Finding innovative ideas in unexpected places

Fortune

A few years ago, executives at PepsiCo gave the R&D department a challenge: Find a way to cut the sodium content of snack foods, while still keeping the salty taste consumers crave.

After toiling away in their own labs and searching across the packaged-foods industry for ideas, the scientists found what they were looking for — in a global research lab that was studying osteoporosis.

What do salty snacks and bone disease have to do with each other? Nothing, except when it comes to so-called open innovation. The osteoporosis researchers had developed a way to create nanoparticles of a low-sodium, salt-like substance by “smashing calcium into tiny particles and re-growing it,” says Andy Zynga, CEO of innovation firm NineSigma. That gave PepsiCo’s food scientists a whole new perspective on the task, so “the company went on to solve its problem in a truly innovative way.”

PepsiCo isn’t the only one…

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