Ten Tips to Tryout for the Team

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The snow is melting, the birds are singing, and winter is coming to an end.  Spring has sprung and softball and baseball season has arrived!  For many, the start of the season means tryouts for school teams or select teams.  Whether this is your first time trying out for a team or if you are an experience veteran, below are some pointers for how to carry yourself and to put your best foot forward as you take the field and show your coaches and teammates what you are made of.

  1. Hustle. Always.  Softball is a crazy game and you will have good days and bad days.  You can’t always control your results on the field, but you can always control your effort. Run from drill to drill and never stop moving.  The drills will show your skills, but your hustle will show your heart.
  2. Be prepared. Make sure you have your glove, your helmet, your water, and everything you need when you walk into practice.  When it is your turn in a drill, give it your full attention.  Be noticed for your play on the field and for your attitude… not for being inattentive or unprepared.
  3. Play big. Tryouts aren’t the time to play it safe.  Swing away and show your strength.  Dive for balls and demonstrate your courage.  Put some extra juice on your throws to highlight your aggressiveness.  Give it everything you’ve got, and leave it all on the field.
  4. Dress like a ballplayer. When trying to earn a spot on the team and show the coaches and the evaluators that you belong, throw on a jersey, lace up the cleats, and pull up those softball pants and socks.  Look like you’ve been there before and show that you’re a player.
  5. Wear something with your name on it. Coaches are human and tryouts are short, so make it easy for them to put a name to the face.  Your play should do most of the talking, but go out of your way to be memorable.
  6. Talk to your coaches. Coaches want to see what type of player that you are on the field, but also the kind of person that you will be in the dugout.  Demonstrate your maturity, ask questions, and stay engaged.  Softball is more mental than physical, and show your coaches that you want to increase your knowledge of the game as much as your skills.
  7. Be a team player. Don’t get caught up in competing with your peers and your potential teammates.  Focus on doing your personal best and encourage others to do the same.  Compliment good play, share advice, and pick up others if they get down.  While not everyone can make the team, focus on what’s best for the group and be the consummate teammate and a good sport.
  8. Be a leader. Volunteer to be first in the drills.  Demonstrate techniques.  Carry the team bag.  Help others get ready and lead by example.  Help the coaches run the drills.  Pick up softballs after batting practice. Be the first one on the field and the last one off.  Be the player that others look up to and respect.
  9. Take failure in stride. You are going to make mistakes.  Ground balls will go through your legs, you will take some ugly swings, and some throws will fly wildly out of your hands.  Smile, punch your glove, and say “Can I try that again, Coach?”  Coaches don’t want to see temper tantrums… they want to see maturity and confidence.  Embrace the fact that you will sometimes fail, and focus your energy into getting better.
  10. Have fun. At the end of the day, you are playing a game and it should be fun. Enjoy the sound of the crack of the bat, the laughs with your teammates, and the thrill of the sport.  You should play this game because you love it.  If you feel yourself being stressed, frustrated, or angry, take a deep breath and remember that this isn’t a job or a chore… it’s a game.  Smile, laugh, and PLAY ball!

When all is said and done, if you make the team, accept the honor humbly and support your friends who don’t make the cut.  If you don’t make the team, give yourself some time and space to feel that disappointment. But don’t give up!  You love this game, so keep practicing, play summer ball, and continue to get better.  Good luck to all the girls and boys trying out for spring sports, hustle hard, and leave it all on the field!

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Fathers, Daughters, and Career Advice

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My oldest daughter, Mara, is in junior high this year, and I am still reeling from the fact that she is growing up so fast.  This has further fanned the flames of what has become a “Year of Reflection” for me (sounds more aspirational than “mid-life crisis”), as I have turned 40, changed careers, and taken many a trip down memory lane.  I have beseeched her consistently in her young life to “not be in a hurry to grow up” because frankly there is no better job than being a kid.  But as she starts to enter this world of young adulthood, her thoughts and our conversations are inevitably turning more toward her rapidly approaching future. As such, for the first time we had an actual conversation of…

So what do you want to do when you grow up?” 

