coca cola

What do eBay, Coke, Proctor & Gamble, GE, Whirlpool and 3M have in Common?


Recently these companies, and others, participated in the Unleashing Innovation Summit in NYC which I had the pleasure of attending.  There were organizations from around the globe that came together to focus on innovation with an emphasis on people and culture.  It was great to see innovation thought leaders discussing this very critical issue and have them reinforce what I have believed and practiced for over 15 years.  There was lots of sharing of experience on what worked and what didn’t when adopting an innovation focused culture.

So What’s Working…

From the group of participants it appears that companies are doing a good job at identifying the opportunities to address and are managing through the process of innovation rather well.  In their approach, large companies are striving to emulate small company’s entrepreneurism.  Companies are forming non-traditional partnerships and looking within their organization to their employees for solutions to improve the customer experience.  As an example we heard first hand about the success and challenges overcome in the design and launch of Coke Freestyle.  From the experience I have had leading change initiatives, leaders traditionally find the process improvement portion to be the easier part, mastering it more quickly.  This appears to hold true in the evolution of the adoption of innovation.

Today’s Challenges…

From case studies, fireside chats and storytelling we learned that the challenge of ingraining innovation into the culture was a difficult one facing many companies.  Also, the majority of companies are still grappling with the vulnerability of risk.  While we all understand the benefits of “fail, fail fast and fail often” it is still difficult to successfully make that part of an organization’s culture.  A culture where employees are not punished for making mistakes appears to still be a rarity.  Some of the successful cultural initiatives to overcome this we heard about included Innovation Day at United Health Group, Viz Kitchen from eBay and the BASF Cultural Ambassador program as forums to involve employees and even in some cases customers in the innovation process.

As a change leader I’ve found that fully delivering a cultural change takes effort and time.  The effort put forth in ensuring all of the moving parts align can be daunting but pays big dividends.  And affording the needed time to not only do it right the first time but in allowing employees to adapt and adjust is not something you can fast forward through – there just aren’t any short cuts to quality change.

The Future…

For me, the signs are clearer now than ever.  Organizations are looking within for ways to better delight customers, engage employees and impact their bottom line.  For companies wanting to do this through innovation the biggest challenge appears to be fostering a culture of innovation.  For us innovative change agents, our time has come!

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Coke is timeless. Pepsi is timely.

Branding Insights
One of a series by John Paulo Cardoso, Spyder Works Chief Creative Officer


As a designer and branding junkie, I have always been fascinated by the marketing machinations of Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. As two of the savviest and most successful marketing companies in the world, you might imagine that the two companies would have evolved a similar, shadow approach to branding. But, the way I see it, they come at it from totally opposite directions. Coca-Cola, whose logo probably would have looked the same on Noah’s Ark, has steadfastly traded on its timeless, iconic connection to consumers, while Pepsi seems to juggle the look of its red, white and blue logo like a waverunner. It seems to me that Coke’s branding follows its consumers while Pepsi tries to anticipate them.

Which approach is right for your company?

If your corporate culture is about leadership and maintaining an enduring relationship with your customers, the Coca-Cola model will focus you on consistency, connection and continuous improvement. If you have an aggressive hunter/disruptor culture, the Pepsi model of continuous re-invention will keep your people and your customers on their toes. It will encourage constant re-assessment and promote maverick thinking. My mantra to clients is to be true to who you are and reflect it in your branding and re-branding. If your culture is about continuous improvement, you’ll grow by enhancing and nurturing. If it’s about continuous re-invention, your corporate destiny is finding the next big thing.

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