Feb 28, 2012 • By

A new approach to open innovation

One of the core responsibilities of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network (G-WIN) team is to facilitate innovation throughout the company to ensure projects move forward effectively and efficiently.

We’re constantly revisiting and refining our practices to do an even better job of bringing the right outside technologies, processes and products to General Mills to maximize our resources and accelerate the pace of our innovation.

To help us achieve that goal, we recently developed and adopted a new, step-by-step approach to open innovation projects, which we’re calling the “X3 Process.” The X3 Process facilitates open innovation by helping make connections between unmet technical needs and actionable solutions.

Since formally launching the G-WIN open innovation program at General Mills five years ago, we learned that our scientists were excited about the open innovation tools available to them, but they didn’t necessarily know how and when to use them most effectively. There was a need for a facilitator or roadmap for the entire open innovation process; something that would let our scientists be scientists, while the process could be the general management solution to guide them.

Beginning in March of last year, our team worked with a group of General Mills strategists and innovators to develop the approach, bringing together a number of best practices to balance the art and science of open innovation.

Unlike some other innovation processes, the X3 Process provides a non linear path to success, allowing innovators to use only the steps necessary to effectively identify appropriate solutions.

After all, people approach innovation in different ways; some are great at defining needs or problems, but struggle to identify solutions, while others chase down solutions without first determining an actionable objective. The X3 Process accommodates any approach, so anyone can use it to achieve success.

The X3 Process includes the following steps:

•Ask the right question(s) – gather knowledge internally to gain alignment on your “true” knowledge gaps and technical needs.

•Get smart – build and develop new knowledge, including key insights and innovation opportunities.

•Ask better questions – immerse your team in new knowledge to generate insights and new hypotheses

•Communicate needs – write, refine and finalize well-crafted briefs that clearly explain your needs.

•Find smart people – use available tools and networking opportunities to identify potential solution providers.

•Make connections – initiate relationships and kick off projects.

We first implemented the X3 Process at General Mills to guide a sugar-reduction project that kicked off in June 2011, and we intend to use the process for similar large platform projects in the future.

We’re hopeful that other businesses, organizations and individuals will find success using the approach to guide their innovation efforts as well.

To learn more about the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network, visit