First, she sarcastically retorted, “I don’t know, Dad… what do YOU want to do when YOU grow up?”  Valid point, but she was stalling.  As her mind wrapped around my question, I could see the wheels turning and the emotions conflicting.  Part of her seemed to be clinging tightly to her childhood, another feeling that fear of becoming a grown up, and yet another sparkling with the excitement of adventures ahead.  Finally, with a look of peace she said, “Dad… I am still only 12 and I like waaaay too many things to even begin to decide what I want to do when I grow up.  What I do know though, is that whatever I choose will be something that I love to do, that I’m good at, and that helps people.  And with those simple words, she had concisely and insightfully given a better answer than I could have imagined. 

As I have coached and managed people, businesses, and projects over the years, it is a simple, consistent, and amazing truth that these three elements are core to achieving success and fulfillment.  Whether it is a career path, a creative idea, or a new project, we often neglect one or more of these elements in making choices and decisions: 

  • Talent: A skill or core competency that is a step above “competition”
  • Passion: An inherent love or drive that radiates from within
  • Benefit:  Making a difference for someone(s), by providing a product, service, or idea that they truly need or want.

This isn’t rocket science in concept, but is surprisingly uncommon in practice.

As individuals and teams walk through my door each day, looking for breakthrough concepts, disruptive ideas, and to growing new business, the ones that inevitably go on to be successful can say YES to the following questions: “Are we good at this?”, “Am I emotionally invested?”, and “Does it make a difference?”

Of course, by no means am I saying that “making money” is not important (I certainly don’t intend on my daughter living in my basement forever!). But the money should be an output that arises naturally from infusing innovation with these three factors.  In a world that too often encourages action before reflection, let’s take some advice from the world’s 12 year olds and stop to run our ideas and decisions through these filters.  It could make a world of difference.

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

The Art of Collaborative Creative

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Over the past few years, I’ve had a growing passion for writing. As a guy who spent most of my early years labeled as the “math nerd” (which, to be fair, is still a fairly accurate descriptor), I have truly enjoyed stepping out of the numbers as a blogger and the published author of a book.

To this point I have largely constrained myself to non-fiction. There is plenty of room for creativity here, but it is still relatively safe as I am playing within the sandbox of innovation that I’ve lived and breathed throughout my professional career. My new goal is to do some fictional work, and to push myself to a whole new level of risk-taking and imagination. While it is a thrilling proposition, it is daunting. And finding the time to further hone my skills, is proving to be elusive at best.

While it has taken me 41 years to start this process, my 12-year old daughter already is finding ways to build her own creative writing skills and has several projects in the works. And, as the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, her primary roadblock is the lack of time as well.

So to address both our creative inkling and our motivational downfalls, she and I have started a collaborative project to spur each other to write every day. She developed a new fictional adventure story-starter and spent ten minutes crafting the opening. She then passed it to me, and I spent ten minutes of my own building the tale from there. And so it has continued. Each day, we spend no more than ten minutes continuing the story, adapting to the twists and turns that the other introduces, setting up new directions for the other to pursue, and diverging into a narrative web that is far richer and much different than either of us could have imagined at the beginning.

Seeing the story evolve is fascinating, and both of us are amazed with the different elements that the other adds. We both had some pre-conceived notions of how the story would evolve and some of those have come to fruition and some have been abandoned outright. Of course, there are elements that each of us would have done differently, but in these divergent stages we have embraced the varying directions and continued to encourage each other to push boundaries and introduce surprises.

We have now reached the more difficult phase of the project. Driving to a conclusion. When we were diverging, it worked wonderfully to independently innovate and to build and take our project in various directions. But now we are finding that it is necessary to collaborate a bit more on where we want this story to end. We are still allowing for the independence and freedom along the journey of writing, but are needing to work together to chart an ultimate destination. Otherwise, we will find ourselves diverging endlessly or losing motivation as one or the other’s vision begins to dominate the final reveal.

