Climate for Innovation: Estée Lauder, Sony & More

By Scott Kirsner |  December 16, 2013


  • In choosing who innovation teams should collaborate with, Wendy Mayer, Vice President of Worldwide Innovation at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, said, “All stakeholders are not equal across the organization. The path to success is to find who is standing on the platform that is burning the most” — that is, which business unit feels the most urgency or is under the most pressure.
  • “You can’t assume that if you make a great [innovation] program, people will use it,” said Liz Krisel, right, Vice President of Innovation Programs at toy-maker Fisher-Price. “You have to treat every innovation program like a campaign, and advertise it like it was a new product.”
  • Johnson quoted a another speaker at the conference, Scott Wilkins of AstraZeneca, as talking about “frozen middle management” being often unwilling to change how they work. Once you get innovation initiatives trickling from the top down and bubbling from the bottom up, “that’s the way you thaw the frozen middle,” she said.
  • Krisel told a story about trying to figure out which employees should get access to new ideation software the company was rolling out, which had a limited number of user licenses. The initial impulse was to give access to “the most seasoned designers that have been there twenty years. But are those the people who use social? What about the people who use Facebook every day? Won’t they be the early adopters? Think about who your audience is. If you want something to catch on and become viral, start with the young people in the company who will embrace it, want it and expect it.”
  • Mayer talked about enabling innovation teams to escape from the corporate environment for what she called “temporary secondment.” At Pfizer’s training center in Westchester, New York, there’s a sign when you enter that forbids the wearing of jeans or sneakers. Rather than taking innovation teams there for an off-site, Mayer brought them to Google’s offices to soak in a different corporate culture.
  • “Driving innovation requires the ability to socialize ideas,” said moderator Whitney Johnson. To do that, “longevity within the company can help.” But real innovation requires that a mix of generations are involved — not just the grizzled veterans who know how the corporate machinery operates.
  • Polson recommended the Situational Outlook Questionnaire as a way to monitor the company’s innovation/creativity climate over time.
  • Transparency is crucial when asking colleagues to participate in innovation programs, said Polson. When you collect ideas from employees throughout the organization, “the best thing you can do is show that you care about the idea, and keep them informed about where the idea is. They just want to know where the idea is going. That bit of transparency will go very, very far.”
  • On failure: “Fear of failure is interesting,” Mayer said. “We just had a business that didn’t go so well, spawned out of the innovation group. [I thought,] this is a great opportunity. We need to highlight what we’ve learned from this experience, and how we’re going to take it forward in some way, shape, or form. I talked to [our communications group.] They said, ‘I don’t know that a lot of people know that this business existed, so maybe we don’t want to raise awareness.’ [When it comes to] highlighting the value that can come from failure, we do it very well in our research area. We can actually learn from ourselves. Failing at drug development is a daily occurrence. We learn from those failures, and we have had tremendous successes that have come from those. We’re trying to take that learning and make people on the commercial side of the business more comfortable with that. But we certainly haven’t gotten there yet.”