The following is a guest post by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, authors of a new book called, The Orange Revolution.  They’ve sent me a book for review and am happy to have this guest article from them as a sample of their work and how one breakthrough team can make such a difference!

As any gambler knows, in order to win, you have to be willing to place the big bet. In business terms, of course, big bets can be risky, and yet when multi-million dollar business wagers do pay off, legends are made. In writing The Orange Revolution, we traveled to Somers, New York, for an amazing example.

A Guru Assembles a Team

When Rajendra Gursahaney introduced himself he extended a hand and said, “Hello, I’m Guru.” His real title is Pepsi Beverages Company’s Senior Director of Engineering; the honorific “guru” has been thrust upon him by his peers.

Now Guru is truly brilliant, but he knows he can’t build world-changing bottling systems alone, especially when this self-proclaimed “cowboy” likes to take risks to improve the process. Case in point: the reason we met with Guru. Two years ago he took an extreme risk when he formed a team that would either revolutionize the bottling industry or cost his company millions of dollars.

Without going into the science of the idea here, we can tell you that Guru’s company was about to roll out a new product line in Russia with Lipton Tea. As always, Pepsi was concerned about the cost, weight, and environmental impact of thick plastic bottles. Guru wanted to take a risk with this new product line that would create a thinner bottle using technology that had never been attempted before.

“I went to my boss with the idea. Nobody had ever tried it in our industry. It was a massive risk.”

We’ve often noted how upper management at progressive organizations such as Pepsi encourage a degree of risk-taking, as long as it based on the type of well-founded analysis that Guru had undertaken. To fail would mean reversing and buying three traditional machines at a cost of $7 to $8 million, not to mention months of delay. But if the idea worked, it would not only save millions per year per line in plastic costs, but could actually help the planet in a remarkable way. He added, “I know it’s a risk, but I think our team can make this work.”

Guru’s boss informed the organization of what they were about to try. And he told Guru that he would “fully support the team through the process.”

With his own belief and that of his boss, Guru assembled a team of people who weren’t afraid to risk, knowing that Pepsi would back them either way. Finally, after 14 months, the team had a bottle that withstood all the technical and aesthetic requirements.

A Sweet Outcome

To get an idea of the impact of this breakthrough team, here are some of the numbers: A traditional 1.5 liter bottle weighs 63 grams. Guru’s team made a bottle that weighs 48 grams. That’s a cost savings of about 2.2 cents per bottle. And remember, these lines produce up to 50,000 bottles an hour. Three lines have already been installed in Russia, so Pepsi Beverages Company forecasts savings of $2.5 million per line per year in plastic costs alone, adding up to $7.5 million in annual savings. And the environmental benefit for all of us is substantial.

Remarkably, Pepsi has decided not to patent this idea, but instead is letting the entire industry benefit by sharing this technology with anyone who would like to save money and reduce the carbon footprint of having to produce the resin for the bottle from a landfill and recycling perspective. It’s a great example of one team changing not only their company, but the world for the better.

In 2009, Guru was awarded PepsiCo’s “Best of the Best” Sustainability Prize, recognizing his efforts to reduce energy consumption and landfill impact. In Guru’s typically direct fashion, he admitted that he didn’t deserve the prize alone, so he shared the reward with the people on his team.

“This just goes to show you, if you get a group of people together who are like-minded, who know they can take a risk and you have their back, you can pretty much make anything happen,” he said.

How Breakout Teams Benefit from Risk

While risk is not the most popular word in boardrooms, improvement and creation demand it. It’s interesting that in the conversations we had with breakthrough team members for our new book, a similar insight emerged time and again: Individuals who created Wow for their current organizations admitted to being stifled in their past. Many reported having great ideas that, when they brought those ideas to leadership, were rejected—often because of the word ‘risk.’ Breakout teams see risk differently. They know risk is necessary, and they understand the impact—both positive and negative—of taking one.

What follows are just four few ideas to spark more smart ideas in your team:

  • Reward risk takers. It’s just as important to publicly praise those who succeed as those who fail if you want to encourage creativity.
  • Tell their stories. Share anecdotes about the innovators on your team, i.e., “Bill faced a similar problem when we were rolling out the CRM system, and he came to us with a great idea to try a new approach…”
  • Get other great minds involved. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb alone, Gates didn’t build Microsoft by himself, and Mother Theresa didn’t feed the hungry alone. They had other great minds working with them.
  • Be curious yourself. Study other great leaders in your organization. Lead out and take risks yourself. Don’t be afraid to admit your mistakes, but also pat yourself on the back when your risks pay off.

New York Times bestselling authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are the authors of The Orange Revolution: How one great team can transform an entire organization published September 20 from Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. Learn more at their site and blog at carrots.com.



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