DuPont launches with a new take on innovation

An article about the new innovation approach at the new DuPont.

Given this slate of opportunities, Dembek says, the most important part of her job is choosing the right ones. This requires intimacy with the customer to “understand the important and valuable end-user challenges in the key industries that we serve,” she says. “ ‘Important and valuable’—that is critical to me. I contrast that with a different approach, which would be ‘Here are our products. Where can we go sell them?’ ”

To help establish this intimacy, customers will get real estate right in the heart of the Experimental Station. As part of the remodeling, DuPont is converting a vestige of the old DuPont, the former Lavoisier Library in Building 301, into a more-than-900 m2 customer innovation center.

When it opens this fall, the building will be a venue for DuPont executives and scientists to collaborate with customers. The Lavoisier reading room will be an assembly space for up to 150 people. Another room, called the “wormhole,” will have full-length wall displays so people can virtually visit similar rooms at 10 other DuPont innovation centers around the world.

In the same vein, Dembek aims to tear down barriers between people within DuPont. One way, as seen in the new bioscience headquarters, is making sure executives and scientists are well acquainted. Indeed, all the business segments will have offices at the Experimental Station. “We want strategic marketing teams and scientists working side by side,” she says. “That’s where we get the speed.”

She is also trying to change DuPont’s culture around killing projects that are not working out, a delicate task for any big R&D organization. She hosts what she calls “Failure Fridays,” where people talk about efforts that fell short. “We are not celebrating failure,” she says. “What we are doing is proudly saying what did we learn, how do we pivot, and how do we move on to the next best opportunity.”

Dembek jokes that she also wants to make T-shirts that say “Fall in love with growth, not projects”—a slogan that shows up frequently in her PowerPoint slides.

DuPont might be without Central R&D, but Dembek wants to create an environment where innovation is central to all of DuPont. “Innovation is not R&D,” she says. “Innovation is not a department. Innovation is what we do as a company. It is the culture of the company.”