Not so far-fetched,
considering how business schools have embraced creativity
in ways that formerly only liberal arts programs were expected
to do. That's because "we've recognized that new ideas
are the lifeblood of business," says Andrew
Razeghi. The adjunct associate professor of marketing
at the Kellogg School believes innovation as a discipline
has come into its own — good news for companies who
need to find a way to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
But innovation is tricky
business, Razeghi says, especially in big companies.
"Within large corporations,
we have elephants learning to dance," he admits. As they
do, chief executives are turning to a "broker model,"
which holds that creative teams, including a chief innovation
officer, deliver better results when tasked with finding ideas,
managing intellectual property and leveraging both to solve
One of those charting a course
for marketing innovation is James Ruehlmann '80, vice
president of branding for Jimmy Dean Sausage at Sara Lee Corp.
Last year, the Kellogg graduate increased sales in the company's
frozen sausage division by $100 million. How? With swashbuckling camaraderie. To unite
his workers, Ruehlmann introduced a "pirate" theme
at Jimmy Dean, complete with pirate décor, slang and performance
"We are ruthless in
the way we pursue the objective but we also want to have fun,"
says Ruehlmann. "Pirates are rebellious, as are we, inside,
and we try to tap that adventurousness." And, like pirates,
he says his team isn't afraid to appropriate ideas and apply
them in a new way. "It's been said that no idea is new;
it's just a rehash. So let's unlock the creativity and build
on these ideas."
The Jimmy Dean marketing
team is charged with creating ways to reach customers with
the company's message — no easy task in the TiVo age
when commercials can be zapped. But Ruehlmann says the company's
"360-degree marketing" push strives to engage the
Hitting the road with a colorful
semi-trailer adorned with the company's sun-splashed logo
to serve free breakfast sandwich to consumers is one way that
Ruehlmann's team reaches out. He says the effort, dubbed the
"Happy Breakfast Tour," allows the company to take
its brand right to the customer.
"We also do it with the Sun campaign, our segment
of happy news on the Internet, interrupting the consumer's
work with positive, cheerful news," he adds.
Collaboration has put wind
in the sails for Jimmy Dean, just as it has done at other
companies, including Procter & Gamble where its "Connect
+ Develop" initiative is designed to form creative partnerships
with innovators inside and outside the firm. Similarly, Google
engineers are given "20 percent time," one day a
week where they are free to work with other teams on projects
the participants feel passionate about, even when the work
falls outside an individual's assigned job.
Such collaboration requires
the right culture, says Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship
Merkin. In the permission-granting Kellogg environment,
students have long been trusted co-creators of the academic
experience, with team-based learning serving as a hallmark
of the school.
"I know of no other
school that challenges its students to contribute their insights
and creativity," says Merkin, noting that students significantly
influence classes, clubs, conferences and other events —
a circumstance that develops collaborative leadership skills
that Kellogg graduates take into the organizations that recruit
"Today's world is so
complex, competitive and fast-moving that the days of the
Lone Ranger are gone," Merkin says, citing Southwest
Airlines as an example of a company who understands this and
has created an innovative culture. "Very few leaders
can figure everything out and do everything themselves. Unless
there is a true team spirit, the institution will fall behind."
As senior partner
and president of Kuczmarski & Associates, a consultancy
for the management of new products and services, innovation
and marketing strategy, Thomas
Kuczmarski agrees that the No. 1 obstacle to effective
innovation is a lack of a proper culture that trusts, and
challenges, people to excel.
"The No. 2 barrier is
a management perception that innovation deserves its own organization
and resources," not appreciating the importance of making
innovation cross-functional across all departments, says Kuczmarski,
who is also a Kellogg adjunct associate professor of marketing.
"It can't just be marketing or R&D [that's being
Other Kellogg faculty, including
Sawhney and Adjunct Assistant Professor Robert
Wolcott, share this conviction in their essay "Seven
Innovation Myths." Among these is the belief that new
ideas germinate in a single department. In reality, "innovation
is a company-wide competency," they argue. They also
debunk the view that having too few new ideas is the main
problem for most companies. It's not, they say. But being
unable to nurture existing ideas is. And while intellectual
freedom can produce splendid results, teams also need structure
to excel. Give employees plenty of imaginative room, but harness
their efforts with the necessary frameworks. "Structure
and process do not have to be the enemies of innovation,"
write Sawhney and Wolcott.
That process for Kuczmarski
begins by considering customer needs. Without these insights,
"you'll end up with nothing, no matter how many flip
charts and brainstorming meetings you have," he says.
For Ruehlmann, creating innovative
solutions hinges on every member of the team striving for
exemplary performance — including himself.
Says the Kellogg alum: "The
question I ask when I demand excellence in innovation is,
'Am I doing my job better than the person holding my role
in our competitor's company?'
"The code of our team
is that with our innovations, with our marketing and our PR,
we won't let each other down."