The Importance of Storytelling in Innovation with Matt Doyle Header Untold Stories of Innovation

The Importance of Storytelling in Innovation with Matt Doyle of P&G

“I believe storytelling is foundational to the whole process of innovation… Our best leaders are great storytellers.” – Matt Doyle, Innovation Leader, Global Head of Product Safety, Medical Affairs, Environmental Science & Sustainability, and Vice President of Live Well Collaborative

How does the largest branding company on the planet create innovative products that billions of customers love? We talk with Matt Doyle of Procter and Gamble about how innovation storytelling has played a key role in his successful product innovations, including Crest Whitening Strips Matt shares how P&G has collaborated with their customers over the years for the betterment of their company. How? Customer feedback has led to new product iterations and ideas that resonate and change the end-user life for the better. Get a closer look at how connecting with your customer’s emotions through storytelling can accelerate your innovation process. 


Dr. Doyle serves as Global Head – Product Safety, Medical Affairs, Environmental Science & Sustainability with leadership responsibility for all P&G’s businesses and innovation programs. He also serves as Vice-President of the Live Well Collaborative – a University of Cincinnati and P&G funded Non-Profit – serving as an innovation ecosystem focused on development of products and services – across life stages.

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Katie [00:00:00] Our guest today is Matt Doyle. He is the global head of product safety at Procter & Gamble and vice president at the Livewell Collaborative. Matt, I’m so grateful to be able to talk with you today about innovation storytelling.

Matt [00:00:12] Thank you so much. Katie, I’m delighted to be here and thrilled with respect to the topic and the conversation we’re going to have.

Katie [00:00:19] So tell me where your personal story of innovation began.

Matt [00:00:23] Yeah, it started as an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. My senior thesis happened to focus on studying blood physiology, in particular the impact malarial infections have on red blood cell health and life expectancy of a red blood cell. And surprisingly, we discovered a pathway to clearing malarial and parasitic infection, at least in mice. And so that was not our intent as we started to do the research.

Katie [00:00:56] Really.

Matt [00:00:57] And it was like one of those “wow aha” moments, right. And as a young student, it was transformational for me.

Katie [00:01:05] I bet.

Matt [00:01:05] So, it inspired me to go on to graduate school and then to move into an R&D innovation environment at Procter & Gamble. And there’d been a couple of examples at P&G that have really kind of codified this notion of the importance of innovation and the excitement of innovation as well. A couple that I’ll share with you. One is the Crest White Strips Innovation story, which really is a wonderful example of an aha moment in science and discovery.

Innovations and the Innovator

Katie [00:01:41] I love Crest White Strips, and I’m sure most listeners are grateful for the invention. So yeah. Tell us more.

Matt [00:01:49] Yeah. You know, so we were struggling as a company because we’re all about oral health and dental health and have been for quite some time. And we knew that consumers aspired to whiter teeth and they view the whiteness of their teeth and the straightness of their teeth as real signals of their overall oral health. So when two people bump into each other, the first thing they do is they look at their smiles. Right. And so it was very important on an emotional level because it said, hey, this is who I am. I’m a healthy individual. And so we’ve been looking for years to find a way to create genuine, true whitening of tooth enamel. And that had been strictly the domain of the dental office.

Katie [00:02:36] Right.

Matt [00:02:37] You could go there, undergo many hours of treatments for an expensively priced therapy and come away with that Hollywood white actor, actress type smile. And so a couple of the innovators in our program had been looking for how we can take the chemistry that you need to create whitening, true whitening, in the oral cavity and keep it there long enough so that it had actually work. Right. So in science, we talk about rates and kinetics of reactions. And the problem with the mouth is that your saliva keeps clearing everything that you put into your mouth. And the technical problem was how do you keep the material present in a way that would be both safe and effective? And so we had done some real great work on the actual basic chemistry. But keeping it there long enough was the challenge. And at the same time, in another part of our organization, we were developing wrap materials for food preservation and actually licensed some of that technology to GLAD. So people understand that the GLAD press and SEAL food wrap is actually a PMG discovery.

Katie [00:03:59] Interesting.

Matt [00:04:00] And so the team that was working on that technology, material science, wrap materials, right, happened to be in the cafeteria talking to one of the guys that was doing the chemistry work. And it’s really a fascinating material because it has little dimples in it. The food wrap.

Katie [00:04:19] Yes.

Matt [00:04:20] And as you depress those dimples, they change the surface tension and they cling to whatever object it is. You know, the great demo is you can turn your salad bowl upside down.

Katie [00:04:30] Yeah.