Back to my comfortable world of innovation now… I find this process a sharp parallel to a lot of the work I do with teams in developing new-to-the world ideas and products. You’re not alone if you are currently fighting so many business fires that carving out time to focus on innovation is challenging. And when teams do make that investment in the upstream work, often they converge too early, which fails to allow an idea to pass through all members of the team to diverge, to build, and to grow. The ultimate goal must be to both embrace and to accept a range of possibilities early on, but also to elevate and to align on the best holistic solution at the end.

Whether writing a book or growing an idea, this back-and-forth of open divergence and collaborative convergence is key to maximizing the innovation while making choices to ultimately complete the project. I’m excited to continue authoring this new fictional adventure with my daughter, and will be curious to read (and to share) how it ends. The best part of this collaboration is, there’s no need for a spoiler alert!

Note: In researching the topic and images for this blog, I learned that the name for these cooperative techniques for writing and drawing are referred to as “Exquisite Corpse”… developed by French surrealists. I think my daughter and I will stick with calling it “Collaborative Writing”.

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

Bring Balance to the Force… of both Novel and Nostalgia

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I have never been more excited for a movie than I am for tonight’s Star Wars – The Last Jedi premiere. I have also never been more nervous. I have been journeying to this galaxy far, far away for my entire life and the Force is ingrained in all the best parts of my childhood. And while I may no longer be a young Farm Boy on Tatooine, I have now evolved into an old Jedi Master in the suburbs… inspiring new adventures with my own young padawans.

So as this installment of the Skywalker Saga arrives now forty years after the original, what is it about this VIIIth Episode that has me more enthused, yet more anxious than all the rest?

Luke Skywalker.

Luke was my hero growing up and has one of the greatest story arcs of any character from any movie franchise. A “nobody” from a desert planet, Luke is propelled into an epic adventure in which he ultimately discovers “magical” powers and saves his friends, his father, and all the good in the galaxy. And then he parties with ghosts and ewoks.

That was 1982 and represented Luke’s last on-screen appearance until 2015’s “The Force Awakens”. Luke reappears for only the closing shot of this movie and, although he never says a word, the epically literal cliffhanger has had me on the edge of my seat for two years. And after years of anticipation, I finally get to see my childhood hero in action again.

But what if Luke is not who I want him to be?

While I am hungry for this new twist to the journey, I also don’t want to see my long-standing perception of Luke be damaged or erased. Luke right now is a perfect hero, and while I recognize that some new weakness, some pain, and likely even some Darkness may be necessary to move his story arc forward, I want it to be done in a way that does not diminish, or even destroy, the hero of my childhood.

I want the perfect balance of Nostalgia and Novel.

This is a sensitive balance to strike, and a fine line that the filmmakers of Disney must walk with each of these new films. When The Force Awakens launched two years ago, J.J. Abrams rightly swung the balance more heavily toward nostalgia as the audience yearned to feel the tonality of the original Star Wars trilogy rather than the prequel trilogy that followed. As Rian Johnson takes on this next chapter, we’ve challenged him to swing the balance the other direction and to deliver something that we’ve never experienced before… but in a way that still builds off of that nostalgic base that we know and love.

This tension extends far beyond Star Wars into this galaxy as well. As a consumer, I strive for efficiency and do the balance of my shopping online, yet I still love to physically walk into a few small, specialty stores for certain items. As an innovator, I work to evolve existing brands with breakthrough products, packages, and ideas, but still strive to strike the right pacing and fine balance of fresh and familiar. And as a father, I can’t wait for my kids to grow up and to find their place in this crazy world, yet simultaneously want them to cling dearly to the youthful innocence of childhood as long as possible.

There may not be a scientific formula to solve this delicate equation of nostalgia and novelty, but there is certainly an art… and this art is grounded in the intricate knowledge and creative insight of our consumers, our brands, our products, and ourselves.

So tonight, I will journey again to that galaxy far, far away with my children, my brother, and my friends. As I recline enraptured with the screen before me, I will heed Luke’s warning that, “This is not going to go the way (I) think.” Yet I am excited to join him on this next adventure and am optimistic that The Last Jedi will build on the nostalgia of this heroic character while endeavoring into entirely unchartered space.

