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Published: Wednesday, 1/6/2010

P&G a leader in welcoming product ideas from outsiders


CINCINNATI - Swiffer kitties? Just attach little dusting pads to your felines' paws so they can help keep your floors clean while making their rounds.

A bit far-fetched? Executives at consumer-products king Procter & Gamble Co. thought so and sent the idea to the discard pile.

P&G also rejected pitches from outside inventors for a bellybutton lint brush, a Knees and Toes body wash to complement Head and Shoulders shampoo, and a "man handle" to keep marital harmony in the bathroom by making it easier to raise and lower the toilet seat.

But there are success stories too.

The original Swiffer duster was developed by a Japanese company that P&G teamed up with to take it global.

That's why the once insular company is now considered a leader among the firms in many industries who are listening to outsiders, including other businesses, they once might have shunned.

"We don't care where good ideas come from, as long as they come to us," said Jeffrey Weedman, a vice president who helps lead P&G's effort to solicit ideas online or from scouting by P&G employees around the globe. "We're not going to use everything that shows up, but we want to be the preferred partner."

Others noted for "open innovation" include IBM Corp., whose online "innovation jams" in the past decade included a 2006 session it said attracted 150,000 participants from more than 100 countries, and Eli Lilly & Co., which in 2001 created a branch to draw scientific help from around the globe.

A.G. Lafley, who took over as P&G's chief executive officer in 2000 with a mandate to change a huge company whose stock was plummeting, set a goal in 2001 of more than tripling the share - he estimated it then at 15 percent - of innovations from the outside.

By the time he stepped aside in July, about half of P&G's new products used ideas, ingredients, or technology that originated outside the company.

P&G's Mr. Clean Magic Eraser was derived from a household sponge P&G employees spotted in stores in Japan, and Olay Regenerist skin cream uses anti-wrinkle technology developed by a small French company.

P&G either buys a product outright, pays for a license, or forms a joint venture. In the case of Swiffer, it licensed from Unicharm, a Japanese competitor in diapers and other products.

P&G still filters out most ideas it receives from outsiders because of patent or ownership issues - or because they're just "not P&G businesses," Mr. Weedman said.

That was the case with a recent proposal that the company combine its hygiene and beauty capabilities to create a home-embalming kit.

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