Optimizing Innovation – Moises Norena of Whirlpool

by Braden Kelley

Moises Noreña of WhirlpoolWe are happy to bring you some of the key points and insights from Moises Norena’s talk at the Optimizing Innovation Conference, which was held October 21-22, 2009 in New York City.

Moises Norena, Director of Global Innovation at Whirlpool, spoke about how his job is to lead a three person team that works on the infrastructure that enables innovation in the company. He commented about how the theme of the conference – optimizing innovation – creates a bit of a paradox because optimizing innovation is about taking out risk, but innovation is all about risk.

Moises spoke about how their innovation focus from the beginning has been to build a culture, not a group of innovators. They are trying to follow an embedded innovation approach. “Growing a bean plant instead of a can of beans.”

Their initial goal was to create one definition of innovation:

  • Unique and compelling consumer solutions
  • Creating sustainable competitive advantage
  • Creating superior shareholder value

Whirlpool’s innovation process is organized by regions and brands and built around an s-curve with the following stages:

  • Launch
  • Proof of Concept
  • Scaling
  • Sustaining
  • Creating Results
  • Continuous Improvement

They go thru a process focused on discovery, synthesis, and realization. Challenging orthodoxy is one of the key components. In challenging the orthodoxy of appliances being purchased by women to go into the kitchen, we came up with the Gladiator brand for men to go in the garage (organization).

Whirlpool started with a centralized approach, but has since moved to a more decentralized model focused on training people to become i-Mentors and then embedding them in the business. i-Mentors are to innovation what black belts are to Six Sigma. They have about 1,000 iMentors out of 70,000 employees.

Whirlpool flags certain products as innovative in their systems, and tracks whether they drive greater earnings or greater customer satisfaction (consumer perceptions). They have four very traditional innovation focus areas:

  • Innovating in the core
  • Leveraging the core
  • Expanding the core
  • Exploring the whitespace

Whirlpool has been on their innovation for nearly ten years now and some of their key learnings have been:

  • In their employee survey, the #1 employee engagement pillar continues to be that people like working for an innovative company
  • It is crucial to identify the right customers and suppliers of innovation to create the bridges for success in innovation
  • You must have people that focus on introducing the innovation in the marketplace – not just on its development

Unlike some companies, Whirlpool chooses to keep those that created the idea involved, even though others may be leading development and launch. They also choose to bring in industrial design early in the process, and fund new businesses from a seed fund at corporate.

And finally, when it comes to rewards and recognition, product groups have up to 1/3 of their bonus metrics focused on innovation (pipeline value and product value) and they also focus on other very visible rewards and recognition.

Optimizing Innovation Conference


Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is the editor of Blogging Innovation and founder of Business Strategy Innovation, a consultancy focusing on innovation and marketing strategy. Braden is also @innovate on Twitter.

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