Why Coke is hiring founders & holding failure conferences

hackerdojoDavid Butler works for one of the world’s best-known peddlers of a consumer product: Atlanta-based Coca-Cola. The designer and entrepreneur joined Coke in 2004, he explains, because “I love big, complex systems. Coke is a giant system.” Just how giant? Revenues in 2012 were $48 billion, and there are just two countries in which Coca-Cola doesn’t have shelf space: Cuba and North Korea.

In 2012, Butler, who had been vice president of global design, took on a new title: vice president of innovation and entrepreneurship. On LinkedIn, he describes his mandate this way: “My role is to build our capability in business model innovation and to build a more entrepreneurial culture. Simply put, we’re adopting ‘Lean Startup‘ methods across a 127 year-old company with 17 billion-dollar brands, 1.8 billion daily users, and operations in 207 countries.” (At left is a photo from a recent Silicon Valley hackathon that invited techies to reimagine the soda fountain, with a $10,000 prize.)

Butler offered a glimpse of some of the experiments he’s trying — and considering — at last month’s Business Innovation Factory conference in Providence, Rhode Island. Here’s an edited transcript of his talk. Brackets [ ] indicate where we’ve condensed or rephrased his original wording.

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