Matt [00:04:30] And the salad stays in and shake it, right. And so Paul Segal, who is the innovator and in our organization, kind of looked at that and said, hey, if you ever put anything into those little dimples and the material science guy said, why in the heck would you want to do that? They wouldn’t work if you put anything in there. And he said, well, do you think you could they could contain chemistry? And they said, yeah, we never tried that. So Paul literally rushed back to his lab and put he had created a gel with the whitening chemistry in the gel, and he spread the gel across the food wrap material and then cut it into little strips and he wrapped it around his teeth and it wrapped beautifully. Right. It stayed in place.

The Importance of Storytelling in Innovation with Matt Doyle Quote Image Untold Stories of Innovation

Katie [00:05:18] Yeah.

Matt [00:05:19] Even when the tongue bumped up against it. And he literally, a few hours later, comes running into my lab in my office.

Katie [00:05:26] What was your role at the time?

Matt [00:05:27] I was the director for product development for the oral care business for P&G.

Katie [00:05:34] Okay.

Matt [00:05:34] And Paul said, “I figured it out. Look.” He grabs me by the shoulders and he pulls his face right up to my face. We’re standing nose to nose. And he goes, “look, it’s working.” I’m looking at him going. What are you talking about? I don’t see anything. And he goes, “That’s the beauty of it. You can’t even tell it’s working and it’s there.” And that’s how white strips was born. We basically—

Katie [00:05:57] Because of a moment in the cafeteria. 

Matt [00:05:58] Yeah.

Katie [00:05:58] Outside-the-box thinking.

Out-of-the-Box Thinking and the Innovator

Matt [00:06:00] And exactly. Two technologists who had a predisposition to think out of the box and be creative in the moment. And so we disrupted the field. We’re the first to create, you know, a consumer-safe and effective whitening technology. And you know, how many proms and weddings there have been since, but it is hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business for the company. So new business development, new product discovery, great consumer. Yeah, need being met that way.

Katie [00:06:33] The interdisciplinary collision in that moment. Just I love that story. For that reason and I’m thinking about—it seems to me that there was already a clear, technical brief and understanding of the challenges inside of your innovation team  at the time in oral care, and that as soon as you saw it, there was excitement there. Tell us about the journey to get alignment with the larger organization. So did you utilize different storytelling techniques? Were there other challenges after you saw the product you believed you already, I think, had strong alignment in terms of what the consumers desire was. So what was the next step after that point? To get more buy in, to take it to market.

Matt [00:07:21] Yes. So, we had to get really clear about our technical product story. At the science-level and ensure that the product was going to be able to perform under many different anticipated uses and frankly misuse scenarios, you have to map that out. So there was some due diligence we had to do as scientists and engineers.

Katie [00:07:44] Sure.

Matt [00:07:44] To make sure that we felt confident that the product was going to be able to deliver time and time again under any set of circumstances and create a delightful wow experience for consumers. Then we had to. So that was gathering the evidence, doing the basic science, right? Being fact-based, being balanced and pressure testing our assumptions and hypotheses as well, but seeking counsel and input from others as well outside of our organization. You know, at the time we were a toothpaste company and a mouthwash company. Right. And tooth whitening and selling these white strips with a gel on them was not something that we were structured to do from an operations or supply chain standpoint. So the storytelling element of it is convincing management, not just R&D management, but commercial management, that there really is a business opportunity here, that there’s going to be, you know, a great return on investment because it’s going to require significant capital investment to be able to bring this to the forefront. You know, we were in the lab bench, you know, spreading whitening gels across food wrap and with a pair of scissors, cutting things out, you know, how are you going to scale  that in a manufacturing context? And so there were some challenges associated with that as well. But first and foremost, convincing the company that we had the right to be in that business and we could do it in a meaningful way that would change the lives of consumers. So that was consistent with what we saw our mission as an oral health care company, as Procter and Gamble, a consumer products company, being so—really the storytelling that took place was around sharing the vision, actually letting people experience the strip, you know, so we repeated that experience that I had with Paul in my office and in my laboratory over and over again with the senior executives in the company. And they understood it in an instant, you can tell. But we had to frame that in a storytelling context. We couldn’t do it just as you would traditionally do it as a scientist or an engineer. 

Key Techniques for the Innovator for Buy-In

Katie [00:09:58] Sure. I hear sort of three key techniques that sort of drove buy-in for this. One, you always place the consumer’s desire and journey at the heart of it—at the heart of the story. You already mentioned, you know, think of all the proms and weddings and relationships or professional careers that grew as a result of that product. And you also, you know, when you very first started the story, mentioned that ]research around how sort of your oral health is a reflection of your whole-being healthy,  you know, and so having that understanding and always keeping that at the core, I’m guessing that was important in all of those pitches in terms to get internal buy in.

Matt [00:10:41] Oh, almost definitely. And you just mentioned something that was actually the kind of nidus of another aha moment for us, which was, you know, oral health being more broadly relevant in terms of overall health. And that had to do with some of the work we had done with pregnant moms and the relationship that exists between oral health and some of these associations that are now coming forward in science and epidemiology that suggest that your oral health can actually affect your cardiovascular health, your diabetes profile and predisposition to diabetes, respiratory health, and also pregnancy.

