John Sculley Broadens Our Definition of Creative.

Pepsi Sculley Apple
Pepsi Sculley Apple

John Sculley invented the Pepsi Challenge and defied Apple’s board to ensure Apple aired the game-changing ‘1984’ Super Bowl ad. He is a game-changing disruption icon.

Recently, Mark Schenk, Managing Director of Anecdote, interviewed John Sculley for the podcast Anecdotally Speaking. In the interview Sculley shared five stories. While I encourage anyone interested in innovation or competing against a massive No. 1 to listen to the entire Podcast, the second story about how Sculley innovated at Pepsi really shows how the word creative, should be used as broadly as possible

The Second Story begins at 15:00. (Click on the picture below to listen to the entire podcast)

“Because I had been a salesman, resetting shelves I realized that there was a huge opportunity a different kind of shelves.”

Key to Sculley’s success as VP of Marketing and then as CEO was his first 6 months at the company. As he describes in the first story, he was the first ever MBA-graduate to be hired by Pepsi Co. In his first six months he worked in the field as a truck driver, bottle washer, shelf stacker, and sales person. Hardly the work for a former VP of a Madison Avenue advertising firm.

But this experience was very quickly validated in his first innovation, the creation of the 2 liter bottle for home use. After designing an extended research project in 550 homes. Sculley and his team discovered that whatever the amount of soft drink a family bought during a week, it was always consumed. At that moment soft drinks were sold in small heavy glass bottles usually 6 or 8 fluid ounces.

“If the drinks are that popular when there’s a convenient way to get them into the home, maybe we shouldn’t be focused on small bottles.”

Sculley took the results and the experienced he gained when he first joined Pepsi to innovate the entire way of selling soft drinks and disrupt Coca Cola’s dominance.

Firstly, after a brief experimenter with 2 liter glass bottles, Sculley worked with Dupont to develop 80% lighter plastic bottles that were also robust enough for the ride home from the supermarket in the back of the station wagon.

He then worked with stores to disrupt both shelf design and more importantly end-of-aisle displays. The large, brightly colored bottles becoming a new force in placement.

To turbocharge his idea he also worked with new logistic technology companies and major stores to bring a new technology, bar codes to all Pepsi Co products. Previously the only stock count was done at the warehouse. There was no sales data on where, when and how may bottles were sold.

The result of all of this was the beginning of the end of Coke’s dominance and the first real engagement of the Cola Wars.


Three weeks ago I attended an HR Conference here in Seoul. One of the speakers compared the creativeness of Apple to Samsung. Samsung, he asserted was less creative due to cultural factors such as hierarchy etc. I was angry, but I didn’t know why till I chatted with a friend, Gordon.

What I realized as I chatted with Gordon, was that the speaker’s definition of creative, was what was irking me. Samsung had been created from scratch. Samsung began as a salt trading store in rural Korea in 1938. It is now a company with the same revenue as the country of Singapore. How’s that for creative?

Sculley’s stories reminded me that being creative is about solving problems in a new, value-added way.

Let’s reward creativity wherever we see it. Let’s not be locked in anyway to how we celebrate creativity.

Have a great week



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