Laboratories of Innovation – Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

Joey Chestnut regained his championship, July 4, 2016
Joey Chestnut regained his championship, July 4, 2016

I have never been to a hot dog eating contest. I have never actually watched one in its entirety. But I have watched clips, and I have marveled at the records falling.

The team at wrote about the big breakthroughs that led to leaps in the record. In addition to some training methods that apparently include new methods for stretching, and other factors, the big breakthrough came with one contestant. Here are the details, from this article, Competitive Hot-Dog Eaters Have Made America Great Again:


Yes, competitive eating is apparently as cerebral as it is masticatory. Controlling for breathing, water consumption, consuming the hot dog in a different way — all of these can lead to a massive competitive advantage. To see the profound effect creative thinking can have on the event, one must only look to Takeru Kobayashi, the Japanese phenom who managed to double the Nathan’s record in 2001 through a blend of stretches, training, dunking the dogs in water before cramming them in, and breaking the hot dogs in half to ease consumption. It was the Fosbury Flop of franks. But just like we see in other sports, competitive advantages don’t stay that way for long, and soon become just the way the sport is played.

So, dipping the hot dogs in water (I think to cut down on time needed to drink water), and breaking the hot dogs in half, did the trick. The record went from 25 hot dogs eaten to 50 IN ONE YEAR!. The upset winner yesterday, returning champion Joey Chestnut, by the way, ate 70 hot dogs. So the record keeps falling.

Now, why write about this on this blog. I have read, and presented synopses of, a lot! of books dealing with innovation.

Takeru Kobayashi, the innovator
Takeru Kobayashi, the innovator

And in this snapshot, we see a couple of big lessons:

#1 – The right innovation does not bring tiny improvements, but giant-leap improvements.

#2 – You really do have to think different (and, differently), to get to those giant-leap-causing innovations

I have no interest in eating 70 hot dogs in ten minutes, or even in 10 months. But the innovation lessons intrigue me.


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