Katie [00:11:25] Right. Yes.

Matt [00:11:27] And so that was something that we decided to explore and probe a little bit as well and see if we couldn’t find a way to create an enhancement to oral health while women who are pregnant and determine whether that had an effect on the either the gestational age or the birth weight of the babies that are born while moms are under, you know, good oral hygiene and oral care.

Katie [00:11:53] What did you find?

Matt [00:11:53] We did some pilot studies and we were able to show that—and these are just indicative of associations at this point. There is some more clinical work that needs to take place, but it does appear that if you can improve the oral health of moms while they’re pregnant, you can increase the longevity or the birth age of the baby and their birth weight as well.

Katie [00:12:18] That’s incredible.

Matt [00:12:19] So as profound as that sounds, you know, we may begin to think about new ways to innovate in the future as it relates to oral health. You know, the significance of the outcomes are no different than the benefits associated with diet and nutrition changes, lifestyle changes, avoidance of alcohol, those kinds of things. You know, brushing your teeth and taking care of mom’s teeth may be an important element to add to that regimen in the future.

Katie [00:12:47] It’s so powerful to hear how that core understanding of the consumer—and also to me, what I hear is an element of shaping the future here inside of the innovation stories coming out of your lab and your innovation teams. There’s an element of not just giving consumers what they want but helping to do the research that will indicate what they might need to be as healthy and as happy as they can possibly be.

Matt [00:13:20] Absolutely right. And, you know, we have about five billion people a day using Procter & Gamble products. So of the 7 billion people on this planet, 5 billion of them are using Procter & Gamble products. And so that gives us the opportunity to talk to consumers. We talk to millions of consumers every year and we try to understand what are their stories, what are the things that they struggle with, what are the tension points in their lives, what are the jobs they feel could be done better? And try to get at that. So storytelling plays a foundational role for us, right from the get-go. So the consumer. We’re listeners of stories that the consumers tell and we use some techniques that help us help them articulate what’s on their mind. So often a consumer can have a story and they just don’t know how to get it out. All right.

Katie [00:14:21] Sure.

Innovators Utilizing Storytelling Techniques

Matt [00:14:22] And so we use storytelling techniques, scrapbooking as an example, and basic storytelling and anthropological techniques to be able to allow them to get in touch with the kernel of the story or the important feature that is emotionally important to them. And if you can connect those in a really clear, understood way, you’ve got a great opportunity to innovate  as well. And so then we play their stories back to themselves and to their peer group, right, and see if those stories resonate. So we’re all about using storytelling as a platform for understanding and then we go and innovate on the basis of that as well.

Katie [00:15:11] Does that mean that at the point that a product is—your sort of conceptualizing how to bring it to market? And so now I’m getting a little more towards external storytelling. Do the voices—how do you sort of leverage those insights, those consumer insights, that shaped the technical briefs to the innovation team? How do you leverage that at the moment where scale up is happening and you’re starting to think about the market strategy in terms of communicating the story back to the consumer that you said this is what you needed and now we are meeting that need. It just seems to me that one of the true strengths of P&G is the ability to sort of move that story from the moment that it was at the home or at the point of the touch point in the consumer’s life and pull it through the entire innovation process to the marketing strategy and back into their hands.

Matt [00:16:06] Yeah, we have a group of people whose job is focused on the translation of what the consumers are telling us and helping frame a technical product story. And we call that products research at P&G. It’s actually a function of the individuals who do products research, our technologists, scientists and engineers by training. But they’re also very familiar with the sociological and anthropocentric and science elements that are necessary to kind of be the Rosetta Stone, if you will, that gets you from the consumer story to what might be possible from a technical standpoint. And they engage with the technologists and engineers who are in the lab to be able to define what’s possible. And so the first conversations are conversations about possibility.

Katie [00:17:01] So this is so interesting. In the enterprises that we’ve worked with an Untold Content, it’s often—we often sort of see some division between consumer insights and the innovation teams or the scientists and the product engineers. It sounds like certain professionals on the technical track actually get specialized training or sort of have—it’s an interesting blend that I’m hearing where they have technical backgrounds but are also well-trained in anthropology or in some of the qualitative research that we’re so familiar with at Untold—and we find ourselves with our clients often sort of helping to bridge that gap between R&D, consumer insights and marketing. And it sounds like there’s sort of a select function where you’re building that kind of a left brain, right brain capability inside of this you said product insights team?

Matt [00:17:59] Products research.

Katie [00:18:00] Product research team.

