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Edge of Innovation

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Disruptive Technologies: The Overnight Successes that Takes 10 Years

A while back, I set a professional goal of working on at least 10 disruptive innovations that actually make it to market, over the next ten years. Today was an awesome day because I got to see a disruptive product that my company helped at its inception.

The future of digital scent?

Spin back the clock with me to 2014. I had an innovation consultancy called Totem, and we are doing leading-edge work crowdsourcing innovations for Fortune 500 clients. One of these clients, a packaged goods firm, approaches us with a mind-bending proposition. They had figured out how to digitize scent, and wanted to crowdsource use cases for this technology. They wanted to know, “What is the Future of Digital Scent” when for most people, there is no present or past for it. Specifically, the brief asked[1]:

“What new uses, or new functions could ‘digital scent’ serve other than odor elimination or odormasking? What new purposes could scent serve? What new scents would you need to serve thesepurposes? What product forms might this take? Where else could you take advantage of digitalfragrance? What new benefits could digital scent deliver? What kinds of people might use digitalscent products who may not currently buy home fragrance products, and how?”

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A mere 90 days later, we had hundreds of drawings, animations and videos from our global crowd of innovators to present to this client, and had analyzed the patterns to inform their IP strategy. The designs were amazingly sophisticated and converged on the idea of a set of cartridges releasing micro doses of scent components. The use cases ranged from the expected (home care) to shopping, to security and defense!

So today I was thrilled to see Faiz Sherman, P&G’s head of Smart & Connected initiatives, present P&G’s new product using digital scent, the Airia. It works with Amazon’s Alexa, can be controlled though voice, and scheduled to release home fragrance to affect your mood as you wish over the day. Airia is a gorgeous home appliance…from a chemical company. Way to go, P&G! P&G launched this and other Smart Connected products at this year’s CES, a first for the company. See their video here.

Acquiring 21st century capabilities

While the use case P&G went after with Airia is close to their core (Febreze) odor elimination and odor masking franchise, delivering this new product was anything but incremental. Think about it: To deliver Airia, P&G had to work very differently to:

  • Design a gorgeous digital product
  • Make an app to control it
  • Create six new fragrances
  • Figure out and patent the Smart-Jet technology that releases “micro, gravity-defying, scent droplets,” and;
  • Collaborate with Amazon Alexa

That’s a lot. No wonder it took five years! And to get there, they had to just not care whether it disrupted the old Febreze business. Faiz says if P&G doesn’t disrupt themselves, some start-up will, so that’s not an excuse.

In addition to the product revenue and new consumer relevance from Airia, P&G developed so many new capabilities along the way that they can leverage across all of their business units.

Focus on the rising tide

So what’s the lesson to learn? If you ever feel dejected by the slow pace of innovation inside your company, it helps to focus on the tide rising through consistent waves (e.g. your efforts) lapping on the shore. This P&G product took at least five years (there was technical development and even a first USB-based product before we got involved). But it is a huge leap forward and will do a lot to shift consumers’ views of this legendary company.

About the Author: Suzan Briganti is CEO and Founder of Swarm Vision. Swarm Vision is a software-as-service platform to identify, organize, develop and leverage innovation talent in the enterprise to drive growth.  Suzan brings 25 years of experience in research, strategy and innovation. She has grown Swarm Vision from a garage start-up to a trusted solution provider to global Fortune 500 clients. Suzan leads Swarm Vision with a focus on building great products and teams. Suzan has an MBA summa cum laude from Boston University and a design degree from Italy.  She serves on the International Standards Organization for Innovation Management (ISO 56000), representing the United States. Suzan is a frequent writer and speaker on innovation in the workplace.  Contact: suzan@swarmvision.com

[1] This was a public-facing brief.