Last week, Todd Abraham, SVP Nutrition and Research at Kraft Foods related a fascinating anecdote during his CoDev10 keynote address. He recounted how Kraft had been seeking a “clean water” additive for their powdered drink mixes. This would permit residents in developing countries to safely enjoy Tang and Crystal Light. While unable to solve Kraft’s specific challenge, TyraTech instead suggested a safe, affordable technology that would prevent waterborne parasitic infestation that chronically afflicts millions of Asian, African and South American residents.
In speaking about the enabling technology, Abraham said, “It addresses the problem with the problem”. Kraft seized this tantalizing opportunity and is developing a daily-use beverage incorporating TyraTech’s technology. It has the potenital to improve millions of lives. To be absolutely clear, Todd didn’t suggest that companies should exclusively or even predominantly rely on serendipity to drive innovation…and certainly not at the exclusion of searching out approved technology needs. He simply acknowledged that open innovation and serendipity can create attractive, strategically relevant innovation opportunities, if one is open to them and if appropriate, is willing to champion them: “It would have been easy for us to have said we’re not interested…You have to know an opportunity when you believe it exists …You may find something a little different than what you looked for, and that’s important too.”
Echoing this sentiment, Chris Thoen, P&G’s Director of Global Open Innovation writes, “serendipity and connecting the unexpected dots are very important still in addition to the targeted proactive searches for new opportunities”. Related to the importance of serendipitous innovation, is the important role that champions play in advocating for candidates that lack broad corporate acceptance. By now, most people are familiar with the origins of the 3M Post-it Note. Did you realize that the scientist who devised the easy-release adhesive was initially unable to attract interest within 3M? It took off only after a colleague successfully sold the concept to 3M management 4 years (!) following its discovery.
As the person who recognized, conceived of and validated the Cheer Free laundry detergent concept (i.e. safe and effective for folks who claim detergent sensitivites) while with P&G, I am skilled at recognizing and creating unobvious consumer insight-driven product opportunities…and with being a successful new idea champion. A global consumer products external business development executive describes me as ‘the best I’ve ever seen”. A global food products R&D VP says my “skills as a story teller are absolutely top notch”.
So, I ask: is your team tasked with providing bold innovation? Does it seek, recognize and champion compelling, strategically relevant “outlier” opportunities? Does it currently struggle to successfully sell innovations to internal stakeholders?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, please call or write me today at (614) 937-2408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.