Disruption, One Step at a Time
Every innovator has it: that moment when you allow yourself to think, even if for a second, "This isn't going to work, is it?" Nancy McCarthy's moment came in 2004. McCarthy, a chemical engineer at Procter & Gamble, was the technical project leader of a group creating a digestive aid. Promising clinical trials and glowing testimonials from consumers convinced her that the product would be a hit.
McCarthy, 53, eagerly awaited the latest market research data, which ultimately would feed into a financial model P&G uses to estimate a project's potential. Surely, McCarthy thought, the data would corroborate what she had seen and heard when she went out months earlier and listened to people talk about how the supplement had changed their lives. Before, they suffered an assortment of digestive issues that hindered their daily schedules. After taking the daily pill for a month, they were free to lead the life they wanted to lead.
The data came back in a document familiar to all veteran P&Gers: a one-page memo with small fonts and narrow margins. McCarthy scanned the raw data. Her heart sank. McCarthy knew that plugging the raw data into the model would lead to a tiny revenue forecast. In a company with 23 separate $1 billion brands, tiny forecasts are often enough to kill new brand-creation projects. (The company won't disclose specific figures.) "We didn't even have to run the official forecast," McCarthy said. "It was going to look really small and not really register as a big enough idea for P&G."
But McCarthy and her colleagues in Cincinnati regrouped and decided to take a new approach (an untraditional one for P&G) that would use less money and alternative sales channels to prove gradually that their dietary supplement would find a mass of customers desperate for help.