Turning the Cruise Ship: 5 Lessons Learned in Corporate Innovation

Part II — The Cracks in the Ice

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. 
Find Part 1 of this series

Lesson #2 — Point out the cracks in the ice

Uh oh.

If you’re going to create a case for change, you’re going to need buy in from the top to get resources to make it happen. This sounds easy at the surface, but is often where transformational efforts die.

Consider the context: On Gillette, we had a long history of strong profits by running the same play over and over again. We had a massive, global, complex organization and set of business operations. We had been investing a lot of R&D time, effort, and money into our assumed next generation technology. We had very seasoned Gillette experts who were confident about what the future of the business was. And then there was myself and my very small team, trying to poke holes through it all.

Left: The ‘Big’ Org. Right: Innovation Team.

This is not a unique problem to many of you I’m sure — but I wanted to share the approach I took, which was to create a story of ‘emerging cracks.’

This was my bridge tactic to play to the established ‘ego’ of the Gillette business (e.g. you don’t become an $8Bn business by doing everything wrong) while at the same time pointing to real, concrete evidence of trouble ahead. The narrative was ‘we haven’t fallen through the ice yet, but without concerted effort we are in clear trouble.’

I had my team focus evidence on this narrative from 4 ways of looking at the problem, which were 1) comparison vs. our own history; 2) technological & trends analysis; 3) Empirical marketing evidence of brand growth in multiple industries (including ‘bait & hook’ models); and 4) reframing our existing key metric of performance.

This was the big one — to take our established key business metric, and show the flipside of what over focusing on this metric had been costing us on the other end.

For Gillette, a business driven by strong margin and dollars per user, the historical bias was to have ‘loyal’ users continue to use higher margin products year over year. My team explored this with a multi-year model that compared/contrasted this $ focused model with one focused on users, and extrapolated what it could mean in future. This created a whole new internal language that helped form the benchmark for our strategic intent for a transformational project.

Ringing the alarm bells and trying to shake up leadership with a ‘the sky is falling’ approach is a common tactic when pushing for change, but it runs the risk of being dismissed for not taking into account all the things that are going right. In contrast, our ‘emerging cracks’ approach helped bridge the gap between where we had come from while also creating a sense of urgency to fix. And not only did it get leadership attention, but it helped them put up the people & dollars to scale up a team to try and fix it. More on that story in Lesson #3, coming soon!


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