxe.

        1. You are welcome, Jason. I can share with you a Value Graph if you are interested in trying it out.

          On a side note, I applaud your courage. You are seriously stepping out of your comfort zone here. Not everyone can do what you do. Marshmallow Pecan Pie Deluxe, how do you come up this stuff? Haven’t even seen this flavour at Zotter’s. 🙂

          1. I would love to try your Value Graph Natella. Thank you for sharing. I fully agree with you that Marshmallow Pecan Pie Deluxe would be placed in the “Strategic” category on the graph. I’ll call Zotter and tell him we’ve created a winner!

  5. Marshmallow Pecan Pie Deluxe sounds very tempting. Tell me when your creation hits the market – I don’t mind trying it either. 🙂