Spending time not working can spark the best business ideas, says top P&G exec

P&G

In today's beauty industry – as with so many others – the appearance of "more of the same" can be a death knell. So the pressure is on to innovate or be left in a vulnerable position, but many companies mistakenly think that an "original" idea is the only way to escape a downward spiral.

This basic misunderstanding can be extremely costly in terms of both time and resources. In fact, there are very few people (or ideas) that are truly original — it's a remarkably high bar to clear. Da Vinci and Einstein were originals, and as most would argue, we have yet to see their equals. But that doesn't mean that the great scientific minds that have followed since have not delivered immeasurable value to science, or society at large.

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Not everyone can be original, but almost everybody can be creative and come up with something that will make a marked difference to them, their industry, their community, the world. This type of creativity, though, transcends the classic group brainstorming sessions, which are — more often than not — a complete waste of time. The key is in lateral thinking and being open to new ideas.

A magic formula for creativity

When an individual or organization has a very specific problem to solve and they're looking for solutions in a very specific area, one of the most effective paths forward involves simply broadening horizons and exploring subjects — reading and watching various content — that have no common link.

For example, one could read a complicated book on economic theory, which is well researched and replete with citations and footnotes … until boredom necessitates picking up a gossip magazine to catch up on the latest Kim Kardashian stories. Bringing together these two disparate things in this way can often bring about this type of elevated creative thinking.

I recall developing a business strategy for the P&G male fragrance line in the early 2000s, based on a combination of sophisticated price-curve analysis and the menu offerings of chicken wrap and burrito vendors in Venice Beach, California. That this particular strategy was adopted and maintained for nearly 15 years would indicate that the approach might have some merit.

Organizations and their leadership are so often stuck in a narrow way of thinking, and the results that come from that are predictable and, as such, limited in their effectiveness. If this pattern is interrupted, to embrace more broad or lateral thinking, organizations will have new paths to innovation — and even disruption — opened to them.

"When members of my team ask me how they can be better at their jobs, I encourage them to get out of the office and purposely spend time not working. This has yielded some of the best work as people come back with fresh inspiration, generating ideas they would have never come up with while spending more time at their desks."

When members of my team ask me how they can be better at their jobs, I encourage them to get out of the office and purposely spend time not working. This seemingly contradictory advice has in fact yielded some of the best work as people come back to work with fresh inspiration, generating ideas they would have never come up with while spending more time at their desks.

A case study on the success of P&G's luxury SK-II brand

The remarkable success over the past five years of our luxury beauty brand SK-II serves as a compelling case study in the success that can come from encouraging this type of broader, creative thinking.

The brand previously had been closely in line with the established "rules" of the prestige beauty industry: high exclusivity, highly-trained beauty consultants, highly product-focused communication with perfect celebrity faces, and a wealthier, more mature target group.

Procter & Gamble recognized that SK-II needed to be more than just a brand that sells prestige beauty products; it needed to become a human brand that could connect on a human level.
P&G
Procter & Gamble recognized that SK-II needed to be more than just a brand that sells prestige beauty products; it needed to become a human brand that could connect on a human level.

But we turned these paradigms on their heads, recognizing that millennials want to have easy access, to experience things on their own and to talk and share with each other. To achieve this, we recognized that SK-II needed to be more than just a brand that sells prestige beauty products; it needed to become a human brand, that could connect on a human level.

By combining contradictions – the strict codes of prestige beauty with universal human insights – we found what proved to be a magic formula for creativity.

The ensuing Change Destiny campaign used long-form video to tell authentic stories on an emotional level, bypassing any messaging about the core attributes or product superiority of SK-II to simply raise awareness for issues that SK-II consumers care about.

The campaign started with powerful emotive executions like "Marriage Market" and "Meet me Halfway" — which highlighted the intense marriage pressure faced by Millennials in China — and has continued with "Timelines with Katie Couric," which has introduced SK-II's more purpose-driven messages to other markets throughout Asia and the U.S. The campaign, overall, is a testament to this applied creativity approach and keeps driving double digit business growth year over year.

Such a movement, embracing a complete break from established rules, could only be possible in an organization that's liberated and able to think broadly.

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A marketing effort can achieve much greater success if you don't think about marketing at all. If you think about humans and people, and making a meaningful connection on that level, then you're getting much more out of it than people who specialize in their discipline, which can be very technical and cold … and not terribly original.

— By Markus Strobel, president of Procter & Gamble's Global Skin and Personal Care, including SK-II, Olay, Snowberry, Safeguard, Old Spice, Secret, Native and Ivory