What would Betty Crocker think?The company that brought you decades of basic food staples now regularly looks to as-yet-unknown innovators for solutions to very specific product-related challenges.
The innovation challenges
General Mills—like many other companies that are serious about incorporating innovation while still sticking to their knitting—realized that they did not have to hire employees to come up with innovative ideas. Instead, they could issue an innovation challenge when they identified a problem that needed breakthrough thinking.
For a company such as General Mills, that leap alone took some disruptive thinking.
And thus, G-WIN was launched. On G-WIN’s website, potential innovators are welcomed with these words: “Beyond our walls, innovators like you might have just what we need to bring healthy and flavorful food to the world.”
G-WIN seeks out innovations in six areas:
We expect to see areas such as products, packaging, and ingredients on a list produced by Betty Crocker’s parent company. But look closely at the other three areas and what leaps to mind is design thinking that can lead to true disruption, and real innovation.
The old General Mills is no more. The new General Mills aims to win and maintain market share through a culture of innovation.
A challenge winner
The New York Times reports that a 24-year-old self-styled inventor named Mark King actually answered one of General Mills’ latest challenges: a need for a “a quantitative method of analyzing the texture of a chewy granola bar to assess differences in bar texture.” (Personally, I prefer crunchy.)
The company paid Mr. King for his prototype. His response? “I was going from making things out of Super Glue and bubble gum to making an analytical device for a multibillion-dollar company.”
General Mills was equally thrilled, and is seeking a patent for the breakthrough idea involved—which for now is under wraps.
Not only that, but both General Mills and Mr. King have reaped great publicity courtesy of The New York Times.
Innovation challenges work if done well, and General Mills appears to be doing just that. On a web page titled Our stories, the company says, “We connect employees, inventors, entrepreneurs, suppliers, academics, customers and consumers from around the world to tap external expertise, drive internal scale and generate solutions.”
From launching new products to fending off hunger in Malawi, General Mills is meeting its own challenge to integrate innovation into its products and process. And that is a winning path.