May the Force Be with Us.

 

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

What Are The Magic Words?

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There are countless anecdotes of words being used to enable a magical transformation.  A magician dealing out “Abracadabra” to turn a four of spades into the Ace of hearts.  Harry Potter’s bewitching use of “Riddikulus!” to turn fear into laughter.  A toddler’s longing “pleeaaassse” to turn dad’s anger into a cookie.  The right words at the right time can conjure a spellbinding result… if chosen deliberately, wisely, and concisely.

One of my favorite examples is found in a legendary challenge authored by Ernest Hemingway. In one telling of this tale, Hemingway lunched with several other writers and bet each table member ten dollars that he could craft an entire story in just six words.  After the stack of bills was piled before him, Hemingway grabbed a napkin and scribed, “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”  The somber sheet was passed around the table, each writer read it and wept, and Hemingway collected his winnings. Six words. One profoundly deep tale.

In the realm of product design and innovation, some of the best examples of magical storytelling can be found in advertising slogans.

  • “It Takes a Licking and Keeps on Ticking” – Timex, 1950s
  • “Melts in your Mouth, Not in your Hands” – M&Ms, 1950s
  • “Tastes Great.  Less Filling” – Miller Lite, 1974

In each of these examples is found a concise, inspiring, and intuitive expression of 1) a consumer tension (fragile watches, melting chocolate, and tasteless light beer), 2) a surprising transformation of that tension, and 3) an amazing result.  With just a handful of words, the story of these products’ benefits, the new breakthroughs they represent, and the experiential “Wow’s” are all expertly expressed.

Each of these examples, stories, and slogans provide an engrossing story of transformation.  And as with any good magic trick, each contains:

  1. The Pledge: The current, ordinary state of the situation
  2. The Turn: The transformation of that ordinary something into something extraordinary
  3. The Prestige: The final reveal or amazing result that the transformation enables

When executed correctly, the readers of these stories only experience the magic and enjoy the clear and compelling “Wow”.  They remain blissfully unaware of all of the research, the rewriting, and the refinement done behind the scenes to take some deep and complex concept and to transform it into the intuitive and inspiring story that captured their hearts and minds.

Another of my favorite quotes is first attributed to French mathematician Blaise Pascal and was transformational enough to be later re-quoted by brilliant minds such as Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, and Abraham Lincoln… “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one.” Finding the clear and concise magical words takes time, creativity, and often some very cool research techniques, but the profound and memorable impact of the resulting story is well worth the investment! 

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

How To Fill A Blank Slate

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There is nothing more invigorating than the opportunity to start anew with a clean slate and a blank canvas. That moment the creative spirit dreams and yearns for most, is when the mind is engulfed with endless possibilities, the heart is filled with hopeful wonder, and the soul is electric with vibrant energy.

That same moment is also the most intimidating.

Staring alone at wide open nothingness, not knowing where to start amidst the swirl of ideas, the fear of misstep, and the sound of the ever-ticking clock can be both daunting and paralyzing. What starts as a dream can quickly become the fuel for a nightmare!

I write this first blog entry as the new Innovation Director at Upstream 360, and I am currently swirling with that excitement, fear, hope, and intimidation of the blank canvas. Just two months ago, I chose to jump out of the comfort zone of my 17-year career in R&D and Marketing at Procter & Gamble and into this brave, new landscape. A big part of this new role is to build off of Upstream 360’s already impressive capabilities for ideation, conceptualization, and production and to help write some new and exciting pages into the stories of our company, our partners, and our clients. Invigorating for sure… even with that small dash of intimidation!

Taking this blank canvas and turning it into a masterpiece is at the heart of what Upstream 360 does each and every day.  A team might come to us trying to discover a new insight or to escape an old way of thinking… and we help chart the course to some new and exciting ideas. Sometimes organizations may already have their cubicles filled with shards of ideas and sparks of inspiration… and we help transform those into visual and compelling new concepts. Or maybe there is a breakthrough technology invented in the labs that is amazing but seemingly impossible to explain… so we help find the words for the “wow” and produce a video for the launch. The magic of what Upstream 360 brings to its clients and partners is that ability to take the chaos, no matter what stage of the innovation process a team is in, and transform it into clarity.

