The LAB: Innovating Shredded Wheat with S.I.T. (July 2009)

Innovation Sighting: Task Unification at Airports
June 30, 2009
Innovation Internships
July 12, 2009

The LAB: Innovating Shredded Wheat with S.I.T. (July 2009)

“We put the ‘no’ in innovation!” The good people at Post Cereal have a new twist on innovation…NOT innovating as a statement of the products ubiquity and staying power. “Some things just weren’t meant to be innovated." How could I resist? It was just too tempting to use systematic innovation on this simple product, especially in light of the perception that it should not be innovated. Though the ad campaign is a spoof, I wonder just how much the people at Post really believe this. What if shredded wheat could be innovated to create new growth potential for this sixty year old product?

Lab_2

“We put the ‘NO’ in innovation!”  The good people at Post Cereal have a new twist on innovation…NOT innovating as a statement of the product’s ubiquity and staying power.  “Some things just weren’t meant to be innovated.”

How could I resist?  It was just too tempting to use systematic innovation on this simple product, especially in light of the perception that it should not be innovated.  Though the ad campaign is a spoof, I wonder just how much the people at Post really believe this.  What if shredded wheat could be innovated to create new growth potential for this 116 year old product?

Here is a brief history from Wikipedia:

Henry Perky invented shredded wheat cereal in 1893. The wheat is first cooked in water until its moisture content reaches about 50%. It is then tempered, allowing moisture to diffuse evenly into the grain. The grain then passes through a set of rollers with grooves in one side, yielding a web of shredded wheat strands. Many webs are stacked together, and this moist stack of strands is crimped at regular intervals to produce individual pieces of cereal with the strands attached at each end. These then go into an oven, where they are baked until their moisture content is reduced to 5%.

I’ll use all five templates of the Systematic Inventive Thinking method to see what new opportunities we can uncover.

We begin with a list of components.  Then we apply each template, one at a time, to create hypothetical “solutions.”  We work backwards (SOLUTION-TO-PROBLEM Innovation) to find potential problems that they solve.  We are seeking new benefits or concepts that have potential merit in the marketplace.  I liken this exercise to the work done by Arm & Hammer in creating new uses for baking soda, another ubiquitous and simple product.  We now have baking soda in deodorant, cleaning solution, detergent, as well as many new uses beyond the original use in cooking.

Wheat Here are the components:

  1. Wheat
  2. Binding Agent (moisture)
  3. Preservative (BHT)

Here is what I came up with:

1.  SUBTRACTION:  To use this template, we eliminate a component, but keep the rest.  I will remove the binding agent.  The Virtual Product is “binding agent-less shredded wheat.”  In other words, it falls apart instead of staying in that neat and tidy little bite-size biscuit shape.  Benefits:  Sell it as dried wheat, to use in cooking, or to mix with other foods such as yogurt, cream of wheat, or oatmeal.  Use as a topping for bake goods, pie crust, pancakes, waffles, or other breakfast dishes.  Same familiar taste and texture, but embedded in other foods.

2.  MULTIPLICATION:  Here we make a copy of a component but change it in some way.  Let’s make additional copy of the binding agent, but instead of binding the wheat, it now binds to other things.  Benefits:  perhaps the biscuits stick to each other to create a kind of cereal bar.  Each biscuit can be broken off from the whole unit in pieces.  Perhaps they stack on top of each other for easy fitting inside a bowl, in round, upside down pyramidal shape.  Perhaps the binding agent now sticks to the packaging to prevent breakage in transit.  Perhaps it sticks to other foods as part of a food preparation process.

3.  TASK UNIFICATION:  The trick to using this template is to assign an additional job to an existing resource.   Let’s assign additional jobs to the preservatives.  Let’s imagine the preservatives have the additional job of keeping other foods preserved and fresh.  Imagine shredded wheat is used to wrap around fish, meat, or cheese.  Let’s assign more work to the wheat.  Imagine the wheat has the job of acting as a scrubbing agent, perhaps as a face or body scrub.  This potentially heightens the brand perception of the product as wholesome, “so wholesome you can put it on your face.”

4.  DIVISION:  To use the division template, we divide the product either physically, functionally, or in a way that preserves the original whole.  Let’s divide the product functionally (split it up into separate components).  Now we have wheat, preservative, and the binding agent all separated.  Who would use this?  Why would someone find this useful?  Perhaps it could be sold as a way to give customers the ability to make their own shapes and sizes, or to allow them to set the shelf life duration.  Imagine this is sold to chefs or food preparation companies to allow them to embed the product into their creations.  Now shredded wheat becomes the “Intel Inside” of healthy food categories.

5.  ATTRIBUTE DEPENDENCY:  This template is the odd one because it does not use components like the other ones.  It uses attributes of the product and its environment instead.  We create a two-by-two matrix by pairing up the attributes (internal-to-internal and internal-to-external).   I love this tool because it creates “smart products” – those that do something useful when something else changes, internal or external to the product.  This tool can help break fixedness  in a category where the whole premise is consistency over years and years.  For example:

  • The texture changes depending on the type of milk poured over it.  Whole milk becomes thinner, for example, while fat free milk makes it thicker (notice that I chose a less intuitive dependency – this template gives you that flexibility).
  • The taste changes when heat is applied (stove or microwave oven).
  • The shape changes when heat is applied.
  • The binding agent gets stronger for cereal boxes that have to be shipped longer distances
  • The size of the shreds changes with the type of food to be mixed with it.

Have I gone too far?