business news in context, analysis with attitude

Interesting confluence of stories about the area typically referred to as the “lifeblood of the business” – new products.

Advertising Age reports that there are signs “suggesting that package-goods players are creating fewer new products and concepts as the economy falters – and ironically, one indicator may be a sharp decline in sales for Bases, which is the dominant service for testing new package-goods product concepts. Another is the fact that Schawk, a publicly held business that does extensive prepress, packaging and retail point-of-sale design work for package-goods marketers, has reported sliding sales in the past year.”

This decline in new product development is occurring, Ad Age writes, despite its own research showing that “the recessions of the '30s, '70s and '80s spawned many of the most successful innovations of the 20th century, including the soap operas, synthetic laundry detergent, the personal computer and MTV. But the question might be whether marketers are brave enough to keep the new products coming.”

There seems to be a range of opinions about whether this trend will continue or subside…which leads to the other story about new products that is intriguing.

The Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Procter & Gamble has essentially published a “wish list” on its website for new ideas, making its needs and desires available to “scientists, entrepreneurs, marketers, in fact, anyone with a good idea and the ability to prove it works. P&G's list … is one way the company, once known for a culture where new products were only developed in-house, is throwing open its doors to the outside world, hoping to capitalize on ideas, inventions and innovations developed elsewhere.

“The company that once thought nothing of spending years in costly researching, testing and refining of products before bringing them to market, now says more than half of its new product ideas came about with help from outside the company walls, even from competitors. That exceeds a goal set by A.G. Lafley, who shortly after he took over as chief executive in 2000 declared that P&G was ready to do business with anyone with a good idea.”

This doesn’t mean that P&G is outsourcing all of its new product development. Far from it, writes the Enquirer. “P&G still spends more than $2 billion a year on research and development, employing 9,000 scientists and researchers worldwide, many of them in Cincinnati. But the company has built a corporate culture that encourages so called ‘open innovation,’ by, for example, creating a network of technology entrepreneurs who hunt for new ideas around the world, and overhauling its employee evaluation system to include rewards for innovation.”

KC's View:
It is amazing how many times you sit down to talk to people about new ideas, and the primary reaction seems to be negative. Some of the phrases you hear are: “I don’t understand the business model.” “We can’t make money that way.” “Who else is doing it?” “I wouldn’t use it.”

(And then there is always my favorite: “I’ll be retired before we have to deal with this issue. That’ll be the next guy’s problem.” Oy!)

Michael Sansolo quoted one line from “Dead Poet’s Society” in his column above, so I’ll quote another one. At one point, Robin Williams’ teacher says to his students, “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

Or, we can quote Jean Luc Picard of “Star Trek”: “Things are only impossible until they’re not.”

It seems to me that in so many places (and I’m not just talking business here), ideas are the enemy. That’s because ideas can threaten the status quo.

I’d be willing to bet that as you read this – no matter what time you are reading it – at some point in the last 12 hours you have used at least one product that 12 years ago had not even been conceived…and, in fact, would have been thought impossible if anyone had actually thought of it.

It would be a shame if new product introductions were to fall off because of our recession. Hell, this could be the perfect time to innovate…to set the world on fire with an idea. That’s my idea of a stimulus package.