Why P&G blabs about R&D labs

Procter & Gamble’s stunning R&D about-face has to be among the most compelling indications of the immensity of the re-invention-of-innovation that is under way.

The marketing powerhouse’s R&D moves are shaking up the consumer packaged-goods sector…and they give us unique insights into what lies ahead for many other organizations in other industries that are trying to ramp up their creativity in order to compete in today’s business arena.

Recent signs of the radical R&D changes at P&G’s can be found in this article in the June 23 issue of Information Week: At Procter & Gamble, The Good And Bad Of Web 2.0 Tools

The piece talks about successes and frustrations that P&G has encountered as it has, among other things, provided blogging software to employees (who have created hundreds of blogs) and to the P&G public relations department, which is using blogs to discuss company issues externally.

On the face of it, those of you who are not long-time P&G-watchers might not appreciate the significance of what’s reported in this article.

After all, it’s not news that a major corporation is trying to make effective business use of the powerful set of new Web 2.0 tools that now are available.

No, that’s not The Big News.

What is stunning is that we’re talking about an emphasis on idea-sharing and information-openness at P&G – yes P&G!

And it is especially astonishing for those reporters and editors (including yours truly) who in the 1980s and 1990s tried to include input from P&G in our coverage. Just about every business journalist of a certain age can to tell you about running into P&G’s legendary “No Comment” Iron Curtain regarding virtually any question that was posed to the consumer packaged-goods behemoth.

P&G’s attitude was that – given its position as the widely-recognized paradigm of 20th-Century marketing excellence – it had nothing to gain from passing along anything beyond the minimum of information about what it was doing, planning, or thinking.

But now, the legendarily tight-lipped — make that totally-zip-lipped — leviathan has been blabbing far and wide.

In fact, it has even been talking a lot about, of all things, what is going on in its Holy of Holies — The vaunted P&G R&D labs!!

What gives?

As P&G senior executives Larry Huston and Nabil Sakkab explained in a summary of their fascinating Harvard Business Review article P&G’s New Innovation Model from last year:

“Connect and develop will become the dominant innovation model in the twenty-first century…For most companies, the alternative invent-it-ourselves model is a sure path to diminishing returns.”

And how will connect-and-develop be achieved? According to the P&G execs:

“We needed to move the company’s attitude from resistance to innovations ‘not invented here’ to enthusiasm for those ‘proudly found elsewhere.’ And we needed to change how we defined, and perceived, our R&D organization—from 7,500 people inside to 7,500 plus 1.5 million outside, with a permeable boundary between them.”

Which brings us to the on-going PR blitz: A big part of creating that permeable boundary involves putting a lot of effort into publicizing P&G’s new strategic emphasis on open innovation and collaboration.

There’s going to be a lot more to this story, but, for the moment, it might be summarized in this way:

It appears that the “Re-Inventing Innovation Revolution” is being televised…or, at the least, highly publicized.

And, in case you might find them useful, here’s a set of additional links to relevant materials:

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