In recent posts, Shekhar Mitra shared the new model of innovation that is now driving breakthrough success. Essential to this model is bringing together teams with diverse backgrounds, expertise, creativity, and collaboration skills to tackle a clearly defined innovation brief. In my 40 years developing and commercializing new platform technologies for the leading brands in skincare, fragrance and oral care at P&G and Charles of the Ritz, I’ve identified some common traits of successful innovation teams. Like spontaneous combustion, truly breakthrough innovation happens when all the essential elements are present: oxygen, fuel, and heat.
Oxygen: Foundational to success is a critical mass of knowledge brought to the team by technical masters. Technical mastery is not just expertise developed by working in the lab. It reflects the sum of empirical or practical knowledge and extrinsic knowledge gained from other activities, including routine monitoring of competitive products, patents, and technical journals, collaboration with other experts and suppliers, and developing strong networks, both internally and externally. These technical masters possess the rare ability to quickly connect ideas and processes from one industry/category to another and can access additional capabilities and expertise as needed.
Fuel: A study of Nobel laureates concluded that passion, persistence, and curiosity were the key behavioral traits that contributed to their success. Successful innovators exhibit these same behaviors.
I believe that being passionate about your work is probably the most critical trait an innovator can have. Passionate people work hard because they enjoy what they do, have fun doing it, and constantly make connections between their work and their life activities and experiences “outside the office” (or lab). Passion gives their lives focus and differentiates them from others in their field.
This passion also creates a “can do” persistence and unwillingness to accept failure as an option. In turn, persistence fuels curiosity and an endless desire to learn and understand why specific results occur. Many of the top technical innovations I have developed over my career came from experiments that produced unexpected data which I subsequently explored further in order to understand both “why” and “why not”. For example, while in oral care, I evaluated a potential new abrasive used in non-personal care applications that provided superior active stability and cleaning performance. This ultimately led to the filing of 17 patents. Curiosity and persistence also drive what I call “innovation by analogy” … connecting the dots between the challenge at hand and technology from seemingly unrelated areas.
Heat: The aforementioned study of Nobel laureates found that challenging paradigms and having strong leadership skills were also essential. Breakthrough innovations often result from new technologies that challenge existing beliefs and conventional wisdom. Great innovators have open minds that are receptive to new ideas regardless of how controversial they are and despite resistance and push-back from experts. Through disciplined critical thinking, they skillfully analyze, assess, deconstruct, and reconstruct solutions in their quest to address the challenge at hand.
Finally, leadership skills are important because breakthrough innovation often requires embracing risk and being a champion of change. Rarely are big ideas readily adopted by an organization, and it takes leadership skills for them to get any traction. By creating a vision of the future and what’s possible, innovations move from concept to commercialization for truly exceptional results.
Bringing together the right mix of innovation oxygen, fuel and heat will create an explosion of creativity and ingenuity with the potential to take your business to the next level. Need help getting started? Let’s talk about how to set up your innovation efforts for successful spontaneous combustion.
About George Deckner: George has over 40 years of experience as a formulating chemist and has helped develop many of the core platform technologies used in the leading brands of skincare today. He spent 25 years with Procter & Gamble, where he was named a Victor Mills Research Fellow. While at P&G, he worked in skin care, global fragrance, and oral care product development. One of the top inventors at P&G, George has over 354 granted and filed global patents. George started his career with Charles of the Ritz Group, where he received the President’s Cup Award for outstanding business contribution and developed numerous skin care products. George is a member of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists and, since 2013, he has helped YourEncore clients bring their innovation initiatives to life.