Matt [00:18:02] So, you’ve described it brilliantly. That’s exactly what we have, and that’s exactly their job description. They then partner also with—on the commercial side, so within our marketing organization, they have a group of people in marketing that are responsible for consumer market knowledge. That’s called CMK. So the CMK people do, well it’s called scaled analytics of what concepts and ideas and how do they play with the consumer base in general. So you’ve got these products researchers in the R&D organization and these CMK professionals in the marketing organization and together they’re able to round out, create a 360-degree picture of what’s possible and how best to story tell. You know, build the brand equity that goes along with that. That’s fundamentally the job of these folks.

Katie [00:18:55] Is that sort of organized by brand? Does each brand sort of have its own team or are they cross-functional sort of across the brands in that way?

Matt [00:19:02] So there’s—the R&D organization has a group of products researchers, and they’re assigned to different product categories and different brands. And then on the marketing side, the CMK individuals are also assigned to different product categories and different brands.

Katie [00:19:20] OK.

Matt [00:19:20] So there’s central organizations.

Katie [00:19:24] And tell me if this is outside of your sort of specific area of expertise in the organization. But can you tell me how that communication and how that collaboration happens? Because it is oftentimes challenging for marketing and research to speak the same language.

Encouraging and Innovation Culture to Support the Innovator

Matt [00:19:42] Yeah, sure. Great question. Part of the way we do that is the culture that we have. And we actually are co-located. We sit together. Right. And so you can—the products researchers can be in the laboratory and the CMK folks can be in the laboratory as well. And so that creates a richness that exists where we can all be excited about things and be available for each other literally in the moment. And so these multi-functional teams that we form are really great sandboxes, you know, and we create a sandbox and we put these brilliant people from many different functions into the sandbox and we say play. Go do wonderful and great things. Right. But be together as a team and be in each other’s space. You know, your background and training and the job description you’ve got don’t define you. And we don’t expect you to stay in those lanes. We expect you to be able to, you know, be with each other in different ways and be helpful for each other. Right. So it is part of the culture. Just to bring the conversation full circle that we have in P&G.

Katie [00:20:55] It’s really neat. I know that at P&G there have been a lot of, you know, lean innovation or different efforts to think entrepreneurially inside of this huge enterprise. And it’s neat. You know, I’m a startup founder, of course. And so what you’re just described is so close to my heart in terms of creating a strong culture of people who know what lane they’re swimming in but also are very open and accessible and willing to shift and support one another and sort of think cross collaboratively in that way. But that’s sort of the typical pain point of an enterprise organization—is this sort of siloed thinking and siloed functionality. 

Innovation Storytelling Training Podcast Ad

Matt [00:21:39] Absolutely. There’s some great recent examples at Procter & Gamble with respect to that. We’ve created the P&G Ventures Organization. 

Katie [00:21:46] Right. Tell me more about that.

Matt [00:21:48] The Growth Works Organization. Right. So Leigh Radford leads the P&G Ventures Organization and she and her team are doing a brilliant job leveraging all the lean innovation principles and the startup mentality.  And some of the products that are flowing out of that, you know, are remarkable. We just highlighted some of them at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas recently.

Katie [00:22:10] Can give me a quick—do you remember—can you tell us a quick highlight of some of those?

Matt [00:22:16] Well, there is EC30, which is a breakthrough technology that’s going to transform many of P&G’s businesses. It’s a fiber technology that allows us to deliver different chemistries on a fiber platform. So one of the things that is very striking when you step back and think about it is that many of the products that we sell, whether it’s shampoos or body washes or mouthwash or laundry detergent, they’re big jugs of things. And most of the magic in those jugs are ingredients that you can put in the size of a thimble. The rest of it is water. Right. And so we step back as a company and said, my gosh, most of our product chassis are water based. Water is a scarce resource. From a sustainability standpoint, the last thing we want to be doing is shipping water around the world. You just don’t need to do that.

Katie [00:23:11] And the extra plastic involved in packaging that.

Matt [00:23:13] And the shipping and transportation cost. Think about this, right? What if you could take everything and put it into a wafer? All of the important chemistry. Allow it to be reconstituted at the moment of use—

Katie [00:23:27] Which is already involving water.

Matt [00:23:29] Think about a shampoo that’s a wafer, and you hold it over your head under the shower and the shower, you know, reconstitutes it, you know, think about other ways to use that platform that are truly transformational. So it improves, in many cases, the product performance actually—the delivery of the chemistries because you don’t have to get him out of an aqueous phase and into where they need to be necessarily and reduce cost as well. And so that was one of the things that we’ve highlighted recently. Another is Opté, which is the cosmetics. It’s a device that will read your skin tones and determine where you’ve got defects and blemishes and then actually lay down the cosmetics and almost like a printing fashion. It will literally print the cosmetic on your face to the right degree that’s needed to be able to achieve the outcome that you’re looking for.

Katie [00:24:31] So there’s analysis involved and then the—yes. Okay. I see.