Writing this first blog entry represents the filling of the first of many blank pages over the coming weeks and months. Mark Smith (our Chief Creative Officer) and I will be crafting bi-weekly entries to share some stories, laughs, parables, and case studies to discover some new nuggets of insight along the way. These entries will go wherever the muse takes us, and will likely see many diversions through science fiction, jaw-dropping puns, and current events (which are often now stranger than science fiction), all with the goal of providing a spark of insight and generating conversation. We would be honored if you follow us on this crazy ride, and help us to paint this new canvas together. Onward and upward!

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

Leaving P&G… Writing the Next Chapter

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My Procter & Gamble story started almost exactly 19 years ago, as a junior at Ohio University, while attending a free lunch (proving that there actually is such a thing). P&G’s Chief Technology Officer was on campus and invited a handful of students for a discussion where, I later learned, he was trying to determine whether or not to recruit chemical engineers from O.U. Never one to turn down a free meal, I graciously accepted the invitation, enjoyed a nice conversation over some Mexican food, and passed along my resume. I never dreamed that this serendipitous meeting on the beautiful red brick campus in Athens, Ohio would become the opening act for my almost two decade long adventure with deodorants, shampoos, and the vast world of beauty care. Yet three months later, I found myself as a summer intern at the Sharon Woods Technical Center in rural Cincinnati, and began filling the pages of my career.

From there, the halls of P&G opened up worlds of possibilities that I had never even considered as a young chemical engineer. While I had expected to find myself in the lab working with chemicals and in a plant scaling up new technologies, I instead became fascinated by consumer psychology, holistic product design, and commercial messaging. I spent countless hours in focus groups, in the homes of consumers, in conversations with beauty editors, and in stores trying to uncover insights, ideas, and desired consumer experiences. I quickly learned the critical importance of not only designing products with superior functional benefits but also with delightful experiences. I even went to school part-time to get my MBA, so that I could better understand the tools of story-telling, selling, and strategy to insure that our innovations reached their full potentials.

And throughout those years, I had the good fortune to experience the pinnacle of success with some disruptive innovation, but also the character-building disappointment of a market failure. I traveled to many of the richest countries in the world designing beauty products for the prestigious upper class, and also hiked through impoverished rural villages in India, China, and Brazil attempting to find health and hygiene solutions for families surviving on less than a dollar per day. I even uncovered an unknown love for writing and storytelling that first began permeating my work in concept and product design, and then ultimately led to the publication of my first innovation book, Agents of Change.  Every day was a new adventure, and I found myself hooked on all aspects of designing and marketing innovative products to delight consumers around the world.

Yet my greatest joy came from my opportunities to partner with, to lead, and to coach so many talented and passionate individuals. People ask me all the time what I think P&G’s greatest strength is, and my answer unquestionably is the company’s ability to hire some of the most creative, collaborative, and committed people in the world. It always amazes me not just how much intelligence and wisdom resides within the offices and cubicles, but also how much passion and dedication. The willingness to teach and to share knowledge, the drive to uncover rich consumer insights and new breakthrough technologies, and the work ethic and sheer will to deliver quality and speed truly make P&G people special. It is easy to define P&G by its billion dollar brands, its breakthrough innovations, and its financial numbers… but what truly sets this company apart is its people.

So all that said, why leave? It has been a gut-wrenching decision process and one with which I have been wrestling for quite some time. While the entirety of my time at P&G has been an amazing ride, it is true that the past several years have been trying.  I have never stopped enjoying my time fighting the good fight with such brilliant friends and colleagues and I am nothing but proud of the body of work that we have produced.  But as P&G has gone through a constant barrage of challenges, transitions, and cultural shifts, this great organization has seen the departure of many respected, inspiring leaders, has allowed talented individuals to become mired in slowed and convoluted career paths, and at times falls into an atmosphere driven by fear of the costs of failure rather than by a courage to invest in success. The talented, passionate, and driven employees who remain are still fighting the good fight and committed to making the magic happen… but the path has become more arduous. And moving forward, my greatest call to action for the leaders and future leaders of P&G is a critical re-investment in a culture that challenges, that empowers, that enables, that rewards, and that retains its top talent.

