Turning the Cruise Ship: 5 Lessons Learned in Corporate Innovation

Part IV — Inquiry, Not Advocacy

Mild enthusiasm would be putting it lightly…

I spent a lot more of my life then I would have ever expected focused on the ins and outs of shaving, with over 8 years in global brand management for Gillette. The most unique experience was piloting a “Front End Innovation” role for Gillette’s global innovation program. Over the next few posts, I’ll focus on my key lessons learned in trying to ‘Turn the Cruise Ship’ as a corporate innovator. Spoiler alert — none of these will feel like rocket science, but hopefully they will help connect with your own innovation challenges. 
Part 1 of this series here; Part 2 here; Part 3.

Lesson #4 — Inquiry, not advocacy

Despite all the new ideas, new methods, etc. so much of corporate innovation work ultimately comes back to the internal pitch. Think of the ‘strategy meeting’, where a large group of executives sits down to discuss ‘the big issue’ at hand. Each exec has a different point of view on the business strategy, a million pressing things calling for their attention, and likely a calendar full each and every day with meetings. So, as a good corporate citizen, you decide you will make it easy for them to say ‘yes’ to your idea with the following narrative: “here’s what’s going on, here’s why it matters, and here’s the solution. Are you aligned?”

The danger with this tactic when you are exploring complex problems is you seek to make leaders either advocate or reject an idea. If pass/fail is the only option, they will choose one way or the other. And some people will ‘win’, while others will ‘lose.’ Ever been in a situation like that?

Here’s a different tactic to try, and the one that I used for the Gillette work. (And I claim no credit, I stole it from an HBR article on ‘What you don’t know about making decisions’). The idea is to promote inquiry, instead of advocacy. So, instead of going in with ‘here is the lead option, are you aligned?’ the approach was ‘We agreed to learn about these killer issues. Here’s what we learned. Do you understand the learning and what it means to our issue?’

It completely changed the conversation. Instead of winning or losing on a given outcome, we engaged in discussion on what conditions would have to be true on our biggest killer issues. This forced us into learning mode, and we focused on barrier conditions instead of win/lose ideas.

For example, the new profit model we were exploring had some very divisive opinions. But instead of killing the whole idea as a result, we decided that this was a killer issue to learn on. We embraced our biggest detractors and got them engaged in understanding what conditions would have to exist to satisfy their needs. Then we were able to conduct our learning plan (experiments) to go satisfy that condition. We would use this technique ongoing, all the way up to the most senior leaders at P&G.

Lesson #4: Inquiry vs. advocacy. Not only a useful construct to present complex options to leadership, but also serves the purpose of forcing you into a learning (vs. ‘qualifying’) mindset. Stay tuned for the final corporate innovation lesson in the series, coming soon!


Do you want to continue the conversation? Email me at gdubejsky@marsdd.com or follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Medium.