Stories of Untold Innovation: A few minutes with Matthew Doyle, Ph.D.
This year at Untold Content, we’re focusing on stories of Untold Innovation. As a firm committed to innovation storytelling from thought leaders across organizations and sectors, we have embarked on a journey to uncover stories of innovative thinking that are galvanizing change and growth in four main industries: tech, medical, science and human impact. This second quarter, we’re focused on the science sector. We’ve asked you to nominate thought leaders in your field who are driving innovation, and you continue to deliver!
Our next innovation story comes from Matthew J. Doyle Ph.D., the Global Head of Product Safety, R&D Corporate Functions at Procter & Gamble and Vice President of The Live Well Collaborative. In our interview, Matt encourages fellow innovators to engage with experts in other fields. He believes that innovation comes from strong interdisciplinary collaboration and that companies will thrive in innovation if they nurture their employees’ natural creativity. If you’re curious how Matt has put these values into practice at P&G and how the Crest Whitestrips were invented, then read on!
Matthew Doyle’s Innovation Story
Dr. Matthew Doyle is currently, Global Head Director of Product Safety, Safety Surveillance, Medical Affairs, Environmental Science, Sustainability, and New Business Creation with responsibility for product safety for all Procter & Gamble Businesses and innovation programs. He also serves as Vice President of the Live Well Collaborative, a 501 C6 Corporation and P&G JV, which is focused on the development of products and services for consumers across life stages.
UC: What is your field of specialty?
MD: I serve as the Head of Product Safety for the Procter and Gamble Company. From a safety authorization standpoint, I sign off and approve the launch of products. I have surveillance responsibilities for in-market product safety as well, meaning if consumer issues arise, my team is there to manage them. We like to think of our work as “end-to-end” safety, where we’re monitoring products from the moment an idea is developed, all the way through the launch process, and throughout their market life-cycle.
I also have a highly unusual role right now, where I help run a small company as part of P&G’s Connect and Develop Enterprise that is a 50/50 venture with the University of Cincinnati called the Live Well Collaborative. It’s a nonprofit where I oversee projects and help manage corporate partnerships that are focused on the invention of products and services that help consumers as they transition through different life stages. Each stage brings with it some unique challenges, and we work to identify those challenges and develop consumer-friendly products and services.
UC: Where does your personal innovation story begin?
MD: As an undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts, I had to do a capstone thesis. I was in a cell physiology group and we were researching ways to manage the deleterious effects of hyperbaric oxygenation as a medical treatment for divers suffering from the bends. You put a person in a pure oxygen chamber and then elevate the pressure above atmospheric pressure for some extended period of time. It can be a toxic environment as well as a therapeutic environment. The Navy was looking for ways to minimize the oxidative stress that’s created on the human body. Coincidently, my group-an infectious disease lab-was also studying malaria. We had a model of malaria that we were able to test infected red blood cell fragility to oxygen stress. We were able to put the animals under a hyperbaric oxygen condition and see which antioxidants protected them. In fact, we made some progress in that area, but one of the things that excited me was I observed that a number of the mice infected with the malarial parasite were not only in better shape from a blood cell physiology standpoint, they had longer term survival–and I didn’t know why. I remember running into my undergraduate research advisor, telling him the animals were still alive three weeks after we finished the antioxidant experiments. I had a whole array of questions and that was exciting to me.
“A light bulb went off–I had this whole array of questions and my life changed because of that moment.”
The second one was one here at P&G and again, it was one of those collisions of two unrelated things–an invention–that fundamentally created a whole new product category. One day, one of our research scientists, Paul Sagel, was working on ways to keep therapeutic agents delivered via mouthwash or toothpaste – in the mouth longer in order to be more effective. He was having lunch with another group of folks working in our food division–they had just developed the Glad “press and seal” technology. The basis for that technology was a film that has little dimples in it, thousands of little dimples. And when you press down, those dimples collapse and it changes the surface tension. That’s what makes it adhere or stick to the food storage container. So Paul said to them, “Have you ever put gels into the little dimples?” The press and seal guys are mechanical engineers and they’re looking at him like, “Why in the heck would you ever do that? It would never work.” But Paul asked for some of their materials anyway and they give him sheets of the stuff.
