There are times when reinvention is more of a reaction—hindsight and reflection make sense of what happened almost by accident. Then there are times when reinvention is front of mind, a conscious effort that starts with a clear sense of ambition and intent.
Such is the case with Mondelez International in Argentina. Formerly part of Kraft, Mondelez is now a standalone sweets business. Its senior leaders recently challenged themselves to reinvent the way Mondelez’s brands connected with people and to not only be leaders in their business categories but to be what they call "shapers."
The idea, as Mondelez Latin American Marketing Director, Gums and Candy, Maria Mujica explains it, was to leverage the company’s position as a market leader and elevate its game. "The word shaper has a lot of intent," she says. "We have leading brands and a very strong ambition to take our leadership in snacking further, transforming into shapers from a very strong position."
The challenge with setting such grand goals, of course, is figuring out how to turn that ambition into action. "After having that clarity of wanting to reinvent the way we connected with people, we then had the big challenge of ‘what are we going to do’," says Mujica. Wanting to be more than an innovation lab that operated outside of the corporate structure, and not wanting to slip into a digital-only solution, Mondelez hit on the idea of the Fly Garage.
A strategic partnership between Mondelez, magazine and consulting firm Contagious, and production and innovation house Castro, the Fly Garage is both a physical and mental space that allows Mondelez to innovate in terms of creative output, internal process, and how it relates with external partners.
The point of the Garage, says Mujica, is to liberate the company’s creative process from hierarchies and preconceived notions of how things "should" work, working more collaboratively with partners from around the world in an "egoless environment." The co-leadership relationship with Contagious and Castro was the first step. Mondelez relies on the company’s expertise in talent sourcing and production, respectively, and then supports worthy ideas financially.
Rather than being an ongoing unit within the companies, as some innovation labs are structured, the Fly Garage convenes in two-week incubation spurts to come up with ideas. From there, select "big-bang" ideas are brought to life.
The first major output of the pilot Fly Garage was Random Fest, an epic music festival created for gum brand Beldent (Trident), which took place in the fall. More than a simple brand-sponsored festival, Random Fest involved four bands on four different stages. The big-bang idea to come from the Garage was a lighthouse tower that would randomly shine its light on a stage to announce which band would play next. Not only did Mondelez construct and engineer the lighthouse, with production partners Sake and Zensei, but the team developed a full campaign, including limited-edition packaging. The initiative also delivered revenue growth, according to Mondelez, was streamed to more than 250,000 people, and became a top 20 global trending topic on Twitter during the event.
Mondelez has since held four Fly Garage incubation sessions will collaborators from varied backgrounds from around the world, each Garage dedicated to a different area of Mondelez’s core business.
As cool as Random Fest was in its own right, the event’s success represents a step in cracking the innovation nut: It moved a big idea outside of the brand’s core capabilities from paper into real life.
Here Maria Mujica shares insights on how the Fly Garage has helped snacking behemoth Mondelez grow comfortable in moving without knowing, and finding great results in the process.
Mujica says when Mondelez founded the Fly Garage, which is itself a physical space, the first big step in creating big-bang engagements for their brands was to "allow ourselves a mental space to explore the possibilities."
"This wasn’t only about creating a physical space, it was about allowing ourselves the freedom to explore and learn by doing," she says. "You can have a lot of people sitting in a room, but that doesn’t mean it’s a collaborative place. We want to create a context of free collaboration. It’s about leaving the roles and hierarchies behind. I think that what is helping us is the honesty in what we’re doing. People realize we’re all trying to be better team players and we’re inviting in people who sometimes compete. There is a place where everyone brings and everyone takes out. This is much more than an innovation incubator, for us it’s a social experiment."
Bringing potential competitors together to brainstorm on behalf of Mondelez was the other great experiment of the Garage. "We wanted to create new ways around which we relate with different partners such as agencies, clients, suppliers or researchers. We found that if we looked into the future, we imagined that we needed much more collaboration coming out of those different players," Mujica says. "We were not very sure how to do that, but we imagined there was a lot of potential if we just liberated the way those different partners related."
The business of innovation is a lot of work, and in the Fly Garage, that effort is put to good use, says Mujica. "The garage needs an opportunity. We work against one business opportunity that is strongly linked to our strategy. So we work on stuff that matters for Latin America, and this is fully aligned with the board because this is an investment."
