Nothing illustrates why US companies have found it so hard to innovate than the strikingiy different legacies left behind by two giants in the world of CEO-dom, A.G. Lafley, who is stepping down as CEO of Procter & Gamble and Robert Nardelli, who is leaving (left?) Chrysler. Lafley is leaving a company he transformed using cutting edge design and innovation methods while Nardelli left two companies—Home Depot and Chrysler in tatters by focussing on conventional numbers games and efficiencies.
Lafley opened up P&G to new networks of innovation, tools of empathy and synergies between silos. Nardelli repeated what he learned at General Electric, applying worn-out mathematical measurements inside two companies based on cultures of service and consumer understanding.
Over the years, I’ve talked with Lafley several times and was always struck with how “designy” his thinking is. He has a quintessential “integrative thinking” mind, as Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management, puts it in his book, The Opposable Mind. In it, Roger
describes the characteristics of Lafley's ability to be innovative. "Spontaneity, experimentation, flexibility and openness aren't terribly rate qualities in of themselves. But it is the mark of an integrative thinker to nruture those markers of originality while at the same time deepening mastery, whose markets--organization, planning, focus, and repetition--are originality's seeming opposite. From his first days as a manager, Lafley was consciously accumulating experiences that strengthened both his capabilities--originality AND mastery, not the one at the expense of the other."
Even with those abilities, Lafley believes that the job of changing P&G's culture from conventional to innovative is only 10% accomplished--at best. Building an innovative culture in old-style, big organizations takes a generation, eve with the best of leadership. Corporations in the US especially, have not had Lafley-like CEOs and its one of the basic reasons why it is in in economic and geo-political decline.