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Assemble a team to see tomorrow

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in Leaders & Managers,Team Building

When Garry Ridge became CEO of WD-40 Co. in 1997, it was known for a single product: a popular lubricant sold in blue and yellow canisters, which was virtually a household name. He wanted more.

Now 60, Ridge’s goal for the last 20 years has been to transform WD-40 into a global, diversified brand.

Determined to revamp the culture, Ridge sought to spark innovation by freeing his senior managers to take bold risks on new ideas. He fostered a learning environment where everyone from chemists to designers staged experiments to test new product extensions.

“The fear of failure is the biggest fear in the world,” he says. “We had to go from failure to freedom.”

To formalize the process, he selected a small group of executives to think about innovative breakthroughs. They sought to identify short-term trends (three to five years away) as well as long-term changes (in 10+ years), and decide what technologies they needed to acquire and what skills mattered most to capitalize on the future. Ridge called the group Team Tomorrow. They included heads of marketing, finance and strategy—and they worked together to envision how WD-40 could evolve and move into new markets.

The team hatched a string of victories. For example, it launched a subsidiary, called WD-40 BIKE, to sell chain lubricants and foaming wash for bicycles. Today, the bike business operates in more than 15 countries and cyclists rave about its products.

“It’s great to hear people across the company, anywhere in the world, say, ‘I just had a learning moment’ and share it with other people,” Ridge says.

— Adapted from Simply Brilliant, William C. Taylor, Portfolio/Penguin.

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