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

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?

6 Responses to Pringles, acquired by Kelloggs, is a product of creative leadership

  1. Hi Tudor

    The rituals around innovation workshops have evolved but not changed fully. It is assumed that the out-of-the-box ideas are locked in people’s minds and the facilitator acts as catalyst creating and environment where these ideas can be un-locked, revealed and nourished. That’s a practice we still use today even in projects that don’t aim to deliver true innovation / products.

    Having participated in few of these innovation rituals – to solve business problems using IT solutions (?) – I was most impressed to find out that usually highly skilled specialists of more introvert type provide the true new and radical ideas – while the extroverts can assemble them and package them. Solely based on my experience (i.e. not a universal truth) I find that their type matches what Tom Kelley describes as “The Hurdler” in his book “The ten faces of innovation”. In a nut-shell bring the The Hurdler to the innovation ritual, give him the problem and the constraints and the hurdler will release the innovative (and radical) ideas that are then packaged by the extroverts.

  2. Dale Wilson says:

    If you got some of your information from, some foundations of your story are there.

  3. Paul Hinks says:

    Here’s a link that provides another insight:

    ‘Pringles Potato Chips were conceived via the analogy of wet leaves-which stack compactly and do not destroy themselves.’

  4. Thanks Paul,

    I think you’ve contributed to a story I hope to retell through teaching and writing. My interest began with reading a great book (hope its still available somewhere) called Synectics, by W W (Bill) Gordon which outlines an approach for structuring the creativity of teams. I communicated a lot with Bill, but never met him. His co-creator of synectics, George Prince, became a very dear friend for many years. sadly, Bill and George went different ways annd there were territorial disputes over the Synectics IP.

    best wishes


  5. Another new angle for me. Have a feeling the Myers-Briggs advocates will have more to say than I have with the attention they pay to the Jungian personality styles. Would you like to review “The hurdler” for LWD?

    best wishes


  6. In “Ten faces of innovation” Tom Kelley identifies and describes the innovation archetypes: characteristics, motivators, approach and organisational or situational fit. The innovation faces are easy to recognise in individuals working in business organisations.

    The situations and examples provided in the book lead to the expected conclusion that the mix of innovation strengths is likely to be more important than the innovators themselves. The mix of archetypes is necessary and amplifies the innovation power of a team or organisation – a match needs oxygen to burn.

    What was different about this book on innovation? I found that the archetypes can be identified and applied in very common or general situations – in football, school work and business – the framework creating a sense of where and when one can expect creativity beyond normal to occur naturally.

    I will take a shortcut this time and quote the online review for the Hurdler type:

    “The Hurdler is a tireless problem-solver who gets a charge out of tackling something that’s never been done before. When confronted with a challenge, the Hurdler gracefully sidesteps the obstacle while maintaining a quiet, positive determination. This optimism and perseverance can help big ideas upend the status quo as well as turn setbacks into an organization’s greatest successes—despite doomsday forecasting by shortsighted experts”

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