Where Do Great Business Ideas Come From?

We often think big businesses lack the fresh ideas, creativity and agility of the small and new businesses.  Three huge companies – Procter & Gamble, Intuit and Google – prove this is not always true.  P&G had its Clay Street, a unit composed of choice employees launched in 2004, to rehabilitate its Herbal Essences shampoo line.  Intuit founder Scott Cook fosters a work environment that allows his employees to experiment on their ideas.  Google, on the other hand, allows its employees to dream up products or services during Time Off.  Credit goes to the leaders of these companies for believing and approving the ideas of their employees.  Entrepreneur.com lists three lessons for businesses on how to spur creativity, innovation and profits.

Let’s consider the big-business exceptions. The following discussion includes case studies from Procter & Gamble, Intuit and Google, as well as lessons for small businesses in need of a jolt of creativity.

P&G launched an employee-driven design consulting unit in 2004 called Clay Street, which the consumer-products giant used to help turnaround a shrinking brand. That year, Clay Street — using a revolving cast of employees from all over the company, including interns — helped revive a then-tired brand of shampoo, Herbal Essences. The cross-functional team that spent 10 to 12 weeks at Clay Street came up with ideas that almost doubled Herbal Essences’ sales growth relative to a year earlier.

Lesson: Take all opinions into consideration. Asking employees to chip in on projects and lend their ideas can help fuel innovation.

Meanwhile, TurboTax-maker Intuit is creating what it calls a culture of “frugal experimentation,” which among other things spawned the idea for offering debit cards to people without bank accounts. An Intuit finance employee — not a “product person” — noticed that the people who need tax refund checks the most are often ones who don’t have bank accounts.

Lesson: Let go of the reins sometimes. Even though Cook had reservations about the project — he let his employee go for it.

Then, of course, there’s Google. The search giant is well known for letting workers spend 20 percent of their time brainstorming — dreaming up products or services that interest them. This massive decentralization of innovation — called Time Off — helps keep Google ahead of competitors like Yahoo and Microsoft.  Though the initiative involved 300 people over 20 months, Google has maintained roughly 60 percent lead over Yahoo in the search-engine marketing realm thanks in large part to Google employees who’ve used their Time Off to help strengthen the company’s ad prowess.

Lesson: Let your employees dream. In addition to advertising model improvements, Google’s employees have come up with countless innovations from gmail to Orkut, which is a social networking site that’s really popular outside the U.S. …

Photo by Forrester Research, Inc

Leave a Reply