MWSCC Thinks Outside the Box


Unconventional thinking was encouraged by the Midwest chapter of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists (MWSCC) at its 2010 Technical Symposium, which took place on Oct. 26, 2010, at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca, Illinois USA. The theme for the event, “Innovation: Seeking Inspiration from New Sources,” was not only represented by the podium presentations, but also practiced by attendees throughout the day in various group exercises.

In the name of innovation, the symposium featured a table of innovative technology posters. The posters featured included such topics as robotics, space exploration and popular culture and quantum mechanics.

Perry Romanowski served as host for the Technical Symposium and started the day’s session off with one such exercise to allow attendees to network as well as break the ice. “You probably already know the people sitting at your table,” he said, “so turn and face another table across the room and introduce yourself to someone new.”

After attendees became better acquainted, Cheryl Perkins, founder and president of the Innovationedge and keynote speaker of the event, began with a presentation on open innovation. She asked attendees, "What stifles innovation?" To which several individuals replied: “Results are too slow,” “Marketing is expensive,” “It is difficult to to transfer technologies,” and “Companies are afraid of the risk.” Perkins added that economic downturns often stifle innovation as well, and that companies often lack strategy when innovating. She noted that companies should never halt innovation but rather innovate differently, involving partners. She noted that only 5% of consumer products are still on the shelf after three years, indicating many of them are not driven by demand.

Perkins offered 10 ways to innovate, which she organized under the subheads: finance, process, offering and delivery. Open innovation, according to Perkins, involves multiple points of entry and exit for ideas. To innovate, she suggested companies “leverage the capabilities and expertise of others.” She encouraged companies to look within their own resources and leverage and refocus those resources to improve the payback. She concluded by offering a few words of advice for attendees concerning innovation. “When you innovate with someone else, you should innovate as partners,” she emphasized, adding that companies must have a strategy and look at the competition. “The question isn’t should we innovate, the question is how do we innovate.”

Perkins’ presentation was followed by a coffee break, during which Romanowski presented attendees with a brain teaser in which they were tasked with connecting nine equally-spaced dots arranged in a square with only four straight lines and while keeping their pen on the paper. The answer required participants truly to think outside the box, as the lines literally connected outside of the square of dots.

After the brain teaser, attention was shifted to Steve Goers, vice president of open innovation, knowledge management, IP and investments for Kraft Foods, whose topic was “Innovating How to Innovate.” According to Goers, Kraft grows 5% every year, which equals out to a nearly US $2.5 billion increase. To accomplish this growth, the company harnesses innovation capability from within, including from its nearly 3,000 scientists and engineers. Although the company also leverages external innovation networks, Goers encourages companies to look internally first, to "know what they know," before outsourcing.

To look internally, Kraft launched an internal Global R&D Innovation Suite, a central database of all the company's R&D efforts, which includes an Ask the Expert tool whereby researchers can find experts within the company's own R&D sector. When going outside the company to innovate, Goers encourages companies to leverage suppliers, and he gave a few successful examples of this collaboration.

According to Goers, “Open innovation is an evolution.” He added that part of the challenge is establishing the right culture for innovation within the company, noting the importance of building the concept of open innovation from the beginning and incorporating it into how everyone innovates.

Robert Lochhead, PhD, professor of polymer science for the school of polymers and high performance materials at the University of Southern Mississippi, followed Goers with case studies of innovation. According to Lochhead, universities generally do not innovate because it is against their culture in the sense that most universities typically work on existing technologies that support their research rather than looking to outside sources to bring in new concepts.

Lochhead introduced attendees to his Innovation Ecosystem Checklist, which includes: the materials, the toolbox, the skill set, the partnership, the logistics and the IP protection. Lochhead related his checklist to such innovations as 2-in-1 shampoos, polymeric emulsifiers, a supermolecular self-healing gel for extreme conditions, and visible spectrum pigments that also absorb the infrared flame spectrum. He noted how those innovations that were successful had all the elements of the checklist "checked off," while the unsuccessful innovations were only able to check off a few of the elements.

Attendees had a brief lunch break before returning for the last innovative presentation of the day, which was given by Paul Pucci, licensing associate for the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and vice president of Flatt Cola. During his discussion, Pucci reviewed WARF's "home run" patents, including: three major vitamin D derivatives, MRI imaging technologies, a diffusion barrier, botulinum toxin, human embryonic stem cells and conjugated linoleic acid. According to Pucci, common issues with patent licensing include improvements to licensed inventions, patent assignments, patent enforcement rights, freedom to operate, and commitment to the university. Attendees were engaged by the patent process and asked Pucci several questions especially related to cost and the extent of services offered by WARF.

The day concluded with another exercise designed to inspire attendees to think outside of the box and innovate. Romanowski called the exercise “mash-up,” and each table of attendees was given two playing cards drawn at random that coincided with two unrelated terms on a master list—one cosmetic product category, one non-cosmetic item. The idea was to "mash" these terms together to come up with new, innovative personal care product ideas. The results of this exercise were largely innovative and oftentimes comical. Example mash-ups included sunless tanners + a hammer, as well as nail polish + a watch, among others. 

At the end of the day, attendees of the symposium took with them several good laughs as well as a little inspiration to innovate and think differently.

More in Event Coverage