Pringles, acquired by Kelloggs, is a product of creative leadership

February 16, 2012

Pringles has been acquired from Proctor & Gamble for a figure reported as nearly $3 billion. The product may be one of the early examples of deliberate efforts at harnessing team creativity

Proctor and Gamble (P&G) is a company that has encouraged creative leadership for over four decades. A possible outcome of its creativity is the Pringles stacked potato product, valued this week at 2.7 billion dollars by Kelloggs its new owners .

Official histories of Pringles suggest that like many inventions it can claim several inventors. An early unsuccessful product had been around since the 1930s. Other accounts suggest that an army engineer had a patent for an easily-transported potato product in which he could not interest the army, and which he brought to P&G.

A different story

I want to offer a different story which I had assumed to have some truth to it for many years.

Some forty years, ago a small number of pioneering corporates in the US and Europe, including Proctor & Gamble (P&G) and Unilever, were experimenting with so-called structured techniques for stimulating creativity. Advocates liked to relate successful outcomes of such approaches. I can recall that claims were made at the time that Pringles had been one such success story.

My recollection is that the teams which involved extended flights of fancy, directed by a team facilitator or creative leader. The leader’s task was, among other things, to direct the creative process without concern for his or her own ideas regarding the topic. Charged with developing an easily transportable product, the team, according to this account, put together the ideas needed to go from concept to supermarket offering.

It would be typical of such a group to play around with a metaphor for a product with improved stacking features designed in. So the team, prompted by a facilitator or creative leader may have speculated on the metaphor of easily stacked chairs, arriving at the idea of an easily-stacked food product which was to become Pringles.

Did this really happen?

I have failed to find any confirmation for this interesting story. Maybe someone will be able to confirm it or provide a better-documented suggestion?