He goes into his lab, cuts out several of these strips, and coats the gels that we were putting in the oral cavity onto them. Then he comes running into my office and he said, “I’ve figured it out!” And he grabs me by the shoulder and pulls his face right up to my face. He opens his mouth, holds his lips open with his fingers, and he said, “Look! It’s working!” And I looked inside of his mouth and I couldn’t see anything, so I said, “What’s working?” He peels the film off of his teeth and it had the gel within the dimples.
“I looked at him and I said, “My God! You’ve solved it.” That was the invention of Crest White Strips.”
We reinvented the tooth whitening category, from an expensive dental in-office procedure to an affordable consumer applied strip. Millions of high school proms and weddings later, Crest White Strips is now a billion dollar business the company. It had all sorts of issues we had to overcome, but we were able to convince P&G that – yeah we’re a toothpaste company–and we’re a mouth rinse company–and we’re a toothbrush company, but now I want us to be a tooth whitening company.
“Innovation happened and all because of a chance discussion over lunch between two very different people who were approaching two very different problems. There was an intersection there that someone thought was a risk worth taking and it worked out.“
The last example I’ll share is probably one of the more profound stories in terms of having a meaningful impact on the human condition. It has to do with an emerging science outside of P&G that recognized an association between heart attack, stroke, preterm birth, respiratory infections, and oral health. The Veterans Health Administration has over 40 years of medical and dental records for military personnel. Someone asked the question: “Of everyone who’s ever had a heart attack, did they ever also have an infection, of any type?” They discovered there was an association that showed a significant number of heart patients also had periodontal disease, a type of infection involving structures supporting teeth. And sure enough, there were also associations with stroke, preterm birth, and respiratory infection. We decided that preterm birth is a better proof of concept because the course of the biology is complete after nine months and the outcomes are unambiguous. You can easily measure whether the baby was born on time (40 weeks) and within a healthy weight range or not.
My team and I believed we could quickly determine if a relationship exists between preventing oral infections and improving pregnancy outcomes. We received approval to conduct a controlled, human clinical trial among a thousand moms to be. A treatment comprising a regimen of antimicrobial products common for oral health promotion including toothpaste, mouthwash, and dental floss along with a power toothbrush was compared against a cohort of women receiving traditional care. We then evaluated their birth outcomes. As an aside, we also conducted a couple of pilot studies evaluating various intervention aides such as educational tools.
“For P&G, this was the first time dental and medical personnel had to work together in a clinical treatment protocol for overall health.“
The study demonstrated distinct advantages for those women who were provided an antimicrobial oral health regimen beginning in their first trimester. They gave birth to closer to term, bigger, healthier babies. These are preliminary data and much additional work is needed to confirm the findings. That said, the real surprise here was that women who were more at risk of adverse events, or those who do not have access to health care or insurance, had greater benefits when compared to women with health care access. When you view that through a global lens, many women in developing countries never ever see a physician during their pregnancies or have access to hospital care. If all you had to do was make sure they were brushing their teeth with the right antimicrobial regimen, the benefit could be profound from a world health standpoint. Multiple scientific disciplines came together to jointly curate knowledge and understand how to move forward from a hypothesis-testing standpoint. It was not on my radar ten years ago, and I’m just delighted to have been part of a team that’s brought that to the forefront.
UC: What do you feel are the critical features of a successful innovation team?
MD: It has several facets. Most importantly, you have to have a group of people who are really bright in their own way and in their own areas of interest. I often talk about innovation as being a team sport.
“In today’s world, especially as it relates to science and engineering, many of the inventions that are occurring are those “Aha!” Moments that happen at the seams between established fields of knowledge.“
You need people who are comfortable living in that space and stretching themselves into new areas–people who are committed to constantly learning new things. When thinking about framing challenges, taking insights from different places to stimulate new thinking is a key part of it. So often, there are brilliant people who have difficulty connecting with other folks who are in different fields. In my experience, people who have a collaborative nature though may be “less brilliant” often make more progress and disruptive innovation than brilliant people who can’t collaborate–it’s truly a team sport.
Another often overlooked feature is the ability to fall in love with the problem–not so much with the science or engineering connected to the problem. If you’re in love with the problem, you’re really focused on invention and discovery rather than moving the peanut forward in a specific discipline area. When you get dynamic, collaborative people together, there’s a lot of richness and vibrancy that develops in the moment–it’s a bit magical actually. For someone who is leading an organization, the challenge really becomes about how to capture that magic in a way that maintains the excitement and brings focus to the critical questions with a sense of urgency so the team can learn quickly and fail fast. The nature of technology development process is typically described as 90 percent failure and 10 percent success. The “art of innovation” is predicated on designing and executing the most critical experiments first, then cycling through those as fast as you possibly can, and staying on an aggressive learning path.
