Over 20 years ago, George Deckner started using a tactic in his work as a personal care formulator at Procter & Gamble that few others had employed. Deckner realized he needed to develop new ways to innovate. “Formulation is all about material science and solving problems,” he explains. And he felt lucky to have the freedom in his work to seek out new ways to solve these problems, such as getting out of his personal care comfort zone to attend trade shows in other industries.
Deckner was the first beauty care formulator at P&G to start attending other industry shows as a tactic for innovating. For him, connecting the dots between materials used in formulating coatings, for example, to those used for personal care products was a no-brainer. “One of the easiest ways to innovate is to reapply technology from one industry to another,” says Deckner. “It doesn’t matter what you’re formulating, the principals are identical.”
Industries That Inspire
Are there particular industries that formulators should focus on if they plan to try his tactic? Deckner says the paints and coatings industry, as well as the food industry, supply the most valuable inspiration for personal care innovators. “If you had to pick an area that was the core competency for P&G, it would be substrate modification,” Deckner elaborates. “And then look at the paints and coatings industry – it’s all about substrates, as well… dispersing pigments, emulsifying, etc.”
In fact, one of Deckner’s most valuable discoveries was made at a coatings show he attended in Indianapolis. There he found a new type of abrasive that led to the filing of patents at P&G. “Shows stimulate your thinking,” he says. “You can’t innovate unless you’re constantly being stimulated.”
As for the food industry, Deckner points out that they have far more sophisticated processing abilities than the personal care industry. “They’re clever at creating different textures and different product forms, including variations in mouthfeel, color, texture and shape,” he explains. And processing gives a competitive advantage in the personal care arena.
He also notes several new types of rheology modifiers in the food industry that are now in marketed personal care products. Another benefit of looking to the food industry for inspiration: formulators can rest assured there won’t be safety issues. “You have to be much more careful with paint and coatings materials,” says Deckner.
Make a Game-Plan
But Deckner doesn’t just show up at one of these shows and dive in. He suggests going in with a plan of action. “The more pre-work you do, the more efficient you are with your use of time,” he says. And your plan of action will depend on your current interests and priorities. He explains, “I still look at everything in general, but I always have a main focal area.” He suggests going through the literature that is sent out about the show beforehand to identify the most important areas to explore.
How often should you go? Deckner feels that attending trade shows in other industries every 2-3 years is more than adequate. “You’re looking for big ideas,” he says. “Things don’t change rapidly enough to warrant going every year.”
Communication is Key
It’s also important to consider how you’ll communicate with suppliers and professionals in other industries. While some general inquiries will be straight-forward, this is not always the case. “They’re not used to your industry,” Deckner reminds us. “You have to frame the problems you have in terms they will understand, because their industry will use different terminology than your own.”
Trends to Look For Now
So what should formulators attending other industry trade shows be looking at now? Deckner says one of the hottest trends in food is the nutraceutical area. New types of materials used in nutraceuticals can be identified and reapplied in cosmetics. And, he says, “if you know they’re coming out of food, you know they’ll also be more cost effective.”
For both the coatings and food industries, Deckner feels it’s also definitely worth it to take a close look at their instrumentation. “For example, paints and coatings is highly advanced in the rheology instrumentation area,” he says. “The impact that measurement can have on your ability to innovate always amazes me.”
When asked what resources he recommends for formulators who don’t have the time or freedom to travel to shows, Deckner replies as if the answer is a little too obvious. “They can go to Prospector’s food industry or paint and coatings search engines and browse materials,” he says. Oh yeah, why didn’t we think of that?
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