Product Innovation: Bend it Like Nestlé

"What are other companies doing to be more innovative?" I get asked this question all the time. Here is what I learned about the Nestle approach. I attended an event which hosted two speakers - Rich Vincent (CLO) and Ivars Ozolins (Executive Development) from Nestle U.S.A. They titled their presentation, "Bend it Like Nestlé".

Nestlé is a very successful global company - $100 billion last year. We all know success can hinder the quest for innovation. So, to reinforce the need for innovation, Rich and Ivars started by researching changing American business trends from the birth of modern organizational science in 1948 to present times - global hyperflux.

In essence, they did the background work and created a presentation that painted a compelling business context for product innovation at Nestlé U.S.A. They had to grab the attention of senior executives. This took persistence. They wanted top level CEO/President support. They got it.

The Nestlé U.S.A. Process: A "3 Level Innovation Creation System" supported by the business units who hand-select high potential employees to participate, and a venture capital board who review new ideas, and approve funding to move selected ideas forward towards commercialization.

Level 1 - 5-Day Introductory Experience: The focus is learning about innovation and working on developing a new idea. Towards the end of the workshop new product ideas are pitched to the VC board.

Level 2 Short Term VC Project: 90-day single person projects start for those whose idea was approved by the VC board in level 1.

Level 3 Explorer Project: For ideas advanced by the VC board to this level, the individual works on a 6-12 month "garage" project. A support structure is in place to provide help with commercialization.

As usual, the toughest part of the system is creating a high performance environment driven by skills, accountability and commitment.

A key learning: Terms can paint pictures of expectations. The Nestlé innovation terminology is now making its way through the organization which assists others in becoming more innovative: "change the game", "burn the bridge", "rapid prototyping" are some examples.

The Nestlé Approach:

  1. 1.Create the business case for product innovation.
  2. 2.Get the support of the top executives.
  3. 3.Create a VC board that has to fund ideas.
  4. 4.Provide world class innovation training.
  5. 5.Put in place a system for innovation.
  6. 6.Provide support for those individuals whose ideas are advanced through the system.

Future Forward: What can you learn from the Nestlé system? Can you identify gaps in your system? If so, what are you going to do about closing those gaps?

LIFT Your Thinking ...until next time.

©Lynda Curtin, The Opportunity Thinker. Book Lynda to speak at your next event. Call 818-507-6055 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.