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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Listen to Your Interns

This weekend I began the long, painful process of digitizing my old VHS tapes.

The process is long and painful because, in order to digitize a VHS tape, you actually need to let it play through from start to finish while the VCR is connected to a conversion device attached to your computer.

And since I couldn't figure out how to mute the sound while still having it get captured in the digital file, I had to listen to everything on each tape as it was being converted.

I was able to tune much of it out while I did other things, but my ears perked up as I was converting a recording of a presentation I helped put together over 20 years ago.

In the summer of 1999, I was working as a summer intern for consumer products giant Procter & Gamble. In that capacity, I was given the opportunity to participate as a member of the "Future of Advertising Summer Task-Force" (or F.A.S.T. for short), a "multifunctional summer intern team focused against developing strategies and recommendations on topics of importance to the company."

That year, the 93 P&G interns from across North America who joined the task force were asked to explore five different areas:

  1. A Humorous Look at P&G's Culture (intended to satirize the status quo and highlight some of the things P&Gers did regularly that outsiders would find ridiculous)

  2. How to Foster Creativity at P&G

  3. Consumers & Technology

  4. Technology as an Enabler in the Workplace

  5. Digital Ventures

The interns assigned themselves to one of the five sub-teams, then worked throughout the summer (when they weren't doing the jobs they were primarily hired to do) to research their topics and come up with compelling recommendations for the company. Towards the end of the summer, all F.A.S.T. members not already living in Cincinnati were flown to P&G's global headquarters to participate in the final presentation to P&G's senior leadership; the presentation was filmed, and each intern was eventually given a VHS copy of the meeting.

I haven't watched that recording in over 20 years.

But as I listened to parts of that meeting yesterday with the benefit of 20 years of hindsight, I was amazed by how prescient the task force's recommendations turned out to be.

At one point, an intern presenter said, "We need to become as intuitive about the digital consumer as we are about the traditional one."

That may seem painfully obvious today, but this was presented in August 1999, when Amazon only sold books and the big Internet Service Provider of the day was AOL. There was no guarantee the internet was going to evolve as it did, and certainly, nobody back then fully understood how important the internet would eventually become to our everyday lives.

But the interns, who were all younger and more digitally savvy than most of P&G's full-time employees at the time, had a much better line of sight to this digital future.

And as such, the recommendations presented -- everything from new product areas to explore, to new ways of doing business, to new ways of encouraging P&G employees to fully embrace digital in their everyday lives -- served to help P&G see the urgent need to move from a "packaged goods company" to a "consumer products company"... with digital at the heart of the evolution.

Your interns almost certainly won't have your experience and wisdom.

But they'll often have a perspective on the world that can add tremendous value to your business... if you're brave enough to assign them important work and smart enough not to dismiss them out of hand when they suggest you start doing things differently.


P.S. This is my 350th post since I began this blog in January 2019. I've had people subscribe and people leave over the past two years, but there are a whole lot of you who signed up at the very beginning and are still welcoming me into your inboxes three times every week.

So... I thought I'd take this opportunity to say thank you for your support! Knowing that so many of you enjoy these posts and expect them to be written on schedule is a powerful motivator to write, which really helps on those evenings when I'd rather just go to bed. :)


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