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Partner up to spur breakthroughs

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Almost all business leaders, even loners, recognize the benefits of collaboration. They realize that the best ideas come from group input, both inside and outside the organization.

It took Procter & Gamble a long time to see the light. Founded in 1837, the consumer goods giant spent decades innovating from within—unveiling products such as shampoo to fight dandruff (Head & Shoulders) and toothpaste (Crest) to fight cavities.

When Nabil Sakkab became a senior vice president in 1996, he concluded that P&G’s pipeline of new products was somewhat thin. So he looked outward for ideas and inspiration.

Sakkab began by listing the 10 top problems that his business unit, which developed fabric care products, faced. Turning to solutions, he figured that he could make more headway by engaging the company’s suppliers more actively and welcoming their creative contributions.

While P&G had longstanding relationships with global chemical firms, they were little more than contract manufacturers. Sakkab wanted to pick the brains of their in-house scientists.

“Why just limit ourselves to buying their hands when we can rent their heads as well,” he thought.

For starters, he presented one of the chemical companies with a specific challenge. The pilot project went well, and the supplier mobilized its chemists to test a new compound that they rolled out on time and under budget.

Sakkab then partnered with other suppliers to help develop chemicals for new products. The successes began to flow in.

“We took problems that had been sitting around for years, and were able to solve them in months,” Sakkab recalls.

Within a decade, Sakkab grew his business unit by 50 percent while cutting research-and-development costs by 25 percent. Over time, P&G expanded the practice and established a companywide “Connect & Develop” program.

— Adapted from Mapping Innovation, Greg Satell, McGraw-Hill.

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