Matt [00:24:35] The other is a smart toothbrush. That’s a totally Internet connected toothbrush that can do diagnostics, has sensor capability as well. It’s part of the Oral-B lineup and there are just some exciting opportunities there. So this whole enterprise of ventures, P&G ventures, and lean innovation is really opening up doors that R&D is just thrilled about. 

Katie [00:25:01] And I hear a story at the heart of so many of the sort of, you know, innovations that you’ve shared so far. And I know you’ve already alluded to this, but I want to give you a chance to speak to it directly. What role do you think storytelling plays in the art of innovation?

Matt [00:25:19] I think it’s at the center, right. It is core. Sometimes it becomes the difference between success and no, not now. And, you know, I generally believe that all great ideas of, you know, the world will eventually beat a path to their door. And we’ve got examples of that at P&G, where there were great ideas we had a decade before. And had we gotten the storytelling part of it right, we might have been able to, you know, benefit from that much, much sooner. So I believe storytelling is foundational to the whole process of innovation. Even when you think of leading an organization, right. As an innovation leader, I lead an organization of a few hundred people. They’re located all around the world, very diverse set of responsibilities and diverse skills. And to ensure that they are inspired and are passionate about what they’re doing, that they’re in touch with the culture that we really want to set, storytelling is front and center in all of that. We’ve got a lot of new hires, folks who’ve just joined the company recently and making them appreciate the culture that they’re in. And some of our PVPs, those are our principles, values and purpose statements. The way we bring that to life is through storytelling. So our culture is actually—the robustness of our culture is in large measure due to the ability to story tell. Our best leaders are great storytellers. They can create vision and passion and communicate, you know, in ways that are impactful.

Katie [00:27:04] Absolutely. Can you tell us about some of the types of internal culture-building storytelling strategies that you see? So how do you, for instance, how do you set a culture that’s comfortable with failure? How do you set a culture that aligns with the purpose and the mission and the values of the organization? Can you share with us some of the sort of techniques you hear used by some of those innovation leaders?

Matt [00:27:33] Yes, some of that some of the key values that we try to inculcate into a new employee really relate to the consumer first. Right. So don’t get lost in—

Data and the Innovator

Katie [00:27:45] The data?

Matt [00:27:45] The data or the aura of what the company really is and where you sit. You know, our job is to delight the consumer daily. And so just getting that message across is critically important. So you’ve got people thinking about their purpose in the right way. The other thing is that we do the right thing under all situations and in all circumstances. We’re gonna be very deliberate. We’re gonna be very evidence based in the way we approach things. And we’re gonna challenge you to be part of a team that is very focused on those precepts and principles as well.

Katie [00:28:23] So not being afraid to speak up or to create a culture that’s comfortable with challenge. I think at Pixar, they call it plus-ing.

Matt [00:28:33] Ah. Yeah.

Katie [00:28:33] Where they’re inside of a pitch or a concepting meeting and they have intentional sort of folks in the room whose intention is to help facilitate critical feedback and make sure it doesn’t get too tense or negative, that it’s building upon the idea.

Matt [00:28:50] Absolutely right. So everyone has a voice. They have a knowledge set. That’s part of the beauty of the diversity that we’re all in these multi-functional teams that we intentionally put together in that sandbox I was talking about. We make it clear that you have a voice in every aspect of the problem statement, even if it’s outside of your field of experience. It’s okay to talk about that. We need that input, that creates richness and vibrancy and the idea it strengthens and amplifies the opportunity as well. And lastly, I would say that, you know, success is directly related to that. And failure is part of that process. Right. So failing fast is what we try to do and failing cheap. So we will.

Katie [00:29:42] An epic failure are the ones where you fail, where you don’t learn much. But it’s very expensive. And brilliant failures are the ones where you learn a lot cheaply.

Matt [00:29:53] Yeah, exactly right. And that’s what lean innovation is all about. Is to, you know, create a minimum viable prototype. You know, get out and test that immediately and then iterate. Right.

Katie [00:30:07] Yes.

Matt [00:30:07] And if your hypothesis is invalid, pivot. And then you go again. But do that quickly, do that inexpensively and do that often. Right. And that is the thing that, you know, that’s part of the cultural dynamic. We’ve worked really hard to create. And failure is—people love telling stories about their failures.

Katie [00:30:26] Really? They do?

Matt [00:30:27] Yes. I mean, it’s look at what we did. You know, it sounded so great at the beginning. And boy, was that dumb. And so we have fun telling those stories with each other and sharing those, right.

Katie [00:30:41] I’ve mentioned this before on the podcast, but there’s a sort of trend that I’ve seen in the innovation community where teams will bring failure cake. They celebrate the failure. They sort of like have a cake that represents what went wrong. And they all eat it together and talk about it. And it adds this level of visibility and it sort of takes all the fear and vulnerability. It kind of lessens it. It’s not that it’s not there, but it sounds like you’re able to sort of celebrate that as a win in terms of learning.

