In this interview, Nigel Hughes, head of R&D and Innovation at Kellogg’s describes their approach in both areas. His main assertion and insight is that the best opportunities, at least in the food space, are now coming from the startup ecosystem and that a large company like Kellogg’s needs adapt to this reality, not just in their processes and methods, but in their attitudes and culture. As he states:
A start-up is driven by a passionate idea or hunch. What we see in the market is that it’s the start-ups pushing the ball forward. Now you have to build a culture where people understand the real value those partners bring—value we could never get as quickly and effectively on our own. We should be leveraging external ecosystems more.
The implication of this is that the roles of R&D and innovation within a larger company like Kellogg’s are changing to becoming ‘design aggregators’ rather than the originators of new technology.
Although their models are constantly evolving, fundamentally big tech are design aggregators, with technological components that come from other places. I see that as the best way to handle the uncertainty and opportunity of the future.
Hughes comes back to the theme of understanding the future several times in this interview and the challenge this poses to a company like Kellogg’s and senior leadership that is steeped in the tradition of ‘facts’ and data.
We do not live in a world of ideas; we try to live in a world of clear opportunities. While we can be confident about a big space and a big opportunity, we will probably be precisely wrong in the initial execution, so iteration is everything.
Senior leadership is often the biggest challenge within a company because as leaders we get conditioned to only look at the hard data. The fact is, the data often is not very hard because we are talking about the future.
The large company R&D and innovation landscape is definitely changing, especially with respect to its relationship with the startup ecosystem. Whether this is a harbinger of the demise of science and invention within large companies remains to be seen.