The answer: A desire to grow through innovation, to provide greater and better value to their customers/citizens, and to co-create this value with selected collaborators and customers.
Let’s visit General Mills first.
Most companies have big egos! Not surprisingly they are quick to disproportionately aggrandize their own skills and knowledge; especially when it comes to innovation and new product/service development. A symptom of this kind of thinking is the not invented here (NIH) syndrome - companies suddenly turning deaf and blind to suggestions coming from outside their four walls.
At one time or the other, the NIH syndrome has struck several big and not-so-big name companies. Apple, Hallmark, and even P&G are all guilty. Remember the well-publicized case of Shea O’Gorman. Apple drove the 9-year-old third-grader to tears, when in response to her hand written letter to Steve Jobs offering ideas on how to improve the iPod Nano, she got a response not from Steve but from the company’s law department. They curtly informed young Shea that Apple doesn’t accept unsolicited ideas, so she should not send them her suggestions and if she wanted to know why she could read their legal policy posted on the Internet.
Till very recently General Mills had their own version of NIH – Policy 16 – which stated that no outside product suggestions would be accepted. But all that changed a few years ago when the company had Wheaties for breakfast and became a champion and an industry role model for open innovation.
General Mills’ G-WIN, an open innovation initiative, is entering its terrible twos. Happy birthday G-WIN! The initiative seeks outside partnerships with entrepreneurs, inventors, universities and other food companies. During its young life the program has generated hundreds of concepts for patented technologies or potential products that are complementary to its existing brands and businesses.
Two notable successes:
- Fiber One® Chewy Bars: General Mills teamed with an exclusive partner on a fiber ingredient to develop a delicious snack bar with 9 grams of fiber per bar. Within months of the product launch, Fiber One bars were among the top 10 best-selling grain bars on the market.
- Progresso® Reduced Sodium soups: Through a new proprietary partnership with an external company with considerable expertise in healthy foods, General Mills was able to source a great-tasting new lower-sodium ingredient for its Progresso Reduced Sodium soups. In the first year of launch, fifty percent of sales for lower-sodium Progresso soups came from consumers who weren’t previously buying Progresso.
Collaboration and customer driven innovation bring resources, passion, and an energy that companies bogged down by their rules, standard operating procedures, and reverence for hierarchy just can’t match.
It’s just not companies but also countries that are fast signing on. Not surprising to see Finland, one of the top 3 knowledge economies of the world, leading the pack. Last Fall, Finland, home of Nokia, the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones, unveiled a new innovation plan to keep the tiny Nordic country competitive in an increasingly competitive global market.
Two aspects of the new strategy are especially noteworthy:
- A desire to be more connected with innovative companies and researchers from abroad – Finland has just over 5 million people. In order to make this connectedness a reality, Finland has begun establishing a network of international innovation centers under its FinNode program. These centers help Finnish scientists and companies establish contacts with centers of excellence globally and can be found in Japan, Russia, China, and USA
- A second noteworthy objective of the new strategy is to move beyond a knowledge push environment, where scientists and engineers come up with the ideas and push them to the market, to a demand pull system, with private companies and users playing an active role in market oriented innovation.
Two different economic entities, a company and a country, similar platforms for growth – collaboration and customer driven innovation. Good Luck G-WIN; Onnea Finland!