Matt [00:31:14] Most definitely. Yeah, most definitely.

Katie [00:31:17] It’s not about pride in that that moment. You’ve got to strip away your pride.

Matt [00:31:20] Yeah, exactly.

Katie [00:31:21] Yeah.

Matt [00:31:22] And we look for that when we’re trying to hire individuals. You know, the comfort and an ability to do that. Folks who can you know be energized by the notion of discovery and the aha moment, the oh my gosh, I wish I had thought about that differently. And being with the groups of people in that context. Right. So we really look for folks who are comfortable in team settings. And have, you know, track records of being successful in team environments. I believe innovation today genuinely is a team sport. Most of the greatest discoveries and ahas certainly that we see at P&G were driven by teams of people who amplify and build on the kernel of an idea. And in contribute in that way. And many of the great discoveries in science and engineering that are happening all around us right now are truly team sports. I mean, CRISPR gene editing kinds of things. The, you know, breakthroughs in health and medicine. It is such a wonderful time to be in innovation, science, and technology. It really is. Almost daily there are things that are just.

Katie [00:32:39] Yeah.

Matt [00:32:39] You know, charging the imagination.

Katie [00:32:43] I couldn’t agree more. I think the days of the solo garage guru are—they’re kind of over. And that doesn’t mean people won’t rise into leadership positions or that we won’t admire certain brilliant individuals. But the stories that I hear from leaders who are really in it at an enterprise level or even at the startup level, your startup will have a much less likelihood of success if you’re not engaging in community, building those relationships, and continuing to think in an interdisciplinary way. 

Matt [00:33:14] Absolutely. I mean, if you look a bit back in history, many of the great innovators, you know, Thomas Edison, had a small army of people.

Katie [00:33:26] But we don’t talk about that in history.

Matt [00:33:28] I know. We don’t. We tend to—.

Katie [00:33:29] Glorify the individual.

Matt [00:33:31] We do. And I think if they were alive and with you in the moment on this podcast, they would tell you, my gosh, you ought to see what’s going on.

Katie [00:33:38] It wasn’t was me.

Matt [00:33:40] Yeah.

Katie [00:33:41] So I want to dig a little deeper as you’re a scientist at your core. And of course, have grown into so many other capabilities in your leadership as well. But I want to dig in to evidence.

Matt [00:33:55] Yes.

Katie [00:33:56] And the role that it plays inside of an innovation story, inside of a prototype pitch or a concept pitch or a technical brief. How does scientists and product engineers and everyone who is that data driven, evidence driven kind of thinker, you know, how did they determine in that moment of needing to pitch their big idea—how much evidence is too much or too little?

Matt [00:34:24] Yeah, it’s a great point because, you know, we were all trained to, you know, lay everything out on the table as students. Right. You lay it all out and you critique it and pressure test it and argue over it.

Katie [00:34:36] Yes.

Matt [00:34:37] And it’s important to be evidence based, right? You’ve got to be evidence based as part of your pitch or your story will ultimately fail. Right. So and you’ve got to be balanced in that moment, too. So you need to let everyone know what is certain and what is uncertain still. And so part of the elements of a great story or a great pitch is the compelling, you know, a clear, concise statement of the compelling product opportunity or technical product story in a way that’s balanced, that shows you’ve thought about it in a 360-degree way. And you know what it’s warts and flaws potentially could be. And then how you’re going to test those to make sure that they aren’t, you know, fatal to the proposition as well. 

Katie [00:35:29] So especially inside R&D and the ability to sort of paint the picture of—it’s not really just about laying the evidence on the table. It’s about thinking through the data or the evidence that’s not yet there, too.

Matt [00:35:44] Absolutely.

The Pitch and the Innovator

Katie [00:35:45] And admitting that, accepting that, getting on the same page, because—can you share some sort of examples of pitches that went well and pitches that did not go well. And you don’t have to say what the product or idea was, but just sort of the strategy, you know? Was it that they—the ones that didn’t go well, were they sort of overly formal? Was it sort of I know at all. What are some of the pitfalls you sort of see innovators struggling with as they balance that evidence?

Matt [00:36:14] Yeah. You’ve got to be prepared to have, you know, the elevator speech version of what you’re going to convey or communicate, not the PowerPoint version. And I think that’s where we tend to get lost a lot these days. So. You’ve got to be able to articulate it in a conversation within 180 seconds.  For any senior R&D leader, for any senior commercial leader at Procter and Gamble, it’s got to be that simple and that intuitive. So working to get a clear and cogent story into that kind of a framework is important. And we spent a lot of time doing that. So in our innovation reviews, we are very focused on a few key elements and make sure those are communicated in about three minutes. 

Katie [00:37:11] Oh, can you share the template?