UC: What is your perspective on how to inspire collaboration and interdisciplinary work in a large enterprise?
MD: Keeping a start-up, venture capital mindset. Agility–is key. At P&G, we do that by creating technical challenges. Think of it as problem statements framed in technical terms, then we work to unleash our people’s potential. So for me, an important principle is to get out of the way and let people’s natural creativity flow forward. My job’s purpose is to remove barriers and then nurture people in ways where they have access to knowledge, technology, funding, and other resources necessary to learn fast. It’s easy to get hung up in the natural weight of systems and processes that define organizational silos. They have a purpose, but sometimes they can get in the way or make us lose sight of the consumer or technical problem at hand. When I look around at my peers and see who is most successful at doing that, it tends to be a hallmark that we all share.
UC: Could you speak about your personal experience in creating a learning culture that’s okay with failure?
MD: Failure of an initial hypothesis is somewhat common in science. I don’t have to guard against comfortability with failure as much as folks being too comfortable with routine. It’s about getting people to move in directions together rather than operating in what I’ll call the “black box mode,” meaning when someone in a certain discipline has been assigned a portion of a complex problem, they may view their job as solving just that element, and then they consider themselves done. That tends to be how many large institutions and corporations approach work, whereas, if you’re in an innovative culture, everyone owns the problem. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an engineer or a physician or a Ph.D. in biochemistry. While each “plays their position” everyone owns the entire problem and the thought process that goes into how the team approaches that problem. The expectation is that you have to be all-in. The cell biologists can challenge the engineer’s thinking about their portion of the problem and vice versa. When everyone is committed to the problem, you see this dynamic develop where it’s not about one person failing or succeeding with their piece. It’s about “us” as a multidisciplinary team, succeeding or failing in our thought process. That’s the frameshift that we strive for because once that dynamic is present, there’s no such thing as failure, there are just experiments that didn’t work. Then you’re in that next phase of experimentation together in real time.
UC: Why do you think your team was able to listen well enough to hear the emergence of that hypothesis?
MD: P&G gives us the space and encourages us to stay connected with many different fields of science and so in a way, all of our people are science and innovation scouts. It has to do with the intersection of personal passion and interest areas. We always find a way to relate them to our business building work here. Our people attend just about every major science or tech conference. We read the literature voraciously. We know what’s going on and what’s being published in science journals in many adjacent fields as well. This notion of staying connected and recognizing that discoveries can come from anywhere–not just within oral health or dentistry–is key to our ability to succeed.
UC: What role do you feel that storytelling plays in innovation? Could you describe the importance of storytelling to your own work?
MD: Storytelling is critical on several levels. On the first level, there’s what I call a “communication discourse” that takes place between technologists, scientists and engineers. The nature of that discourse is hypercritical. We’re trained to question, critique everything. We evolve from critique to conversations for possibility. The second level of storytelling occurs when I have to take a point of principle forward for considered funding, my conversation is not with another scientist or technologist, it’s with business leaders–general managers, finance managers, marketing directors or category sales managers. I have to convince them to set aside funding to allow us to do something that’s out of the ordinary. That means clearly articulating what’s possible from a science standpoint, framed as a strategy that creates competitive advantage and builds the business.
“It’s all about the translation between highly complex, highly uncertain science principles and getting them into a realm where non-science folks can begin to understand them.“
The third level has to do with transcending the world I live in (R&D, Corporate) and bringing the proposition to life in a deeply meaningful way for the consumer. I need to frame the story from an efficacy standpoint AND from a safety standpoint. Storytelling is a critical element in all three areas, and it’s one that scientists and engineers are typically not skilled at, communicating across all three levels. I see how many organizations struggle to bring their work to life and communicate it to different audiences–I believe we need skilled storytellers to help them do that.
UC: What one piece of advice would you give to future innovators?
MD: I would just say be open to possibilities. Break out of the paradigm. Don’t let paradigms define who you are or how you should be working.
Thanks for reading Matthew’s innovation story. You can read more about our Untold Innovation Stories series in our Untold Innovation Stories kickoff post.
*Interviews are not endorsements of individuals or businesses.