A Day in the Life of a Disruptor

We learned a lot about how disruptive technologies are playing a growing role in our industry. In order to continue to innovate and develop leaders who not only have an eye for disruption but who can also implement those disruptors internally, will be increasingly more valuable to General Mills business.
 
What does disruptive technology mean to you?
A disruptor is often using an emerging technology delivering on a new or changing consumer need under a business model that has the potential to gain significant share of a category in the food industry. These emerging technologies are often the enabler for a disruption in the consumer marketplace. The emergence of Greek yogurt is a perfect example for a disruptor.
 
 
What is the team engaged in or really excited about right now?
Among others, we are looking at several potential disruptors in the areas of wearables, food delivery and personalized health. Interestingly, we are not only looking at one technology that could enable the disruption but we are trying to find the intersection of different disciplines, fields and capabilities that could develop into a broad disruptor to General Mills’ categories.
 
For example, what if a wearable device detects a specific nutritional need of a consumer and transmits that information to a local food manufacturer? This manufacturer then produces a food product, e.g. a cereal bar or a yogurt with those individualized nutritional requirements and delivers it to your house the next morning. There are several technologies in this equation that could disrupt the food industry, including manufacturers and grocery stores. The possibilities are equally alarming and endless.
 
How do you leverage your global reach, global experience, and global network to stay on the pulse of trends?
It is all about relationships. Our entire team aims to build and foster relationships grounded on trust and integrity – that is the foundation and the key to our success. If someone in our network informs us of a new technology or start-up company that General Mills could benefit from, without any benefit to their business -- that is a great relationship, but we also have to be open to doing the same. In our group, we like to call it “Connected Innovation 2.0.” Essentially it’s keeping an eye out for those in your network, regardless of whether you or your company can gain from it. 
 
What are some examples of networks you leverage?
We are building and leveraging strategic partnerships with several suppliers and research organizations. Secondly we are participating in several research consortia around the world that cover a broad range of science and technology areas. Through that we are constantly exposed to the front end of innovation but are also building new “Networks of Networks”.
 
Recently we have partnered with MassChallenge, the most start-up friendly accelerator. Our involvement with MassChallenge will expose us to trends not only in the food industry but also in adjacent disciplines that have transferable applications. It’s energizing not only to provide General Mills’ expertise and resources to emerging startups, but also to learn from them and gain insight on new technologies that can make us more efficient in how we bring food innovations to our consumers.
 
What is your background? How long have you been with GMI and in what roles/capacities?
I am a food scientist by training and received my master’s and PhD from the University in Bonn, Germany. I started with General Mills 16 years ago as a product developer. After a cross-functional role in marketing, I returned to R&D to lead our long term sodium reduction efforts.
 
Since 2012, I’ve worked in the “Connected Innovation” area, first as Innovation Entrepreneur and now as Disruptive Technology Manager and Global Connector. I am charged with developing implementation strategies for disruptive technologies across all businesses within General Mills, which essentially means not only do I seek out technologies, but also manage how to seamlessly make them a part of our daily business. Key to success in my experience is using a balanced approach of internal and external expertise, and always putting consumer needs first.
 
What do you enjoy most about your job? What gets you excited to get to work every day – how do you stay energized especially with projects that can be futuristic and serendipitous?
Being exposed to new and emerging technologies, products, start-ups and trends on a daily basis is extremely exciting. Developing a strong understanding of those technologies and ultimately being able to transfer them into practice is both challenging and rewarding.
 
To stay energized, I interact with progressive academic leaders and with early start-up companies to learn from them how and why they do what they do. Their passion, drive and in-depth knowledge of their consumer is invigorating. The experience of seeing one of my connections solve a need internally is truly the ultimate reward. I strongly believe being engaged with these networks, and others like them, will continue to help us to become the best big small company.
 
Do you have any parting words or advice?
Serendipity rarely shows up on your doorstep. You need to get out, build your networks and actively look for those opportunities.