Innovating Innovation? General Mills Makes It Happen

by Stefan Lindegaard

Innovating Innovation? General Mills Makes It HappenGeneral Mills is one of my favourite open innovation companies. They have great people on their open innovation team, G-WIN, who are always open to sharing their insights and experiences with others. They also constantly push themselves in their efforts to make open innovation even more successful at General Mills.

Now, they have developed a new approach to their open innovation efforts called X3 and I really like how they focus on the need for facilitators.

“Since formally launching the G-WIN open innovation program at General Mills five years ago, we learned that our scientists were excited about the open innovation tools available to them; however, they didn’t necessarily know how and when to use them most effectively,” said Mike Antinone, associate director of G-WIN. “It became evident there was a need for a facilitator or roadmap for the entire open innovation process; something that would let our scientists be scientists, and let the process be the general management solution to guide them.”

Innovating Innovation? General Mills Makes It Happen

Beginning in March of last year, the G-WIN team worked with a group of General Mills’ strategists and innovators to develop the approach, bringing together a number of best practices to balance the art and science of open innovation.

The X3 Process encompasses three core principals of innovation – eXamine, eXpand, and eXplore – and facilitates the process of innovation by helping make connections between unmet technical needs and actionable solutions. Unlike some other innovation processes, the X3 Process provides a non-linear path to success, allowing innovators to use only the steps necessary to effectively identify appropriate solutions.

“We realized that people approach innovation from various camps: for example, there are those who excel at defining needs or problems, but struggle to identify solutions; and then there are those who chase down solutions without first determining an actionable objective,” Antinone said. “It was critical that the X3 Process accommodates various approaches, so that anyone can use it to achieve success.”

The X3 Process includes the following steps:

Ask the right question(s) – gather knowledge internally to gain alignment on your “true” knowledge gaps and technical needs

Get smart – build and develop new knowledge, including key insights and innovation opportunities

Ask better questions – immerse your team in new knowledge to generate insights and new hypotheses

Communicate needs – write, refine and finalize well-crafted briefs that clearly explain your needs

Find smart people – use available tools and networking opportunities to identify potential solution providers

Make connections – initiate relationships and kick off projects

Because the steps are not a linear course, the X3 Process encourages innovators to use only those steps needed to find the appropriate solutions, and to only go as deep as needed to identify the appropriate solutions. General Mills first implemented the X3 Process internally to guide a sugar-reduction project that kicked off in June 2011, and the company intends to utilize the process for similar large platform projects in the future.

We often hear that corporate innovation units want to innovate how they innovate. Well, I think the G-WIN team does a good job on this and I hope you can find some inspiration in their approach to open innovation.

imagecredit: & businessweek

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Stefan LindegaardStefan Lindegaard is a speaker, network facilitator and strategic advisor who focus on the topics of open innovation, intrapreneurship and how to identify and develop the people who drive innovation.

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