In 2009, Sandra Pianalto, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, told 70 business and community leaders at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Leadership Exchange program that “the two main factors that drive productivity and that increase people’s incomes, are greater levels of educational attainment and innovation.” Although individual genius is essential to scientific and technical breakthroughs, the creation of a culture of that supports continuous innovation takes much more.

One of the best examples of what it takes to create a culture of innovation is the central story told by Davis Dyer in Rising Tide: Lessons from 165 Years of Brand Building at Procter & Gamble (2004). By the 1880s, P&G was fundamentally a soap company competing with Colgate and Lever Brothers. Although P&G’s business was profitable in 1945, according to Dyer, it was “by no means comfortable.”

Robert A. Duncan, a P&G process engineer, traveling through Europe on a “scouting expedition” in 1931, stumbled across a research project at the I.G. Farben Research Laboratories in Germany. During WWI, when soap was in short supply, a nearby textile mill used bile from slaughtered cattle as a wetting agent. After the war, I.G. Farben successfully isolated and synthesized the active agent. Duncan became intrigued by the possibility that the chemical agent might someday become an effective detergent that could clean clothes and dishes even in hard water regions where soap normally left a residue.

P&G researchers worked with the concept throughout the 1930s with little success and by 1939 the effort appeared to be at a dead end. But one researcher, David “Dick” Byerly, refused to give up. Described as “tenacious” and “obstinate,” he simply stopped reporting to his superiors that he was continuing to conduct research on what became know as Product X.

After 14 years, in the Summer of 1945, R.K. Brodie, the vice president for manufacturing and technical research, presented P&G’s senior management—President Richard Deupree; Ralph Rogan, VP for advertising; and Advertising Manager Neil McElroy—their first detailed briefing on Product X. The normal process to roll out a new product, including test marketing, shopping tests and brand development meant that the product would not be on store shelves for two to three years. Brodie, worried that Lever Brothers and Colgate would get samples during the test market phase, urged the leadership to bypass the established procedures and commit up to $25 million to the effort. Deupree ended the meeting with the decision to “crank her up. Full speed ahead!”

The marketing department and designers quickly settled on the name “Tide” and began assembling a brand identity. Researcher Byerly contributed the advertising centerpiece phrase that Tide makes “oceans of suds,” which was coupled with “Washday Miracle.” Charlie Gerhart, the art director, created the box with its bold colors and bull’s-eye motif. At the same time, engineers began designing and constructing the towers to manufacture the detergent.

When the first boxes of Tide appeared on store shelves in 1946, demand was so great that the primary problem was developing enough manufacturing capability. Within a year, Tide achieved twice the market share of any other laundry product and an almost two-year head start on Colgate (Fab) or Lever (Surf).

According to Dyer, the impact on the company’s leaders was sweeping. First, they became even more committed to technology as a source of innovation.

Second, they learned that research and innovation does not proceed in a straight line and company leaders must allow room for individual initiative.

Third, successful innovation requires leaders who are willing to take risks, both in the lab and beyond.

Fourth, company leaders were faced with the “creative destruction” unleashed by a product that the company promoted as getting “clothes cleaner than any soap,” cannibalizing the traditional soap brands that formed the company’s foundation. The leaders learned to manage the resulting destabilization and harnessed the new earnings and self-confidence to lead the company into new categories, countries and markets.

The development of Tide is an example of a culture of innovation operating inside a large corporation, but we know that innovation also thrives outside large structures, but is also helped by a culture of innovation. That’s why the work of the Brandery, CincyTech, Cintrifuse and its proposed innovation campus in OTR, as well as the Hamilton County Business Incubator in Norwood and UpTech in Covington, are vital to creating a healthy future for the region.