Are You Thinking Ahead of the Curve?

Filippo PasseriniThe other day in Cincinnati I met Filippo Passerini, Procter & Gamble’s Chief Information Officer. Fascinating guy. Ph.D. in statistics from the University of Rome. Father of three. Technical mountain climber. And the toast of his organization right now for what he and his troops have been able to accomplish.

Passerini was the driving force behind Procter’s radical revamping of its entire back office operations. The move obliterated $1.2 billion in costs from P&G. It enabled the consumer products giant to respond quickly to the Global Economic Crisis, and bring new products to market faster than ever.

So how does Filippo unwind after routinely putting in 60 hour weeks? He plays chess. “Thinking what your opponent will do three moves out is good discipline for business,” he told me in a thick Italian accent.

Filippo is the perfect illustration of an important innovation skill — thinking ahead of the curve.

“It was our reading of trends that led us to make this move,” he explained. In frequent open-ended brainstorming sessions, he and his core team of five saw that the world was shifting. It was moving from ‘big is good’ to ‘flexible is good’ to ‘network is good’.

“Fifteen years ago, if you were a big company, that was a competitive advantage. Then flexibility was the way to achieve it. But we saw that over the next five years the network would become more and more important.”

What to do?

Global Services NetworkPasserini’s vision was that the entire company should operate from one consolidated, integrated global services network. He and his team assaulted the assumption that the way P&G handled back office functions like finance and accounting, HR, facilities management, and IT was good enough. They knew it was riddled with duplication and waste. So they set forth to build a new unit — Global Business Services – to take over and consolidate all such operations.

Today, ‘shared-services centers’ in Costa Rica, Manila and Newcastle, England, provide networked support around the clock to P&G operations everywhere. All non-strategic activities have been outsourced to outside vendors. And Passerini and his group have ‘decommoditized’ themselves (his word) from being internal service providers to become strategic partners to the organization.

In researching a forthcoming book, I’ve been interviewing dozens of high output managers like Filippo Passerini. They don’t try to predict the future, which is impossible. But they do make it a priority to spend time thinking ahead of the curve.

“One of our pillars is thinking out in the future and anticipating what is coming and then making your move. It’s so much better than reacting.”

Innovation-adept leaders like Filippo Passerini don’t just gather better intelligence. They creatively crunch this data, argue about it, debate its implications, and try to connect the dots in some meaningful fashion. They seek to arrive at a point of view, both individually and collectively, about how to turn today’s rapid changes into tomorrow’s opportunities. And then they take action.

How are you “sussing out” (as the British say) the trends in your market and in the wider world? What’s new in your information diet that’s stimulating your thinking? What trends, emerging technologies and developments are you doing deep dives on to gain a knowledge edge?

“I manage my life like a chess game,” Passerini told me as I was leaving. “I still continue to study the trends every day.”

Not bad advice for all of us.

Robert TuckerRobert B. Tucker is the President of The Innovation Resource Consulting Group. He is a speaker, seminar leader and an expert in the management of innovation and assisting companies in accelerating ideas to market.

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