Swiffer Duster – Competitors Collaborating to Win Together | by Azure Corporation and Rotman Information Solutions

Knowing how P&G’s Swiffer duster came to be begins with understanding how P&G innovates. They have come to understand it is first essential to create an environment conducive to innovation success and then follow through with a calculated, disciplined process for delivering successful innovation.

P&G’s New Growth Factory

Creating the right environment starts with the right mindset from the top. P&G Chairman, President and CEO Bob McDonald notes “ We know from our history that while promotions may win quarters, innovation wins decades”. With this executive edict, the goal was not about innovation for the sake of business performance alone but that each innovation was about improving people’s lives: a critical distinction intended to inspire emotional energy from the team as well as intellectual energy.

P&G leadership set out over the past decade to systematize innovations and growth devising what has become known as P&G’s “new growth factory”. Instrumental in this approach was to begin by teaching senior management and project teams the mindsets and behaviors that foster disruptive growth.

At Azure Corporation we advocate disruptive growth. Break-throughs and break-outs are possible only after accepting and employing the following behaviors (i) refuse existing assumptions (ii) ignore industry best practices (iii) think as an outsider (iv) imagine what if anything was possible.

With the above mindset entrenched into the fabric of P&G leadership, they then set out to operationalize innovation with a factory-like discipline, encompassing among other aspects, the distinctive, detailed entrepreneurial guides as a process map for innovation. [For more on P&G’s innovation model see How P&G Tripled Its Innovation Success Rate; Inside the company’s new-growth factory by Bruce Brown and Scott D. Anthony, Harvard Business Review, June 2011]

Consistent with what P&G’s success teaches us, it is our contention that it is the fusing of discovery and design thinking with business and financial rigour that will result in commercial success. Innovation, creativity and design alone without business process is destined for failure because more often than not you just won’t be able to get there. Process discipline without innovation keeps you in the status quo, not getting you any closer to creating tomorrow’s break-through or game changing advantage.

Competitors as Collaborators

An interview with Jeff Weedman, VP of External Business at P&G, published in Canadian Business Journal, referred to P&G’s innovation mindset as their life blood. Included in this discussion was the concept of open innovation as a competitive advantage. He explains that their open innovation approach provides the advantages of access to new ideas, products, and innovations and allows faster market entry than doing things on their own. It is this embracing of open innovation that allowed the Swiffer Duster to become the success that it is.

Procter & Gamble and Unicharm each had a business issue they were grappling with. P&G wanted to produce a duster as a follow up to its successful Swiffer mop but their in-house prototype looked like an “ugly mitt”. The Japanese company Unicharm had developed an attractive duster but lacked P&G’s global distribution network so their ability to launch the product worldwide was constrained. P&G had the idea of a duster but recognized that their competitor, Unicharm had created a better, more appealing product. Unicharm had an appealing product but lacked P&G’s resources to effectively bring it to the world market. P&G’s research team recognized the superiority of Unicharm’s duster and saw an opportunity to work together and were therefore able to bring the product to market in 18 months.

It often can be difficult to uncover and affect a break-through with only an internal lens. “Think as an outsider” sometimes means actually reaching out to outsiders, perhaps even competitors, who see the world differently than you have come to see it. By harnessing the creativity of not only partners but competitors, P&G taps into a potentially limitless source of creativity.

This How Did They Do It example demonstrates the power of (i) a mindset for innovation (ii) an openness to embrace innovation wherever it may come from, even from competitors and (iii) a business discipline for effective collaboration that lets each organization focus on the activities they do best and thereby allows all to succeed.

The enabling ideas® Community of experts is also about the power of a mindset for innovation and effective collaboration. We have brought together the best at what they do. Each Member is distinct with their unique qualifications, talents and capabilities and it is also this diversity that unites us in a superior service model of robust choice and collaborative solutions.

Further reading:

  1. How P&G tripled Its innovation success rate; inside the company’s new-growth factory, by Bruce Brown and Scott D. Anthony, Harvard Business Review (June 2011)
  2. An open innovation discussion with Jeff Weedman of P&G, Canadian Business Journal (August 2010)
  3. How a Japanese duster helped P&G clean up, Globe and Mail (November 8, 2011)
  4. Why companies should have open business models, MIT Sloan Management Review (January 2007)

How Did They Do It

Pablo Picasso has been attributed to saying “good artists borrow, great artists steal”. Not that we are advocating to steal ideas from others but we are advocating what we believe is the intended truth in this statement, to learn, apply and expand upon the intelligence gained from others successes. Each month How Did They Do It will showcase how an idea became a success and offer valuable intelligence and insight that may resonate with you for a similar challenge you may be currently facing.

The enabling ideas® How Did They Do It feature is brought to you as a collaborative effort from Azure Corporation and Rotman Information Solutions, Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

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