Matt [00:37:13] Well, there’s no secret around it, right?

Katie [00:37:17] Right.

Matt [00:37:18] It really is a statement of it from the consumer standpoint. So go back.

Katie [00:37:22] How does that impact the consumer?

Matt [00:37:24] Yeah. What was the consumer’s tension point? What did he and she share with us that said, this could be this could change my life? So do that with the elements that relay the elements they felt were critically important to them and in this very succinct fashion, define what the product opportunity is. Part one. Part two is what’s the technical product story that solves that tension in a way that makes good sense, and then Part 3 is what’s the size of the prize for the company and the return on investment that’s going to be available to us? What is the investments can be required and then what’s the return on the investment that’s going to play forward?

Katie [00:38:02] Does feasibility—is that—does that tend to be part of the template or is it sort of the next step after that first conversation goes well?

Matt [00:38:12] Well, that’s the first three minutes, right? Then the next three minutes, then you need to be clearer about what are the barriers, how can we deal with those? Are those the kinds of things that we’re capable of dealing with ourselves or we’re going to need help in doing that? If so, what does the help look like? How much time is it going to take to get to those key answers? You know, in a more detailed plan, I guess, in terms of what needs to be true to be successful.

Katie [00:38:42] Thank you so much for sharing that. That particular, you know, those sort of elements, those drivers, that lead to success in that very critical, high-stakes moment.

Matt [00:38:51] One of the key things, too, that we have to think about is in many of our businesses, they are regulated businesses. Right. So there are external stakeholders that need to be part of this decision-making process. So skip line, new paragraph. Once we get done with the internal storytelling, there’s an external storytelling element for those folks who adjudicate the product, approve the product. That could be the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, et cetera, et cetera. So and we have to—what we do in those settings is storytelling, but it’s of a different nature. Right? Its very fact based, evidence based. It’s building reassurance and confidence that the product is going to be safe and effective. And they’re going to have questions about have you thought about all of these other elements? And we will have had to have done our homework in those areas as well and be ready in that moment to be convincing.

Katie [00:39:51] And, you know, for those types of entities, how does the starting point of the consumer’s voice that consumers need or desire? How does it sort of change when you’re communicating it to entities in that way? Is that still the lead up or do you find some of the sort of societal impacts being not so much about the individual consumer, for instance, or personal transformation? Do you find yourselves sort of—or is there a trend to speak more to societal impact or do you still need to address impact with those other audiences?

Matt [00:40:27] Yeah. There has to be purpose. Right. And it could be on the public health scale. Right. So, you know, these are some of the technologies that we actually are involved with fundamentally could transform public health as we know it. And so the regulatory agencies are very interested in knowing why we believe that’s the case and how can we ensure that we’re going to be good stewards of the product then and the public trust that comes as a result of that. On the environmental side, right. Our products are all viewed from a product and environmental safety standpoint as well. So end of life, after the consumer’s done using what? The product environment. Yeah. What are the environmental impacts of the product? If it goes down the drain, if it goes up into the atmosphere, if goes into solid waste. You know, and as a responsible manufacturer, we’re accountable for that. And in fact, we hold ourselves accountable for that as well. And want to be leaders in those areas. And those are the types of conversations you find with the stakeholders outside of the company. And they are critical partners in the success of your innovation as well.

Katie [00:41:47] Absolutely. Are there any sort of favorite innovation stories that are emerging now out of the work that you’re doing, either at P&G or the Livewell Collaborative that you’d like to share?

Matt [00:41:57] Yeah, sure. I think, you know, one of the things that we’re doing in the product safety organization, we’ve got a whole safety innovation program. And how do we predict the safety of products for the users? So human safety and environmental safety and we’re doing a lot of things related to toxicogenomic, where we can understand what the impact of a substance or an ingredient is going to be in a biological sense without necessarily having to test it in animals. So we’ve got a whole effort in animal alternatives, which we’re very, very proud about. And that involves understanding what’s occurring at the basic molecular level, at the genomic level, in certain cell systems. And we’re able to test those in cell systems rather than in animals. If you think about health care products in particular, the FDA requires many, many years of clinical testing and clinical trials. And before you can even get into clinical trials, they require trials in different animal species. And how do you work to ensure you’ve got confidence and understanding at the biological level without necessarily having to go through all of the historic testing? And so we’re able to do some computer modeling and coupling that with toxicogenomic to do, you know, forecasting and predicting of what certain biological responses will be even before we get to a living organism.

Katie [00:43:40] Is that thanks to the immense amount of data that have been collected over the years, that we’re at this point now, that we can sort of start to see trends rather than having to go back to the lab.

Matt [00:43:49] Exactly.

Katie [00:43:50] Fascinating.

