A Culture of Innovation: Lessons from 3M

On June 6, 2018 3M Corporation opened up their Innovation Center in St. Paul, MN to members of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM). DISTek Integration sent representatives from our engineering group to attend 3M’s presentation entitled, “Building a Culture of Innovation.” 3M leaders presented how the company went from a small and unprofitable Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing (where the three “M”s come from) company in the early 1900s, to one of the most successful product companies in the world today. They explained how the company was able to slowly, but relentlessly, develop their 46 technology platforms of which every 3M product is based on.

Innovation is the tool of entrepreneurs to create opportunities! In this day of ever accelerating change, organizations that value and promote innovation succeed and thrive. Organizations that are complacent, or pay lip service to innovation, stagnate and fail (e.g. Blockbuster, Sears, Staples, Radio Shack, Banana Republic, Gander Mountain, Payless Shoe Store, Toys R Us, etc.). 3M has managed to expand and thrive for over 100 years because of its culture of innovation. 3M explained the keys to innovation success:

  1. Feel your customer’s pain. 3M considers closeness to customers a main competitive advantage with 75 customer innovation centers around the world. 3M engineers understand customer product needs by getting out to the customer in their natural environment and spending time with them. They look for and listen to their customer’s “pain points.” 3M insists that customers must inspire your innovation and when you listen to them, customers will actually help you solve their problems.
  2. Empower employees. Allow employees to work on what they are passionate about. Give your employees license to experiment and work on projects that they love. Promote innovative ideas and empower employees to look at their daily tasks through an innovation lens. Employees should be acknowledged and rewarded for innovative ideas.
  3. Dedicate time to innovation. In 1948, 3M launched its 15 percent program, where 15 percent of employees’ time was dedicated to innovation. The Post-It note was invented during 15 percent time. Organizations such as Hewlett-Packard and Google have both replicated this approach. Gmail and Google Earth were conceived during Google’s 20 percent time. While people are encouraged to work on their ideas, they must complete their billable work first. When innovative ideas make it through the ideation phase, employees are given technology grants to pursue these ideas.
  4. Collaborative Platforms. Use newer social media technologies to promote collaboration across the enterprise. Crowdsource good ideas within the organization and capitalize on those innovations. Establish committees to grant monies to individuals and groups for their new ideas
  5. Attract good talent. Showcase and highlight the innovation programs that your organization has implemented. Present videos, papers, or demonstrations of the technologies you offer and pursue.

Wise and inspirational concepts worthy of consideration in any business, don’t you think?