Blood, Sweat, and Beers

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Our team was at a crossroads. What had begun as a small, impassioned, spirited team, was rapidly devolving due to corporate turf wars, petty arguments, and power struggles. Once a scrappy, under-the radar project, our achievements had quickly led to our work becoming high profile, highly visible, and thus highly contested. Our cross-functional group of five (dubbed as the “Dream Team”) was in danger of becoming a victim of our own success, and we had reached a critical inflection point.

So as our flight from Cincinnati landed in Philadelphia that cool fall day, the stakes were much higher than the consumer research that we had traveled to conduct. Our project goal was to develop a new class of antiperspirants, that could break from the clutter of a commoditized category and bring “Clinical Strength” protection to the men, women, and children who needed it most. We had a winning concept and had made a lot of progress on the product, the positioning, and the package— but we were now struggling as egos and conflicting agendas were threatening to tear the team apart. Our team arrived early to the research facility and locked ourselves into a small conference room to engage in a necessary debate.

Confined together with our luggage, our laptops, and an unlimited supply of M&M’s, we wasted no time honestly and openly airing our grievances. Despite the tension and exhaustion that accompanies such a heated conversation, there was also an air of relief as so much that been bottled up was now being released. By no means did we solve all of our problems, nor did we address every concern… but by having an intense, gritty, and “bloody” conversation we were at least able to start moving forward.

From there, we grabbed our M&M’s and distractedly walked into a dark backroom to watch focus groups from behind a two-way mirror. Our research was among sufferers of hyperhidrosis*, a condition in which the body’s mechanism for cooling itself is overactive — so overactive that sufferers may sweat four or five times more than is necessary. Each of us refocused quickly as we heard debilitating stories of embarrassment, of anxiety, and of pain from people of all ages who were desperately yearning for a solution. Or at least some relief.

There were many tears shed, on both sides of that mirror, and we experienced a powerful reminder of the purpose that we had originally set out to solve. We also gained a humbling and harrowing perspective of the pettiness and insignificance of much of our current internal strife.

That night, we left the facility mentally and emotionally drained… but decided not to head straight back to the hotel. We found a bar and grabbed a drink, shared some stories, and laughed out loud. And then we repeated. And repeated again. Earlier that morning, we had gotten on an airplane plotting how that we would “win” our various power struggles. Yet by the time we left that bar, we were an even stronger small, impassioned, and spirited (in more ways than one now!) team who ultimately went on to launch the highly successful Secret Clinical Strength initiative.

I have often shared this case study from my time at P&G, as an example of breakthrough innovation. I talk of our work to uncover a new job to be done, our holistic product design, and our business model development. But what cannot be overlooked, is how that “Dream Team” came together on that fateful trip to Philadelphia to fight, to cry, and to bond. The blood, sweat, and beers of that day refocused our team and became the catalyst to that enabled a good idea to get over the hump of and become a billion-dollar execution.

*For more information about Hyperhidrosis, visit sweathelp.org

Note: I originally published this blog at http://www.upstream360.com.

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