As such, the team of Flyers, as contributors are known, assembled for each session is different, depending on the business challenge they’re working against. "There is a lot of customization and art in how we curate the list of the Flyers that are going to come. One of the benefits of having the blend of leadership is, depending on the moment of the garage, we have the skills of Mondelez, Castro and Contagious. We are limitless in who we bring in." Flyers for each session include Mondelez employees, creative, digital and business leaders from around the world, and a couple of Hyper Island students to vary the dynamic.
Once a team is assembled, it’s time to create a brief. But this being an innovation incubator, it’s not your average brief. "We brief on a T-shirt," reveals Mujica. "We work hard at reducing complexity and synthesizing the opportunity we see for a brand down to a four or five words that fit on a T-shirt. It’s very practical because a T-shirt is small. We work very hard to get to very little, but that’s very powerful."
In order to make the most of an assembled group of strangers who’ve come to generate bold ideas on behalf of a brand, you’d think having a plan would be key. Think again. Mujica says that in the garage there is a process, but it’s definitely not a plan.
"We have a very clear sense of what the two weeks will be about, but it’s about organizing what we call the unplanning. We want to make everyone feels very uncomfortable, so we organize experiences that make people connect with other parts of themselves so they engage in the right mood when they arrive," she says. "We don’t have agenda so no one knows what they’re doing, there are no pre-reads, and no one really knows why they’ve been chosen. It sounds like it’s going to be great, but they’re so nervous."
Once everyone is in the right mood—a very important component—it’s on to what’s called sponging, "absorbing and erasing what you know, your job, the hierarchy. We present each other without saying where you work. It’s who you are, not what you do."
Teams rotate in the garage so that no one owns an idea for more than three hours, and at the end of each day the leaders from Mondelez, Castro, and Contagious curate ideas and steer the following day’s agenda. Select ideas move to a limited prototyping stage before being exposed to live testing.
If the testing process is where many ideas fall down, there’s an answer for that in the Fly Garage. Once ideas have been whittled down to a workable few, there are sessions in which a group from the target audience is brought in and shown the work.
"We have live sessions; it’s like a science fair," Mujica says. "They come in and we cocreate with them. That’s where you have the full creation process happening. Imagine, agitation, you capture the idea, you visualize it, prototype with limited resources, and two days after we have the real people coming in and reacting to the ideas that are presented by the people who created them, first hand. That is amazing because you have these inventors presenting the ideas. And we then get to look at the faces of the real people and ask what they like and what they’d change."
The next stage is where the real magic happens. Mondelez invests money in producing prototypes for ideas that have passed muster in the garage, such as Beldent’s lighthouse, which was deemed a feasible idea once it got to the prototype stage.
"Our obsession is converting ideas on paper into real stuff. The highlight is when we move to the ‘do’ stage; it’s not about leaving those ideas on paper, it’s about moving them to make them happen," says Mujica.
The funding for prototypes doesn’t come from marketing, rather it’s part of a strategic initiative funded by the region and is considered a permanent effort. "This is thought of as an enabler to develop breakthrough ideas and to put them in the market fast," says Mujica, noting that Random Fest was conceived and put to market in a matter of 10 months. "That’s where the prototyping is key. It’s the thing that will take us to the place where we convert what we don’t know into what we know. That’s the power of the prototype for us. It’s the way we get to know about how to execute the ideas we’re looking for."
A fantastic idea from the Fly Garage still needs to be adopted by the relevant business units within Mondelez, and this is where Mujica says her role turns into one similar to that of a venture capitalist.
"I go into the business units looking for the intrapraneurs who take the prototype and scale it. We take the incubator ideas and whet their appetites. We facilitate linking the opportunity with the idea, and we fast-track this bridge with the investment," she says. "It’s like a speed-dating approach. I just need to see people’s faces to gauge the appetite in the room. From those meetings is where we identify the intrapreneurs. We’re learning by doing."
Mujica is quick to admit that an "egoless space of creativity" sounds almost naïve, but she says the Fly Garage process, with all of its orchestrated discomfort and break-neck speed, comes with virtually no challenges. It’s in the doing that things get a bit hard. But she wouldn’t have it any other way.
"The challenge is in doing stuff we haven’t done before. That is where we need to have perseverance and to have the right level of energy to sustain the effort. That is where the mud of the project happens. The innovation is in how we do it. We have big challenges, but the higher we raise the bar for creativity, the higher the challenge. The big learning is that we are organizing everything to have more challenges and more discomfort. It’s not that I want to solve the challenges, I want bigger ones."