Front End of Innovation: Lafley provides wealth of insights into innovation best practices

On Wednesday, May 21, Proctor and Gamble Chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley gave the keynote address at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston; Scott Anthony, president of Innosight, moderated the question and answer session that followed. Here's a report from Renee Hopkins Callahan, the editor of Innosight's Strategy and Innovation newsletter and the firm's InnoBlog.

On Wednesday, May 21, Proctor and Gamble Chairman and CEO A.G. Lafley gave a keynote address at the Front End of Innovation conference in Boston; Scott Anthony, president of Innosight, moderated the Q&A session that followed. Here’s a report from Renee Hopkins Callahan, the editor of Innosight’s Strategy & Innovation newsletter and the firm’s InnoBlog.

This was terrific: non-stop insights for 75 minutes. There’s no way in a small space to do justice to the whole thing, so I’ll just present some highlights and tell you all that I’m now planning to run an edited transcript of this talk in Strategy & Innovation within a couple of months.

Facilitator Scott Anthony (disclaimer: he’s a colleague of mine) summed up the talk at the end in these six points, which squared with my note-taking, so I’m adapting them here:

  1. Growth is harder than it used to be.
  2. Companies need to take the long view.
  3. The customer needs to be the center of the innovation equation.
  4. Experimentation is key – prototype early and often.
  5. Complex organizations need to simplify to successfully innovate. Lafley said he seeks “Sesame Street” simplicity.
  6. The CEO has to be the “Chief External Officer” to manage external pressure and the “Chief Innovation Officer” to push the innovation agenda forward.

To Scott’s six I would add: ”Embrace failure.” In audience Q&A afterward, Lafley elaborated on this one:

“You learn far more from your failures than you do from your successes. We are trying to fail faster and cheaper so we can fail more and get on with the next idea and success. We don’t fire people when they fail – we see failure as learning and as an investment. However, if you make the same mistake three times in a row we start to ask questions.

“We try to capture after-action reports. The issue isn’t that we failed, the important issue is what are the insights? That takes some hard work. We have to have the discipline to understand what went wrong and why it went wrong. Then we have to get that learning out into the organization so we don’t have to learn from that same failure 20 times. We want to spread learning from success and failures throughout the organization. And we have the people who learned tell the story so it’s not second-hand.”

Editor’s note: I recently started reading The Game Changer, the book that Lafley recently co-authored with Ram Charan. It’s filled with great insights; I predict that it will be one of the most important innovation books of 2008!

Chuck Frey

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