The challenge of being relevant to the next generation of consumers is an ongoing theme here on MNB, so it was refreshing to read in the Wall Street Journal this week that Google and Procter & Gamble have actually been trading employees in an effort to get people in each company to think differently.

According to the story, “So far, about two-dozen staffers from the two companies have spent weeks dipping into each other's staff training programs and sitting in on meetings where business plans get hammered out. The initiative has drawn little notice.

“Previously, neither company had granted this kind of access to outsiders. Closer ties are crucial to both sides. P&G, the biggest advertising spender in the world, is waking up to the reality that the next generation of laundry-detergent, toilet-paper and skin-cream buyers now spends more time online than watching TV. Google craves a bigger slice of P&G's $8.7 billion annual ad pie as its own revenue growth slows.”

The process has been revelatory. “As the two companies started working together, the gulf between them quickly became apparent,” theJournal writes. “In April, when actress Salma Hayek unveiled an ambitious promotion for P&G's Pampers brand, the Google team was stunned to learn that Pampers hadn't invited any ‘motherhood’ bloggers -- women who run popular Web sites about child-rearing -- to attend the press conference … For their part, P&G employees gasped in surprise during a Tide brand meeting when a Google job-swapper apparently didn't realize that Tide's signature orange-colored packaging is a key part of the brand's image.”

In other words, things that each side took for granted within the cocoon of their own business ended up being not that obvious or important to people with a different vantage point.

This is an invaluable lesson for P&G, Google…and all of us.

All of our businesses should have gigantic signs that say, “Comfort zones forbidden.” The only way we make progress is when we get outside our traditional boundaries, try something different, take a risk. The downside may be greater, but the potential upside could be enormous.