Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Service Innovation Conference: Systematic Innovation

Greetings from the Service Innovation Conference in Chicago! This is the leading event of differentiation through services taking place June 22-24, 2009.

Speaker: Kevin Ryan, Manager, Strategy and Innovation, General Mills


Yesterday during the Symposium we heard from Kevin Ryan, Manager, Strategy and Innovation for General Mills. He spoke about General Mills' process for identifying new products and services. They decided to systematize exploratory innovation by creating a team of internal consultants that specialize in identifying new opportunities.

Kevin discussed that it is a crime to ideate first- at General Mills, first they find the problem and then the ideation and strategy flows from that. They spend more time actually finding the problem than solving it. This core belief goes against the grain- they focus on a bottom up production and thus the big picture emerges over time.

One great example Kevin gave was how General Mills tackled the problem of weight management. Before, there was the belief that the solution was to create products that were either: low fat, reduced sugar, low carb or portion control.

General Mills implimented an approached they coined the I3 Approach to solve the issue of weight management. I3 stands for:

  • Immersion- Understanding the problem
  • Interaction- Building intuition
  • Idea Creation- Solving the problem
This approach encourages getting empathy for the consumer to solve the problem. Kevin and his colleagues spent 72 hours with their customers- and they even went on diets themselves to build this sympathy. From here, they created an opportunity map, which is a landscape of potential ways to solve the problem and just as important, what not to do.

Then Kevin discussed a few examples of products and services created based on this process that suceeded- such as their Weight Watchers Progresso Soup line- and ones that were not quite as successful- such as Pop Secret Caramel Glazed Popcorn. It was a great idea and a delicious product, but unfortunately the popcorn caught on fire when cooked using the "popcorn microwave button". But failures can be a learning experience- General Mills discovered to actually step through the process of using the product as a consumer would to prevent similar failures.

Kevin ended his session with three key ideas and suggestions.
  1. Find Great Ideas Regularly- First find the problem and then ideation flows from that
  2. Expand Available Talent- Innovate up to 50% more effectively by using outside resources (your consumers!)
  3. Get Smarter Sooner- If you are going to fail, fail early and fail first and fail often. It is not to be criticized- it is a learning experience

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