Rick Ruffolo: Why your imagination is one of your most valuable tools

One of the most important things my career has taught me is that growth is never linear, in life or in business. My wife and I have seen our fair share of “growth spurts” where clothes that fit our five children the week before suddenly look two sizes too small. Every organization desires growth, and growth comes from recognizing and executing new ideas and insights that are meaningful to your customers.

When Walt Disney would hear a good idea, he would ask, “How can we ‘plus up’ this idea?” It’s a simple question, but the concept behind it is genius. Disney was challenging his team to take a good idea and transform it into something truly great.


Ignore the skeptics

Earlier in my career, I spent seven years as a senior executive at Bath & Body Works in a variety of roles including head of innovation. While concepting one day, I thought, “How can we transform the well-known Bath & Body Works body care fragrances into a lifestyle brand?” There had to be a way to plus it up. That’s when the Wallflowers™ Pluggable Electric Home Fragrance Diffuser idea was born.

When I presented the plan for an oil-based, plug-in home fragrance, many executives expressed objections. They felt “home” fragrance was off-brand for a body care brand and belonged in the mass market, not in the specialty beauty market.

Beth Pritchard, CEO for Bath & Body Works at the time, listened intently to my pitch. She heard the skeptics, but she also saw the potential. Her direction was simple (and inspiring).

“Rick, you believe in this idea. Now, go make it a winner,” she said. Fourteen years later, it remains Bath & Body Works most widely used, most profitable and longest-running product line, generating billions of dollars of revenue, and yet, the concept almost never made it out of ideation.


Be patient

As a CYO and AAU basketball coach for 10 years, I teach the concept that the game is about choices, some better than others. Instead of thinking right or wrong, I encourage players to think of a good choice versus the best choice.

Sometimes, the best choice is not the first option, but the player needs to have the confidence and patience to wait for the best choice to be revealed. As Les Wexner, founder of Limited Brands taught me, “You must go slow to go fast.” He encouraged us to fully explore the implications and potential of ideas before rushing to execution. Don’t settle for pretty good … strive for better.

My advice is simple: Start with a good idea, and ask yourself, “How can I ‘plus up’ this concept?” Treat every idea like it is “the one.” If it’s worth pursuing, invest the time in making it a great idea. The effort can take you from being in the game to being a game-changer. Now, go forth and innovate!


Rick Ruffolo


H2O Plus, a 25-year-old global skincare company inspired by marine science.

Rick holds a master’s degree in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis and an undergraduate degree from the University of Dayton.

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