Yet, while this struggle may have been a catalyst in my leaving, it is by no means the cause. I leave P&G not only proud to have spent my entire adult life with the company, but also confident that the ship will be righted. The truth is that I have reached a point in my life where I now feel an intense calling to close the book on this first act and to start writing a new chapter. As I have learned more about myself and of what is important to me, the call to embark on a new adventure has become increasingly loud. An innate desire has grown to take my talent for innovation, my passion to create, and my love to continuously try new things, and to make it an even greater part of my day-to-day work. Thus, I am running toward a new opportunity rather than away from an old one.

To start this next chapter, I am excited to be joining Upstream 360 as the Director of Innovation. There, I will serve as an innovation expert and consult with teams and individuals around the globe to translate ideas into concepts, concepts into prototypes, and prototypes into executions. And while on one hand this feels like a dramatic change from my time with Procter & Gamble, on the other it feels like a logical next step to build on my past and to begin writing the next page. And while I am beyond excited to begin this next phase of the journey, I am grateful, reflective, and sad to leave behind such amazingly talented and passionate colleagues and friends.

Finally, to bring this story full circle I spent my final weekend as a P&G employee back at Ohio University reflecting on my closing thoughts from that same beautiful campus where the journey began. So to close this chapter, I have tried to capture some key nuggets of insight that I have learned over these 19 years. It is impossible to cover everything, but I have included my top thoughts that have played a huge part in my story and may be able to provide an idea or two for yours.

Faster Horses

The consumer is boss.  That is a key phrase that echoes through the halls of P&G and is one in which I wholeheartedly agree.  No matter what function or level we hold, we must get to know our consumers, through attending research, going to their homes, and shopping where they shop.  At the end of the day, our job is to create a successful business through improving consumers’ lives and through providing them with delightful experiences. That said… like any “boss”, consumers don’t necessarily always know how to ask for what they want. To quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses'”.  It is our job to recognize the key insights and benefits that are important and to design solutions that meet the consumer’s needs- not by simply following their requests verbatim.  For example, if a consumer asks for a bigger gas tank, we can give them better fuel efficiency… meeting their needs in a new and innovative way beyond what they might imagine.

The Power of Holistic Design

I stated previously that I have been a part of some very successful launches, but also a significant failure.  Looking back, the key difference between the two was in how effectively we delivered a holistically designed proposition.  One of the first projects of my career was to design and launch Old Spice Cool Contact Refreshment Towels.  These essentially were scented body wipes for dudes, and represented a new benefit and habit for consumers in the category.  We had high hopes for this proposition as our concept and product testing demonstrated outstanding potential, and we knew that we were effectively satisfying an unmet consumer need.  However, when the product launched, it failed to connect with consumers and was very quickly discontinued.  Why?  We failed to communicate the benefits and the education in our package design, at shelf, and via our commercialization.  So consumers who sought the on-demand refreshment benefit were unaware that a product had launched to satisfy it. We designed a product that consumers wanted and needed, but didn’t present it in a way that allowed them to easily find and understand it.  (Note: even 15 years after its discontinuation, this product is still being sold on eBay and Amazon, proving that there are still loyal consumers seeking the product benefit!) On the contrary, a successful example was in our launch of Secret Clinical Strength.  In this case, we comprehensively executed a product experience, a package design, and a commercial strategy that holistically pulled it all together.  This launch thus ultimately delighted countless consumers and became a huge, lasting success.  Successful innovation must do more than just deliver a benefit… it must holistically communicate a story across all elements of the product, package, and commercial experience.

