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Thursday, May 22, 2008

P&G's Beckett Ridge Innovation Center

It's in public print now. I am making my way through P&G CEO's A G. Lafley's and Ram Charan's book: Game-Changer: How you can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation. Good book so far.

As might be expected there is a short mention of Procter & Gamble's Beckett Ridge Innovation Center, of which I was one of the founders. The space started with a mostly skunkworks operation in about 2000. I ran the retail store operation until 2005, hosting hundreds of executives, retailers, vendors and employees through the center. A few interesting details of the center's operation are included in the book:
" ... One of the star features at the Beckett Ridge Innovation Center is the Virtual Wall. This is an eight by sixteen foot wall on which images from twenty four projectors can be displayed. P&G adapted the idea after a visit to DreamWorks; it wanted to do something with digital imagery, but that was of course, hardly its expertise. Working with the University of Aachen - connect and develop again - P&G ended up with something akin to what oil companies use for seismic imagery. What had to be done with it was project packaging - from shelves to categories to the whole store.

There is video that can be connected to remote tech centers around the world, so that people can call in questions. At a few touches of a button, the shelves can be re-aligned. The P&G Team can run shoppers through many more iterations than if they had to drive from store to store, assuming they could even find what they wanted. Fifteen minutes on the wall can replace months of dithering. Failed ideas get nuked much faster, good ones get accelerated.

Once P&G brought in execs from Iams, the pet food division, to evaluate some packaging. The team did the usual - projecting pet food aisles from different stores, and bringing in shoppers to make their picks. It didn't take long for the Iams folks to realize their concept was not working: shoppers kept choosing the competition. That kind of understanding would have been very expensive if the team had launched and waited for the product to fail ...

P&G's Envision Center takes the Virtual World to another dimension. It's a paneled wall eight feet high and thirty feet long. The panels can be moved to create a three walled cave. Through this, P&G can project the top ten stores of its top retailers. With goggles, gloves and a virtual reality device, it's possible to navigate through the aisles (or above them), testing new concepts and store environments, flipping through the wrong ideas on the way to finding the eight one ... " (p. 201)

Good, though idealized description of what went on at BRIC. Sometimes it's not just the push of a button, lots of work needs to be finished in preparation for the performance. It also isn't all virtual, often it's useful to link the tangible with the virtual to get full engagement from the participants. It's not all that goes on either, but all the secrets cannot be told. I worked with many un-mentioned people at BRIC who worked long hours to get it established and working. I fondly remember the effort.

Similar things afoot at Kimberly Clark.

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