In Innovation, Culture Trumps! Learnings from P&G

Quick – what company do you think of when you hear “Open Innovation“? Many think of P&G – they were, and are, at the forefront of Open Innovation (OI) and the results are now case studies at business schools around the world and benchmarks for many.  I had the chance to talk with Chris Thoen, P&G’s OI guru, at the 2nd Annual OI Summit.  It seems that everyone has interviewed him and if you google him, you’ll find a lot of great learnings on how P&G has grown their OI initiatives and made it a part of their culture.  Of course I wanted to ask him something original, so, being interesting in how we learn, and apply, from failure, I asked Chris what he thought was one of their key failures and what they learned from it. The answer surprised me.When P&G was setting up the Connect + Develop website around the world, it was originally in English because English is the global language.  After a while, they noticed that China was not generating the same level of activity they were getting from other countries.  After studying the problem, they learned the website really needed to be in Chinese.  So, it was converted to Chinese from English, yet still activity lagged.  After further study, they learned that it wasn’t just a linguistic translation issue, it was a style/format…yes, cultural issue.  Websites in China are more dynamic, more active, than western websites where the content and graphics tend to be more static.  In China, the graphics and images are moving constantly.  Again, the website was re-designed to be more culturally in sync with the target audiences in China and the results have shown the success…activity levels are more comparable to elsewhere.

Lesson? Even for a big successful company like P&G, what you think is being ‘local’ may not be local at all.  You need to understand the culture of the audience in both substance and form.  We usually think of ‘localizing’ in terms of the product or service – e.g., the package, size, colors, consistency, other features/functions.  How often do we consider how we convey the message? How we engage them? How do we get them involved? This is an important part of being a global organization and I thnk one that is often, and easily, neglected.  So, learn from others’ mistakes and apply! And be humble, if the big guys make mistakes, have failures, we all do – live and learn!