First “Wow”, Then “How”

Especially in rooms of engineers and scientists, it is easy to start focusing effort on what is actionable rather than on what is ideal.  To create truly awe-inspiring innovation, it is important to understand first the desired consumer experience, regardless of cost and time implications, and then to determine what is possible.  It is far easier to take something amazing and make it actionable that to take something actionable and then to add the bells and whistles to make it amazing.  Every example in my career of breakthrough product performance, from Secret Clinical Strength Antiperpsirants to Pantene Dreamcare Shampoos, started with defining something that was delightful but impossible and only then finding a way to make it possible.

Bring the Tiger into the Room

One of the stories that I tell most often is that of Joe Rohde, an imagineer at Disney, and his quest to create the Animal Kingdom theme park.  After being rejected multiple times by Disney’s leadership (“Disney doesn’t do zoos”), Rohde boldly walked a live tiger into the board room and filled everyone’s hearts with awe, wonder, and magic.  The project was approved and Animal Kingdom became the largest zoo in the world.  With my groups at P&G, we often encouraged our teams to “Bring the Tiger” in an effort to provide a tangible prototype to explain an idea, a concept, or a design.  For example, when we took on the urgent project to upgrade our Pantene package, the team used spray paint, ribbon, and other various arts and crafts to quickly take ideas off the page and to allow us to assess them on the shelf.  A prototype is worth 1,000 ideas, and “bringing the tiger” early and often takes something abstract and shows tangibly how it can come to life.

Never Doubt the Power of a Small, Empowered Team.

With very few exceptions, when I talk to people about their most successful innovations their stories go something like this, “We were a small, empowered, under-the radar team, and nobody thought our project was going to be successful.  We were scrappy and creative about making prototypes and getting data, and were free to learn and to experiment.  When we emerged with a winning proposition, we shocked everyone… and the program went on to be more successful than other higher-profile and higher-scrutinized innovation programs.”   Where we are at our best, is when we allow these small and mighty teams to control their own destinies on a passionate pursuit of “Wow”.  So many examples from my career played out this way that we tried to institutionalize the formation of “5-in-a-box” teams with a cross-functional ensemble of roughly 5 passionate people to make the magic happen.  Whether it be a rapid upgrade to the Secret deodorant line, the creation and launch of a dry shampoo, or the scrappy launch of the Old Spice Hair line, a key component was the camaraderie of small, empowered teams that were able to be quick and agile to deliver breakthrough results.  It is critical that we empower our teams, give them freedom to take risks, and encourage them to beg forgiveness rather than to ask permission.

Unleash the Real-Life Superheroes

The key theme of my book, Agents of Change, is in unleashing the untapped innovative superpowers of the real-life heroes within our organizations.  We hire the most amazingly talented and hungry people in the world, yet often they feel under-utilized, bogged down with bureaucracy, or mired with the mundane.  When we were at our best in designing breakthrough innovation, turning around struggling businesses, or developing superior stories, it was largely because we were deliberate to create a culture of risk-taking, to encourage individuals to take on passion projects, and to empower teams to challenge the status quo. For good measure, we even wore superhero t-shirts on Fridays as we walked the vaulted halls of Procter & Gamble… a habit I plan to maintain long into the future.  Through encouraging “rebellion” to unleash these powers, we were able to help each other find personal fulfillment, to drive better innovation, and to improve lives (others and our own).

Finally… Remember that “It’s Just Soap”

While it is critical to be passionate about our jobs, it is possible to take it too far. Too high of an emotional investment can lead to irrational decisions in regard to initiative work, interpersonal relationships, and, importantly, work-life balance.  While what we do is important both to consumers and to our own financial well-being, “It’s Just Soap” and we need to make sure “not to take ourselves too damn seriously”. (paraphrased from Benjamin Zander).

 

I cannot fully express how thankful I am for the opportunity to partner with, to learn from, and to befriend so many amazing individuals over these 19 years, and I am truly grateful for all of the experiences.  While I may no longer carry a P&G badge, I will be forever cheering on the company from my new desk, and will continue looking for breakthrough and superior products and stories each time I go to the store.  I am thankful for this chapter of my story, excited for the next, and most of all grateful for all of the characters who have brought life to the pages.


 

Check out my book, Agents of Change, inspired heavily by my 19 years at P&G.  It is available in paperback and eBook additions on Amazon.com