Matt [00:43:50] And so we’re able to—there’s enough database material out there. And we’ve actually got our research program where we’re partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency. They have a center for computational toxicology at EPA. And we’re partnered with them to do some evaluations of some of these new models and methods and techniques where we’re looking at the expression of certain proteins at the genetic level. Once a cell is exposed to a particular chemical and so literally you can bring things down to the cellular and molecular level and get some great insights on biological pathways, toxicological pathways, and do some rapid screening that allows you to move forward in a really smart way without creating stress or anxiety in pre-clinical testing or in clinical testing settings.

Katie [00:44:46] Are the regulatory agencies keeping up with the speed of innovation in this space?

Matt [00:44:51] Yeah, by and large, as I mentioned, one of the research projects we have is joint with the Environmental Protection Agency. So yes, they are in another area of a Food and Drug Administration in the area of naturals and botanicals. And how do you establish the safety and effectiveness of naturals and botanicals? We’re partnered with the Food and Drug Administration in terms of laying out a framework that can allow for confidence building around those kinds of questions as well.

Katie [00:45:18] So fascinating. So, you know, I want to ask you one last question. Because I know your time is very precious. But you’ve shared so many pieces of advice already. But if you had to sort of conclude with a few key pieces of advice to folks on innovation teams or other innovation leaders across any sector in terms of leveraging the power of story to build culture or get buy-in or speed up their rate of innovation, what would you give as your advice?

Matt [00:45:47] Well, I’d say first be open minded to working with a group of people that can together shape a story. Don’t think you have to do this on your own. And so find some friends who can help you shape that in a way that is impactful. Fundamentally, I think we try to do it all ourselves often and we spent a lot of time being very deliberate and practicing it. And, you know, just do the pitch to your 6-year-old child or, you know, do the pitch to that physician sitting over in the corner, even though you’re the engineer or do the pitch to that marketing person. And if they look at you and go. I don’t quite get it. Tell me more. You know, shape it. So be open minded.

Katie [00:46:39] OK. What’s the—

Matt [00:46:40] Be a team player.

Katie [00:46:40] What’s the most wild sort of risk you’ve taken to pitch an idea to someone at an unusual kind of setting? For instance—

Matt [00:46:50] In an unusual setting?

Katie [00:46:52] Maybe to a child or you mentioned, you know, if you’re at the bus stop to try it.

Matt [00:46:56] Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Katie [00:46:57] Can you think of one from your own experience?

Matt [00:47:00] Oh, my gosh.

Katie [00:47:01] Or one that one of your scientists has shared before?

Matt [00:47:06] Without being too disclosing. Having conversations with our grandparents is actually hugely helpful. And so in—not in the son and daughter kind of way, but in the hey, what is it you’re struggling with kind of way? So the Livewell Collaborative does this. And that’s part of what Procter & Gamble’s invested in terms of our open innovation platform, is to create this nonprofit corporation together with the University of Cincinnati, that allows for us to explore product opportunities among the aging consumer and have conversations with them around their tension points as well. And so I’ve been in several situations where I’ve had conversations with my relatives and done it in a way that wasn’t their relative and it was eye opening. Interestingly, if you take—they were actually more disclosing to a complete stranger than they were to me as there is there a grandchild? Right. And I think that’s because they felt more comfortable sharing their story in a way where their grandchild wasn’t going to be filtering it in context of the family dynamic.

Katie [00:48:30] Sure. Definitely. I could see that too.

Matt [00:48:31] I’ve seen a few examples of that. And that was really an epiphany. Right. Part of the secret sauce that I think we’ve got at the Live Collaborative is that the students are remarkable in being able to relate with consumers of all ages, but in particular seniors.

Katie [00:48:49] I feel like this advice applies to so many elements of our society and communities right now. That willingness to talk to a stranger and sort of open up and try to meet them where they’re at and relate to one another seems more critical than ever right now. And I could imagine, of course, beautiful, interesting ideas or insights coming from that, that are also, of course, related to the speed of innovation and how fast we can sort of understand one another and build upon that.

Matt [00:49:19] Most definitely.

Katie [00:49:21] Matt, I’m so grateful to have had this time with you. I think that the insights you’ve shared around the importance of impact, collaboration, using stories to create culture inside of an innovation team. This has been so beneficial. So thank you. I’m very grateful.

Passion and the Innovator

Matt [00:49:36] I’m delighted to be here. And I’m loving what you’re doing with your enterprise and your startup and the energy and passion you’re bringing to it. So important in its own right and for all of us who are living life in the innovation space.

Katie [00:49:51] Yes, I think passion is something—I meant to say that, too, that this entire conversation, if you were in this room with us, you’d feel the energy and the enthusiasm. It’s palpable. I hope that you can hear that. On the other side of the mike. And that ability to communicate your passion. I think it goes really far in terms of moving innovation forward.

Matt [00:50:14] Wonderful.

Katie [00:50:15] Thank you, Matt.

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