Friday, August 8, 2008

Going beyond idea contests #2: Insights from centenarians

Listening to centenarians: In my previous article titled “Going beyond idea contents”, I wrote about how organizations find it challenging to sustain their innovation initiatives. Sometimes it helps to look at what 100+ year old organizations consider important. Last June, I had the good fortune to listen to 3 presentations sharing innovation insights from 100+ year old companies at India Innovation Summit. Moreover, each of the speakers was with the respective organization for close to or more than quarter of a century. The organizations were: Proctor & Gamble, 3M and DuPont and the gentlemen who represented them were: Dr. Shekhar Mitra, Global R&D Vice President P&G (came from Ohio), Bert O’donoghoue, MD, 3M India and Dr. Homi Bhedwar, Director R&D, DuPont Knowledge Centre. P&G is 176 year old; 3M has 105 year old history while DuPont has 207 year old history (started in 1802).

Does 3M talk about idea contests? Well, none of these folks talked about idea contents. That does not mean that they don’t have idea contests. However, “idea contests” don’t form a core in their innovation effort. Then what do these companies consider important as a basic building block? The answer is: Platforms. In fact, Bert of 3M showed us a “periodic table” consisting of 45 platforms. Some of these platforms were: adhesive, filtration, microreplication. Bert also presented the mapping of platforms to businesses. For example, 3M has 40 businesses and adhesives platform is used in 24 out of 40 businesses (filtration is used in 8/40 and microreplication is used in 16/40). While DuPont does not have as many innovation platforms as 3M, Homi said it does have dozens. In contrast to 3M and DuPont, P&G innovation effort is consumer led. P&G innovation platforms are anchored in basic human want such as thirst, hygiene, beauty etc. Moreover, P&G is good at using the same platform and creating different products at different price points in different markets (e.g. developed vs emerging).

Innovation platforms: Instead of asking the question, are we generating ideas? Or are we conducting idea contests? Ask the question, what innovation platform(s) are we building? What is it anchored in? Perhaps answers to questions like these will lead to “sustainable innovation”.

1 comment:

  1. Most of the innovation platforms in consumer goods seem to consist of a new segmentation of the market or the recognition of a segment that either didn't exist earlier or has become better defined over time. Seems to be similar to the idea of Value Innovation - there is a classic HBR article on that theme.