9 Ways Bailey’s Irish Cream Can Help You Innovate

Help You Innovate


It’s a cold, wet Spring, so let’s take a moment (and a sip or two?) to reflect on how great ideas become reality. Specifically, let’s consider the invention of Bailey’s Irish Cream and what it can teach us about idea management strategies that can support and amplify successful ideas.

On December 3rd, 2007, Diageo announced the sale of the billionth bottle of Baileys since it was first introduced in 1973. In the decade since, you can estimate that they’ve sold a further 250 million bottles. If we assume that every bottle of Baileys delivered eight generous servings that suggests that over 12 billion glasses of Baileys have been poured since it all began!


But the story of its invention is both informative and fun (highly recommended). But I’ve taken nine portable innovation lessons from it. Here they are:

Lesson One: Instantaneous Ideas Are Really Ideas With Great Groundwork

“The initial thought behind Baileys Irish Cream took about 30 seconds. In another 45 minutes the idea was formed. Baileys was like that for me. A decade of experience kicked in and delivered a great idea. It wasn’t as instant as it seemed.”

At IdeaScale, we provide an environment so that ideas (and idea fragments) have a place to grow, combine, and mature so that there is an actual place where inspiration can happen.

Lesson Two: Ideas Need a Chance!

“Where Hugh was more likely to intellectualise and think through the appalling consequences of dropping cream into Ireland’s beloved whiskey, I was all for doing it there and then.”

Make sure your idea management process is set up to avoid the trap of prevailing assumptions and encourages participants to feel comfortable proposing out-of-the-box ideas.

Lesson Three: Good Ideas Require Experimentation and Refinement

“We mixed the two ingredients in our kitchen, tasted the result and it was certainly intriguing, but in reality bloody awful. Undaunted, we threw in some sugar and it got better, but it still missed something.”

“We went back to the store, searching the shelves for something else, found our salvation in Cadbury’s Powdered Drinking Chocolate and added it to our formula. Hugh and I were taken by surprise. It tasted really good. Not only this, but the cream seemed to have the effect of making the drink taste stronger, like full-strength spirit. It was extraordinary.”

Good ideas hardly ever arrive fully formed. How are you tracking updates, improvements, and allowing others to build themselves into the process?

Lesson Four: Good Ideas Need Champions

“Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the real heroes of ideas are not the people who have them – they are the people who buy them.”

“Whatever we were doing, no matter what he thought of the taste, he knew what we were aiming for. Just a nod, that’s all he gave us. Not a yes but better than a no. Mac would be the man who would have to run with this. And he did.”

Good ideas need to exist in a marketplace where leaders and people with authority can learn about them and then take a chance on and invest in good ideas. How else are they going to discover them?

Lesson Five: Ideas Need to be Marketed

“Names can be tough and often really easy to reject with a comment like “I just don’t like it”…Being words, not graphic designs, they are within everyone’s purview so anyone can reject them. Getting to Baileys as quickly as we did was unusual. Indeed, as I discovered in later years, it was incredible.”

But it’s not just about the name, everything with a new idea needs to be packaged!

Lesson Six: Rapidly Prototype

“The next step was packaging, and we needed a bottle. Not being confident enough in the overall idea to suggest spending money on a new mould which could have run to several thousand pounds, we looked around for an existing bottle and Tom found one for an Irish whiskey brand that the company distributed called Redbreast. We decided we’d use that.”

Turn your idea into a potential reality as quickly and easily as possible so that your audience can have a better chance at understanding and contributing to your idea. Feedback starts the moment you’ve left the blank canvas behind.

Lesson Seven: Involve Others

“I wrote out a design brief and asked Amy to show it to him and get him to submit some designs as soon as he could…. A couple of days later Bob delivered… he had sent about 20 for us to choose from. Amy laid them out on our table and Tom, Hugh and I looked them over and immediately lit on one.”

“There was a huge buzz seeing an idea begin to assume a physical form. I was no designer so depended on other people to perform this magic.”

Good ideas become great ideas when you build a team around them.

Lesson Eight: The Role of Feedback

Feedback and validation is, of course, critical to the selection of an idea but the lesson here is to make sure you know what feedback you’re looking for. When Baileys finally had a potential bottle, label and name, the team took it to a bar for some market research. They served it to a group of men who declared it to be a “girly drink”. While it seemed like this could be a disaster for their new idea, they paid attention to all the feedback this group produced:

“After this what man was going to openly lay claim to liking “a girl’s drink”? It was an absolute no-no. But when we looked at their glasses every one of them had been drained. It might not have been their kind of drink, but there was nothing wrong with the taste.”

It was this keen observation that helped give the Bailey’s team the confidence they needed to take their prototype to Dublin and present it to executives.

Lesson Nine: The Best Ideas Take On Their Own Life

“No matter how well an idea is received, it is a complex entity and changes are inevitably made. The Baileys team now had to make its own imprint. The first thing they did was to remove the word “chocolate” from the description Irish Cream Chocolate Liqueur.”

Here’s why it matters, “As soon as they started making an imprint on this strange new idea they began to assume ownership. And once they owned it they would commit to it.”

Cheers to great ideas!

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