Swinging at the Innovation Piñata: The Need for Outside Eyes


Swinging at the Innovation Pinata

Swinging at the Innovation Pinata

Finding a hit in innovation is a lot like swinging at a piñata blindfolded. You know a treasure is there, but success is a matter of random luck because you don’t where where and when to strike. Add a pair of outside eyes, though, and your ability to reap rewards greatly increases. Outside eyes, freed from corporate and cultural blindfolds, are sometimes the key. That was one lesson I learned at the PaperCon 2010 conference when I listened to Steve Wilhelms of Appleton Papers talk about their successful microencapsulation technology that is now being used in many open innovation projects with companies like Procter and Gamble.

Appleton Papers invented carbonless copy paper about 50 years ago. Their chemists found a way to place a clear liquid inside tiny fragile spheres that could be coated onto one side of a paper. When the spheres were broken by the force of a pen or pencil pressing down on the paper, the liquid would be released and could then react with a chemical in an adjacent layer of paper to form a dye. The newly formed dye in a lower layer of paper creates a copy of what was written on a top layer. Over the years Appleton Papers developed many improvements in the microencapsulation process, but remained focused on creating paper products such as many variations of carbonless paper or thermal paper that develops images when exposed to heat. Their encapsulation systems were brilliant but huge potential was being missed. Only when a team of outside consultants came in to review the opportunities of Appleton’s technology did the company begin to realize just how many new product opportunities might be possible. Outside eyes were needed because those inside the company had grown up with blinders in place that governed the assumptions they brought to the innovation table. Opportunities were framed in terms of what improvements could be made to their paper business, not what new products in other industries could be enabled or enriched with microencapsulation technology. The outside eyes helped Appleton know where to swing, and goodies were soon falling from the innovation piñata after swinging in the direction of Procter and Gamble.

Procter, of course, is famous for its laundry products such as Tide® detergent and Downy® fabric softener. There was a need for controlled release of fragrance from fabric softener that Appleton Papers was able to meet for P&G. By encapsulating fragrance and delivering those microcapsules to clothing, the fragrance could be protected and released gradually as capsules are broken while the clothing is being worn. Sustained released of the aroma made clothes smell fresher longer. Now Appleton encapsulated huge tankloads of aroma for the Downy business, showing the power of open innovation as technologies are applied across disciplines and shared between corporations. Steve said that Appleton had that technology for 50 years, but only recently realized its innovation potential in areas outside of paper, thanks to a secret weapon for those swinging at the innovation piñata: outside eyes.

Our Mission is the official blog for the new book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. Here we provide supplementary innovation, news, tips, updates, and, when needed, a correction or two, to keep those who are using the big on the inside edge for innovation success.